Early Esterházy Symphonies, 1761-1763
Haydn the experimenter
Far more than before, Haydn's symphonies of the 1760s exhibit great variety of style, 'subject matter', and orchestral treatment. Among those in the present volume, the 'Matin-Midi-Soir' trilogy (Nos.6-8), with their rich concertante scoring, vast scale and extensive extramusical associations, are utterly different from the shorter, three-movement Nos. 9, 12 and 16 (which in their turn differ from one another far more than do Nos.6-8). Of the four-movement symphonies from 1763, No. 40 concludes with a formal fugue, while Nos. 13 and 72 feature four horns rather than the customary two. Yet they too differ: No. 13 is massively scored and ends with a self-consciously 'intellectual' finale, while No. 72 is concertante throughout.
This variety has traditionally been interpreted as reflecting Haydn's delight in compositional 'experimentation' in his new position at the Esterházy court:
My prince was satisfied with all my works; I received approval. As head of an orchestra I could try things out, observe what creates a good effect and what weakens it, and thus revise, make additions or cuts, take risks. I was cut off from the world; nobody in my vicinity could upset my self-confidence or annoy me; and so I had no choice but to become original.
These familiar remarks focus on 'effective' writing, including questions of rhythmic and proportional relations and instrumental balance and texture, and the issue of originality, in the general sense of not following models or belonging to a 'school'.
However, musicologists have tended to take this stylistic diversity as a sign that (consciously or unconsciously) he was 'striving' towards some 'goal', with the implication that he had not yet 'achieved' it. In terms of his personal development, this goal is described as his attainment of 'maturity', during his so-called 'Sturm und Drang' period (c. 1768-72); in terms of the history of music, it is understood as nothing less than the creation of 'Classical style' itself. These evolutionist views have fostered ambivalent, even deprecatory attitudes towards Haydn's music of the early and middle 1760s.1
These attitudes will not do. If Haydn was an 'experimental' composer, he remained one throughout his life, right through to the 'London' Symphonies, the Chaos-Light music of The Creation, and the hunting and drinking choruses of The Seasons. There is no evidence that Haydn, his audiences or the Princes Esterházy found his early symphonies in any way unsatisfactory. Indeed, the better we come to know his early works, the more we are persuaded of their technical competence and their generic and rhetorical adequacy. This is not to deny that, other things being equal, a later work of Haydn is richer and more complex, more concentrated, than an earlier one. But his music was never in any intrinsic sense 'immature' - least of all his great programmatic trilogy of 1761 or the other symphonies recorded here.
'Le matin', 'Le midi', 'Le soir' and Haydn's extramusical symphonies Extramusical associations were common in Austrian-Bohemian symphonies of the middle and later eighteenth century. According to his early biographers Griesinger and Dies, Haydn stated that he 'had often portrayed moral characters in his symphonies'. Except for the 'Farewell' Symphony and its confrère No. 46 in B major, and a few that, like No. 60 'II dis-tratto', may have originated as stage music,2 these works do not seem to have been programmatic in the sense of being based on an explicit literary text or idea. Rather, they invoke traditional or 'characteristic' topoi, such as the times of day and the seasons (Nos. 6-8); religious observance (26 in D minor, 30 in C); 'ethnically' significant melodic materials and musical styles (63 in C, 103 'Drum-Roll', and many others); the hunt and horn-calls (31 'Hornsignal' and 73 'La chasse'); and literary sayings (64 'Tempora mutantur'). These topics are impressive not merely for their variety, but for their concern with vital human and cultural issues; they document Haydn's moral earnestness - a leading aspect of his musical aesthetics which, owing to our preference for 'absolute' music and our tendency to focus on his wit and humour, has usually been undervalued.
Haydn's trilogy of 1761, according to a somewhat garbled account by his early biographer Albert Christoph Dies, was instigated by Prince Anton Esterhazy himself: 'This lord gave Haydn the four times of day as the theme for a composition; he set them to music in the form of quartets.' Even though we are dealing with three symphonies rather than four quartets, the sense of the anecdote is confirmed by their date (Prince Anton died in
April 1762) and Haydn's care to 'introduce', musically, every member of his new ensemble; most of their appointments, like Haydn's own, began on 1 May 1761. The obvious, if speculative, inference is that these were indeed the first symphonies Haydn composed for the Esterházy court; no others are securely dated 1761.
Haydn's trilogy participates in one of the oldest and most meaningful artistic traditions in Western culture: the pastoral. The topic of the '(four) times of day' resembles that of the 'four seasons'; both invoke natural cycles of fundamental importance to human culture, indeed metaphors for life itself, and have the same internal structure:
birth/you -adulthood-maturity-old age/death
The 'seasonal' version of this tradition was exemplified earlier in the eighteenth century by Vivaldi's famous and influential concertos from Op. 8; at the turn of the nineteenth, by Haydn's own The Seasons. The invocation of a storm in the finale of 'Le soir', La tempesta, is explicitly pastoral (compare Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony); it also recalls Vivaldi's title 'La tempesta del mare' in two other concertos. (Scores of all these Vivaldi works were owned by the Esterházy court.) The times-of-day sequence was also widespread. A series of four ballets, Le matin, Le midi, Le soir, and La nuit, was presented in Vienna in 1755, when
Haydn was living and working there;3 these too were owned by the Esterházy court. (The notion of temporal succession within a single day governs Beethoven's 'Pastoral' Symphony as well.) A more tangible influence was that of Gluck: the opening theme of Haydn's 'Le soir' quotes a popular tune from the older master's Le diable ä quatre, an opera comique revived in Vienna in April 1761 - the very month preceding Haydn's appointment to the Esterházy court. Apparently, he was then again living in Vienna, and could well have seen this production; still more likely is that Prince Anton did so.
Many details of Haydn's trilogy relate both to traditional pastoral conventions and to programmatic gestures in his own later music.4 Nos. 6 and 7 begin with slow introductions, which are very uncommon in Haydn's music until the 1780s. That in 'Le matin' naturally suggests a sunrise; the association is confirmed by the musically similar sunrises in The Creation and The Seasons. That in 'Le midi', by contrast, is an invocation of majesty, which may be related to the 'Elysian' slow movement (see below).
The prominent flute writing in all three symphonies directly signifies the pastoral: see the main themes of both outer movements in 'Le matin', the paired flutes in the slow movement of 'Le midi', and La tempesta. The lightning strokes in the latter - jagged descending flute arpeggios recur almost literally in The Seasons, at the beginning of the summer thunderstorm. In 1761, Haydn's lightning was accompanied by dancing raindrops (the opening theme), torrential downpours, and perhaps other, as yet unidentified, meteorological manifestations.
The remarkable slow movement of 'Le midi' begins with an unmistakable allusion to operatic recitativo accompagnato, with abrupt changes of mood and material, gestures of despair, and an unstable tonal progression moving from C minor through G minor to B minor. If (as Landon has suggested) the ensuing double-concerto movement, with its warbling flutes, is Haydn's vision of Elysium, the introduction represents Hades. Heard in this way, this movement relates to more general features of Haydn's style, specifically the sublimity of his late symphony introductions, and the Creation of Light itself.
These symphonies also include extramusical associations of other kinds. The opening and closing Adagio sections to the slow movement of 'Le matin' are based on a simplistic 'sol-la-ti-do-re-mi' melody, as if the players were students beginning the study of note-against-note counterpoint. Indeed they get the 'mi' wrong, whereupon the solo violin the 'teacher' - immediately corrects them with a tremolo repetition of the same scale! From then on the 'students' make good progress. Even the extraordinary concertante scoring of all three works could have had its programmatic side: Haydn's extra-musical inspirations will have been more easily projected soloistic writing than by
his alternative, 'compact' orchestral scoring. Consider, finally, Charles Rosen's brilliant
interpretation of Haydn's late symphonies as
'heroic pastoral': Their direct reference to rustic nature ... is no mask but the true claim of a style whose command over the whole range of technique is so great that it can ingenuously afford to disdain the outward appearance of high art ... Haydn's pastoral style ... cheerfully lays claim to the sublime, without yielding any of the innocence and simplicity won by art.5
As suggested above with respect to 'Elysium' and the sublime, a link is forged between Haydn's last, London productions and his earliest Esterházy symphonies. Some 'experiments'!
|I. Allegro Molto|
|III. Menuetto e Trio|
|IV. Finale, Presto|
33 CDs, aufgenommen 1970 bis 1974, herausgegeben 1996
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Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra
33 CDs, aufgenommen 1987 bis 2001, herausgegeben 1996
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Academy of Ancient Music
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