Symphonies
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Creation Date: 1768· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 17’ · Created as Symphony #46.
Symphony No. 26 in D minor ('Lamentatione')
This three-movement work is an 'Easter' symphony. The oldest surviving source is headed 'Passio et Lamentatio', and the first two movements both utilize material from traditional Austrian musical dramatizations of the Passion.' Haydn's compositional strategies are correspondingly unusual.
The Allegro assai con spirito opens with a driving syncopated forte theme in Haydn's best early 'Sturm und Drang' style, followed by several halting piano phrases. Without warning, the music then shifts to the relative (F major), where the first liturgical theme is heard fortissimo in one oboe and the second violins. This theme has three sections: a 'declaiming' forte melody, based on a rhythmic ostinato; a stepwise piano melody in longer notes; and a higher variant of the declaiming melody. These correspond, respectively, to words of the Evangelist ('Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi secundum Marcum. In illo tempore'), of Jesus ('Ego sum'), and of the Jews ('Jesum Nazarenum'). The whole is enveloped by constant quavers in the first violins, which maintain momentum and rhythmically link the theme to the larger context.
The relatively brief development is based primarily on the opening theme (though the words of Jesus are briefly recalled). The exposition is also recapitulated without change, until a dominant pedal 'portends' something unusual — which proves to be a recapitulation of the entire second group in the tonic major (D major), Passion theme and all. Not only is this effect striking in its own right, but it is highly exceptional: this is the first minor-mode sonata-form movement that Haydn ended in the major, and he did not do so again until 1782. By thus ending in the 'wrong' mode, he surely intended not merely to quote an old Passion tune, but to invoke its significance: at once gruesome and hopeful.
A further consequence of this ending is that the Adagio enters with a remote tonal relation (F major from D major); again, Haydn had never done this before. The Adagio is also based on a (different) liturgical melody, also played by oboes and second violins, again 'haloed' by a descant in the first violins. But here this melody begins straight away. It is a true 'lamentation', taken from a collection of such melodies identified by letters of the Hebrew alphabet ('aleph'. 'beth', etc.); its text begins, 'Aleph. Incipit lamentatio Jeremiae Prophetae.' Haydn's setting, with the violin curlicues surrounding the slow, melodically limited liturgical tune, all supported by a 'walking' bass (pilgrims?), invokes a strange mixture of constriction and exaltation. Two noteworthy details are the wonderful 'enhancement' as the horns enter at the beginning of the recapitulation, and a moment of tonal ambiguity near the end, which further develops the previous D/F polarities.
The minuet-finale has posed a problem for interpretation, partly because great symphonies are 'supposed' to have four movements, partly because minuets carry associations of the galant. And yet this austerely concentrated movement is in many ways the most intense of all. Right from the start, the off-tonic beginning, unstable rhythmic motives, Neapolitan harmony, and ambiguous phrase-rhythm create an oppressive mood. No root-position tonic appears until the recapitulation — and even this event is destabilized. The bass stamps out the theme one measure 'too soon', so that when the melody enters 'correctly', it engenders a remarkable rising canon, which dominates the recapitulation and seems to stretch toward the heavens, until it abruptly breaks off on a dissonant chord; the final cadences follow quietly. (Mozart is foreshadowed here, particularly the Adagio and Fugue for two pianos, K426, and the D minor Piano Concerto.) Although it would be witless to speculate how an eighteenth-century listener might have heard this movement in terms of the Passion, surely it is earnest enough to conclude this remarkable symphony.
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I. Allegro assai con spirito
II. Adagio
III. Menuetto e Trio
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