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Hyperion Records

CDA66521 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 90-92

Recording details: July 1990
St Barnabas's Church, North Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: February 1991
Total duration: 78 minutes 4 seconds

Symphonies Nos 90-92
Andante  [6'38]
Andante  [6'41]
Finale: Vivace  [6'58]
Adagio cantabile  [7'10]
Presto  [5'42]
Until the 1780's, most of Haydn’s symphonies had been destined for the court of his employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. Although he often felt imprisoned in his job as Kapellmeister, stuck in the small-town and rural atmospheres of the Prince’s two main residences at Eisenstadt and Eszterháza, south-east of Vienna, Haydn’s reputation had nevertheless spread far and wide. Paris in particular held a soft spot for his music, to the extent that in 1785 he was commissioned to write six symphonies for a French aristocrat, the Comte d’Ogny. The result, numbers 82 to 87, were completed by the following year. Two more symphonies (88 and 89) ended up in Paris in 1789, sold to a French publisher by the violinist/businessman Johann Tost.

By then, three further symphonies had been written: numbers 90, 91 and 92. There is again a Paris connection, though a little more indirect. Early in 1788 Haydn received a commission from Prince Krafft-Ernst of Oettingen-Wallerstein for a set of three symphonies for the orchestra at his Bavarian castle. The composer at first declined, claiming lack of time to complete the works, but he changed his mind when a similar commission came from the aforementioned Comte d’Ogny. Now the businessman in Haydn saw that he could get away with—as it were—killing two birds with one stone, by writing just three symphonies to fulfil both commissions. He sent the scores to Paris, dedicating the second two personally to le Comte. But problems occurred when, having handed over his only autograph copies in this way, he needed to provide Prince Krafft-Ernst with the same scores. His rather cunning solution was to send just the orchestral parts to the prince, claiming that the scores were illegible due to his bad eyesight—even enclosing a sample page as ‘proof’. The ploy worked and the prince was encouraged to coax another three symphonies from him, with a gold snuffbox plus fifty ducats sent as an inducement. But numbers 90, 91 and 92 were the last works in the medium Haydn wrote before setting out on his historic first journey to London with the impresario Johann Peter Salomon in December 1790. However, he did follow up an invitation to visit the prince at Wallerstein on his outward journey and later presented him with the scores of his first four ‘London’ symphonies (actually numbers 93, 96, 97 and 98).

Symphonies Nos 90 and 91 were composed one after the other in 1788. While all three symphonies recorded here open with a slow introduction, No 90 is unique among them in the way the ensuing Allegro takes up, more or less intact, the main melodic idea of the Adagio. The Allegro’s secondary theme is given to the flute, then the oboe, and shows Haydn’s writing for the woodwind already looking forward to the later London works. The slow movement is in one of Haydn’s favourite forms, that of double variation. A melody in F major alternates in an A–B–A–B–A pattern with a contrasting one in F minor. There follows a rather French-sounding Menuet (Haydn even uses the French title) with a delicately scored trio section. In the sonata-form finale the same idea furnishes both the first and second subject groups, the contrast being provided by texture and key. Key itself plays an important part in the remarkable ending to the movement. An extended recapitulation in C major culminates in what, to all intents and purposes, sounds like a resolute conclusion. But Haydn has a trick up his sleeve. He gives the whole orchestra four bars rest then takes up fragments of the main theme a semitone higher, in D flat major, and spends a lengthy coda bringing the music back soundly to C again.

The Largo that opens Symphony No 91 is a more stately introduction than the more teasing affair of No 90, responding like Mozart and Beethoven to the ‘aristocratic’ nature of E flat major. Yet the Allegro begins in a deceptively simple vein, with its main theme little more than a near-chromatic rising scale played concurrently with a diatonic falling one. As the movement progresses, it becomes clear that this is another of Haydn’s monothematic creations: the chromatic idea is rarely absent and distinctions between ‘first’ and ‘second’ subjects are somewhat blurred, with the most obvious contrasting theme appearing in a tonally transitional context. As in No 90, the slow movement is in variation form with contrasting sections in B flat major and minor, though here the latter forms a ‘one off’ centrepiece. The minuet and trio are followed by another monothematic sonata-form finale.

Haydn completed Symphony No 92 in 1789. A year later his employer Prince Nikolaus died, and his successor, Prince Anton, having few of the cultural leanings of his predecessor, disbanded the court orchestra. Haydn was immediately sought out by the impresario Salomon, who whisked him off to London. In July 1791 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Oxford and conducted his symphony in the Sheldonian Theatre for the occasion, whence it gained its nickname of the ‘Oxford’. It was indeed the ideal work to demonstrate his worthiness. The last symphony before the twelve London works, it sums up his symphonic achievement of the previous thirty years, with its refined introduction leading to one of his most motivically concise Allegros (yet again monothematic), whose liveliness contrasts with the poetic lyricism of the Adagio cantabile. A representative minuet and trio lead to the Presto finale, a cross between sonata form and rondo, with one of Haydn’s most engaging melodic inventions dominating proceedings.

Matthew Rye © 1991

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