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Hyperion Records

CDA66532 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 93-95

Recording details: September 1992
Watford Town Hall, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: March 1993
Total duration: 64 minutes 41 seconds

'Very strongly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

'Du champagne de grand millésime' (Telerama)

Symphonies Nos 93-95
Largo cantabile  [5'31]
Andante  [6'11]
Allegro moderato  [5'47]
Finale: Vivace  [3'42]
The death of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in September 1790 marked a turning point in Haydn’s career. The Prince’s son, Anton, did not share his father’s love of music and promptly disbanded the court orchestra, keeping Haydn, who had been in the family’s service for nearly thirty years, on as Kapellmeister in name only. Offers came flooding in to the newly emancipated composer who was on the point of accepting a post with the King of Naples when a stranger appeared at the door of his lodgings in Vienna and uttered the immortal words, ‘I am Salomon from London and have come to fetch you’.

Johann Peter Salomon, a native of Beethoven’s home city, Bonn, was one of London’s most successful concert promoters and impresarios. With the promise of generous commission fees and ‘star billing’ in his London concerts season, Haydn was easily persuaded to take the seventeen-day trip across Europe, despite the fact that he had rarely before travelled beyond the confines of Vienna and the Esterházy estates.

Having said what was to prove his final farewell to his friend Mozart, Haydn and his new patron set off together on their long journey, arriving on British soil on New Year’s Day 1791. Haydn immediately became the toast of London society—his music had long since preceded him—and he had quickly to become used to the continual round of functions, concerts and social engagements that dominated the capital in the late eighteenth century.

From the conventional numbering of the twelve symphonies (numbers 93 to 104) he composed for his two London sojourns (1791/2 and 1794/5) it might be thought that No 93 was the first to appear. But, as so often in his symphonic œuvre, traditional numbering unfairly represents their true order of composition. Thus the first symphonies to appear during Haydn’s initial concerts in London were in fact numbers 95 and 96, composed in the early spring of 1791 as he awaited the delayed opening of Salomon’s concert season. This began in March with a performance of his Symphony No 92, a work composed a couple of years earlier but new to London audiences (a performance of it formed the centrepiece of the celebrations in July surrounding his receiving of an honorary doctorate of music from the University of Oxford, since when it has been known as the ‘Oxford’).

As well as this symphony, Haydn brought with him several other new works for his first season in London, therefore needing only to write only two more symphonies that year to fulfil his obligations to Salomon. No 95, the second of these, is unique among the ‘London’ symphonies in both being in a minor key and having no slow introduction to the first movement. Instead, there is a dramatic call to attention, followed after a pause by a contrasting ‘dolce’ theme on the first violins, and this dichotomy rules the drama of the movement to come, subdued for a while by a more relaxed E flat major second subject. Haydn turns to this same key for the slow movement, a set of variations on a 6/8 theme. The Minuet returns to C minor, but the trio, with its virtuoso cello solo, settles into the major before the finale sails off optimistically into the same key. This latter movement has a strong fugal content, though used more as a transitional tool than as the fundamental role it played in, for example, Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony.

Symphonies Nos 93 and 94 were composed during the summer of 1791. Most of London society decamped to the country for roughly half of the year and Haydn spent this time in Hertfordshire, recuperating from the hectic life of the city at the country retreat of one Mr Brassey, a Lombard Street banker and father of one of his pupils.

No 93 was first performed on 17 February 1792 as the centrepiece of Salomon’s first concert of the new season at the Hanover Square Rooms and was rapturously received. ‘Such a combination of excellence was contained in every movement,’ commented The Times the next morning, ‘as inspired all of the performers as well as the audience with enthusiastic ardour. Novelty of idea, agreeable caprice, and whim combined with all HAYDN’S sublime and wonted grandeur, gave additional consequence to the SOUL and feelings of every individual present.’

As was common by this stage in Haydn’s symphonic writing, No 93 opens with a slow introduction, in this case a surprisingly tonally wayward few bars, modulating to the ‘Neapolitan’ key of E flat major as early as the eleventh bar. But this ‘challenge’ is a typical piece of Haydnesque deception: the ‘Allegro assai’ that follows is unusually limited in its tonal range, tending towards closely related sharps keys rather than the flat side of the spectrum.

The slow movement is a set of variations on a theme first presented by a quartet of string soloists and repeated with tutti strings and with the melody later doubled by a solo bassoon. The formal-sounding dotted rhythms of the first variation recall Handel, a composer whose music Haydn had by now got to know particularly well since his arrival in London, but the more ‘liberating’ triplet patterns that follow the next variation eventually come to dominate this exquisitely crafted and—with the fortissimo bassoon bottom C in the final bars—not un-humorous movement. The witty Minuet is followed by a rondo finale in very much the same genial mood as the main body of the first movement.

Symphony No 94 had to wait until the sixth concert of Salomon’s 1792 season for its first performance and it was just as well received. The ‘Vivace assai’ that follows the slow introduction is one of Haydn’s most brilliant and inventive first movements, brimming with energy and with harmonic, thematic and rhythmic delights.

Despite the old story, Haydn later declared the ‘surprise’ loud chord in the slow movement was not added to wake up an inattentive, dozing audience (reports suggest London boasted one of the most alert and musically interested audiences in Europe) but simply as a dramatic effect, as a foil to an almost naively simple theme (there is, incidentally, no indication of the ‘surprise’ in the manuscript score). However, his violinist friend Gyrowetz recalled Haydn remarking ‘That will make the ladies scream’ when showing him the score before the first performance. Aside from the ‘surprise’, the movement is an elegantly formed set of variations.

The Minuet and finale continue the particularly high level of inspiration found in this symphony, the latter movement being an exhilarating sonata rondo that passes through a wide range of keys and instrumental combinations on its hectic way to its purposeful conclusion.

Matthew Rye © 1993

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