Symphonies
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Creation Date: (Herbst?) 1773· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 22’ · Created as Symphony #58.
Symphony No. 64 in A major ('Tempora mutantur')
Unlike Symphonies 45-47 and 52, but like No. 51, this work eschews extremes in favour of wit and esprit — except in the slow movement. The opening Allegro con spirito begins quietly with a lyrical tune for the strings, unexpectedly joined by a contrasting forte motive for the full band. The continuation varies these contrasts in new ways, and we gradually realize that the entire movement is governed by wit, inventiveness, and unexpected (and often subtle) contrasts: of material, dynamics, instrumentation, and harmonic orientation. The overall effect is not easy to describe.
A contrast of an entirely different sort is provided by the Largo, arguably the most eccentric movement Haydn ever composed. It is presumably the referent of the mysterious nickname for the symphony, 'Tempora mutantur etc.', found on the (later) wrapper of a set of authentic parts now in Frankfurt.7 This Latin phrase surely refers to the moralising epigram by the Elizabethan poet John Owen, still familiar in the eighteenth century:
Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis:
Quomode? Fit semper tempore peior homo.
The Times are Chang'd, and in them Chang'd are we:
How? Man, as Times grow worse, grows worse, we see.8 It would take an entire article to describe this extraordinary movement adequately. I mention here merely its inability to complete musical phrases properly, its discontinuities of material, dynamics, and register, its refusal to execute an intelligible form (I could go on); most of all, its wilfully strange, almost incoherent ending.9
The ensuing minuet necessarily sounds 'normal' in this context. Indeed it is normal (insofar as any Haydn minuet can be); the quirky registral play, 'Scotch snap' motives, and saucy piano return of the first phrase as an envoi fall within his normal practice. But this scarcely applies to the manner in which, in the trio, the minor-mode episode is dovetailed with a 'veiled' return of the initial idea.
The finale, an irregular rondo, again reverts to eccentricity. The main theme is in two parts ('a' and 'b'), each comprising two phrases (of six bars in 'a'); each phrase — eight in all, including repetitions — ends with an odd unaccompanied afterbeat. Then theme 'b' is developed into a second group in the dominant E major; this suddenly breaks off for theme 'a', just as suddenly changes to a new, 'rocket'-like theme in the minor ('c'), and even more unexpectedly slides back into the tonic for the complete theme-complex, a+b. Just as this is ending, it collides, still more abruptly, with a new and longer episode based on 'c', beginning in F sharp minor; it eventually returns to 'a', as slyly as before. Now 'a' turns into its own minor (A minor), and even pretends to develop contrapuntally (not that anyone is fooled), before returning 'one last time' to a+b, and a playful coda — in which Haydn, by his usual 'sharp practice', proves that even 'one last time' can be an illusion.
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I. Allegro con spirito
II. Largo
III. Menuet e trio, allegretto
IV. Finale, presto
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