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Hyperion Records

CDA66524 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 1-5

Recording details: April 1991
Unknown, Unknown
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: September 1991
Total duration: 70 minutes 32 seconds

'The Hanover Band convey the self-confidence, resource and sheer élan of these youthful symphonies more infectiously than any other performance on disc' (The Good CD Guide)

Symphonies Nos 1-5
Presto  [4'49]
Andante  [6'12]
Finale: Presto  [1'55]
Allegro  [2'59]
Andante  [2'44]
Finale: Presto  [2'43]
Allegro  [4'56]
Andante moderato  [6'50]
Menuet  [3'32]
Presto  [5'42]
Andante  [3'30]
Allegro  [5'43]
Minuet  [3'48]
Finale: Presto  [1'33]
In 1749 Haydn was dismissed (some sources suggest forcefully, to say the least) from the choir school at St Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna, partly because his voice was breaking (his choirmaster reputedly tried to persuade him to sacrifice himself to a career as a castrato), but the last straw was when he cut off a fellow pupil’s ponytail. His musical education at the school had been fairly minimal, principally instruction in singing and playing the violin, and his theoretical knowledge had largely been gleaned from private study, pouring over such tomes as Fux’s contrapuntal treatise Gradus ad Parnassum until late into the night. Now he was virtually alone in the world, hoping to make a living out of music. Very slowly he began to make his way teaching the keyboard (for little financial reward) during the day, while at night he would play in serenading parties (a popular pastime during the Viennese summer) and indulge in his almost fanatical urge to compose. He later wrote:

I had to spend eight whole years trailing wretchedly around giving lessons to children—many a genius earning his bread in this miserable way comes to grief for lack of time to study. This was my experience and I would never have made such progress as I did had I not pursued my zeal for composition far into the night.

Many of his early pieces were serenades and divertimenti, but in 1751 he received his first commission, to write the music for a pantomime-operetta Der krummer Teufel (‘The Crooked Devil’, now lost). He then found work as accompanist to the young daughter of the renowned operatic librettist, Pietro Metastasio. Her singing teacher was the Neapolitan Nicola Porpora who eventually took Haydn on as accompanist (and valet) himself, giving the young composer the chance to have the lessons he had so long desired, and also introducing him to the aristocratic society that was soon to prove so useful. In about 1757 he was taken on as music-master to the family of Baron von Furnberg at whose summer home near Melk on the Danube Haydn composed his first string quartets for members of the baron’s household. (Haydn himself played the viola.)

But more importantly to the composition of symphonies, in 1759 (some scholars now suggest a year or two earlier) Haydn was, on Furnberg’s recommendation, appointed Kapellmeister and Kammercompositeur to Count Morzin at the castle of Lukavec in Bohemia. The count had a wind band, for which Haydn composed Feldpartien, or suites for outdoor performance, and also a small string orchestra, supplemented when required by players from the wind band. It was for this enlarged orchestra that he composed his first symphonies—certainly numbers 1 to 5 and probably at least half a dozen more. The conventional numbering often gives little indication of actual chronology: Nos 6, 7 and 8, for example, were the first works he composed for Prince Esterházy in 1761, by which time he had already composed Nos 10, 11, 15, 18, 27, 32, 33, 37 and ‘A’ (which, with ‘B’, was of previously disputed authenticity).

Tradition has it that Haydn was the ‘father’ of both the string quartet and the symphony. While the former certainly reached its first definitive form in his hands, in the case of the symphony Haydn was working in an already existing medium, if one that was still fairly young. It had evolved from a combination of several instrumental genres, among them the Baroque concerto grosso, the ‘church sonata’ and the Italian operatic overture (or Sinfonia avanti l’opera, the most obvious source, from which the symphony gained both its name and the three-movement, fast–slow–fast form which sufficed for its early years). Schools of symphonic composition developed in a number of centres, principally Vienna, represented by the likes of Georg Monn (1717–1750), Florian Leopold Gassmann (1723–1774) and Georg Christian Wagenseil (1715–1777), and Mannheim, with Johann Wenzel Stamitz (1717–1757) and Ignaz Holzbauer (1711–1783). But despite influences from a variety of sources, Haydn’s earliest symphonies follow in the tradition of his home city, Vienna.

The first five (their true order of composition is still rather vague) show him experimenting with a variety of forms. Nos 1, 2 and 4 follow the standard three-movement, Italian overture-derived, fast–slow–fast pattern, while No 5 has the layout of the older sonata da chiesa (church sonata), with its opening slow movement, and No 3 is already a fully fledged four-movement work with minuet. All are scored for the maximum Lukavec contingent of oboes, horns, bassoon, strings and continuo.

Symphony No 1, the work that is supposed to have been heard by Prince Esterházy and which led to Haydn’s appointment as Deputy Kapellmeister at Eisenstadt in 1761, opens with what is conceivably a Mannheim trait, a dramatic crescendo from piano to forte. Here, as with many of his principal symphonic themes of these years, the main subjects are constructed more for their motivic possibilities than for their overt melodiousness. The slow movements of all but No 5 reduce the instrumentation to strings alone. That of Symphony No 2, marked ‘sempre piano’, is in two contrapuntal parts throughout: the violins together on the one hand, the lower strings doubling up on the other, with the texture hardly changing from beginning to end, the violins having continuous semiquavers articulated by brief trills on the first note of nearly every bar.

Symphony No 3 has as the extra movement a minuet and trio, the former virtually a complete two-part canon, the latter giving the wind a little of the limelight. Haydn’s nocturnal hours spent with Gradus ad Parnassum paid off in the finale, which is a fugue, its semibreve subject looking forward some thirty years to that of the finale of Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ symphony. The formal outlines of the first three symphonies seem to be combined in No 4 which has an extended minuet as a finale, preceded by another motivically active presto opening movement and a stately Andante for muted strings.

Symphony No 5 opens with a full slow movement, the indicator of its sonata da chiesa origins. This work is also notable for its writing for the pair of horns, both in the solos given to them in the Adagio and in their stratospherical tessitura in the Minuet’s trio.

Matthew Rye © 1991

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