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Hyperion Records

CDA66523 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 6-8

Recording details: April 1991
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: June 1991
Total duration: 68 minutes 18 seconds

Symphonies Nos 6-8
Adagio  [7'31]
Menuet  [4'46]
Finale: Allegro  [4'15]
Menuetto  [4'27]
Finale: Allegro  [4'01]
Allegro molto  [5'19]
Andante  [7'57]
Menuetto  [4'26]
Haydn’s first term of permanent employment lasted little more than a year. Count Morzin, who had appointed him as his Kapellmeister in 1759, soon ran into financial difficulties and had to dismiss his orchestra. Fortuitously, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy had attended one of the concerts at Morzin’s Bohemian summer castle in which Haydn is supposed to have conducted his Symphony No 1. He was impressed to the extent that when he heard of his redundancy he offered him the post of Deputy Kapellmeister at his own court at Eisenstadt in the Burgenland, south of Vienna. And so, with the contract that was signed on 1 May 1761, there began one of the most remarkable cases of musical patronage in the annals of music history, a tenure that lasted for almost exactly thirty years.

At the beginning of his adult life, Paul Anton had taken up a military career, earning the rank of field-marshall for his leading of hussars in the wars of the 1740s. In the early 1750s he acted in a more diplomatic capacity as Austrian Minister Extraordinary to the Court of Naples, a posting that was to colour his musical tastes. He had always had a strong interest in music since his days of study with the Jesuits, and he was a competent player of several instruments. On his return to Austria he founded a small orchestra at his Eisenstadt palace. By the time of Haydn’s appointment, it had been expanded and could boast some of the leading virtuosi of the day among its number, including the violinist Luigi Tomasini as leader, and the cellist Joseph Weigl.

The prince already had a Kapellmeister in the person of Gregor Wender, an elderly musician ripe for retirement but who remained on with responsibility for the sacred side of the court’s musical requirements until his death in 1766, when Haydn took over his title. From the first, then, Haydn was given charge of the newly enlarged orchestra, a body of players (supplemented as required by extra wind players from the military band) that would provide him with a tame testing ground for some of the most original orchestral writing to come out of the eighteenth century. His oft-quoted remark encapsulates this artistic atmosphere:

As head of an orchestra I could experiment, observe what heightened the effect and what weakened it, and so could improve, expand, cut, take risks. I was cut off from the world, there was no one near me to torment me or make me doubt myself, and so I had to become original.

Mention has already been made of the prince’s Italian tastes in music. Among the many volumes in his music library was Vivaldi’s famous set of four violin concertos Le Quattro Stagioni (‘The Four Seasons’) which made regular appearances in the orchestra’s concerts (or ‘academies’ as they were termed). It seems that the prince himself suggested to Haydn that he compose a similar set of works following the different times of day. Rather than concertos, Haydn chose the symphonic form, though one dominated by elements of the Baroque concerto and concerto grosso. The resulting three symphonies (Nos 6, 7 and 8 in the popularly accepted numbering but actually preceded by at least ten others from his days with Count Morzin) were the first works Haydn wrote in his new post. They were probably given their first performances in the great hall of the Esterházy’s Viennese palace (where the court spent most of the summer) in May or June 1761, less than a year before the prince died and was succeeded by his brother Nikolaus.

For his debut as court composer, Haydn seems to have had two purposes in mind when composing these symphonies—not a small degree of flattery to the prince’s interests in Italian music, and a chance to show off the new orchestra, and in particular the violin-playing of Tomasini.

He did not follow Vivaldi’s example to the extent of following a detailed programme of extra-musical events, but Symphony No 6 does begin with a brief Adagio introduction that is undoubtedly meant to represent a sunrise (a foretaste, perhaps, of the similar passage in The Creation). The ensuing Allegro immediately introduces the flute and oboes as soloists, but the slow movement takes on the guise of a miniature concerto for the violinist Tomasini and cellist Weigl—a concertante group accompanied by a ripieno body of strings—a deliberate throwback to the Italian Baroque—even the ideas recall the musical gestures of Corelli. More unusually, the trio to the Minuet features a duet for violone (double bass) and bassoon. The finale returns to the concerto grosso layout with concertante violin and cello and features a virtuosic display for the former at its centre.

Symphony No 7 again begins with a slow introduction and the concertante-ripieno concept is expanded to the typically Corellian trio of two violins and cello as soloists. For the second movement Haydn turns his attention to another area of Italian music—the operatic recitativo accompagnato, or accompanied recitative—a mode of setting dialogue in opera that Haydn himself was to use in his own operas and which remained popular until the time of Rossini. In the words of the Haydn scholar H C Robbins Landon, ‘the solo violin produces a realistic parody of the anguished dramatic soprano of Metastasian opera seria’, though what she might be singing about is left to our imagination. The slow movement proper introduces two flutes for the first time in the symphony (a touch Haydn often employed—saving a particular timbre later in a work for special effect), yet it is the cadenza for violin and cello that forms one of the work’s most remarkable passages. The violone (probably played by the bassoonist Georg Schwenda) again has a solo in the Minuet’s trio and the first movement’s instrumental disposition returns for the spirited finale.

Of all the movements in these three symphonies, the ‘Allegro molto’ of No 8 is the least concerto-orientated. There are solo passages for the wind instruments, but no more than is usual in any of Haydn’s other symphonies. The slow movement, however, adds a bassoon to the trio concertante on No 7, providing the cello with a duet partner to match the two violins. The Minuet returns to the instrumentation of the first movement and (again) features a violone solo in the trio. The finale is the most overtly programmatic movement in any of the three symphonies. Cast in a strict ABA form, it is nonetheless a vivid musical evocation of a storm, with a solo cello (imitating the opening violin solo’s rapid semiquavers) suggesting a distant rumble of thunder, a falling arpeggio ‘raindrop’ (or perhaps ‘lightning’) figure on the flute, and passages of dramatic unisons portraying, maybe, torrents of driving rain.

Matthew Rye © 1991

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