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Hyperion Records

CDA66535 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 85-87

Recording details: December 1993
St Augustine's Church, Kilburn, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: April 1994
Total duration: 78 minutes 34 seconds

'Very strongly recommended' (Fanfare, USA)

Symphonies Nos 85-87
Finale: Presto  [3'14]
Capriccio: Largo  [7'44]
Vivace  [6'51]
Adagio  [8'39]
Menuetto  [4'52]
Finale: Vivace  [6'17]
Despite the insularity of Haydn’s existence at Eszterháza, by the early 1770s his music had spread far and wide across Europe, to places as distant from Austria as Cadiz and London. Parisians in particular took Haydn’s music to their hearts, as shown by the large number of local publications of his works, with as many by other composers passed off under his name. As there were no such things as international copyright agreements in those times, Haydn inevitably gained little remuneration from such popularity. Yet he took every opportunity to respond to commissions from abroad, particularly from Paris. The most important resulted in the six so-called ‘Paris’ Symphonies, numbers 82 to 87.

Concert life in Paris during the eighteenth century (and indeed later) was organised by various societies who ran orchestras, staged musical events and even held competitions. The best known of them was the Concert Spirituel, but the most significant in terms of Haydn’s Symphonies was the Concert de La Loge Olympique, based in the theatre-like surroundings of the Salle de Spectacle de la Société Olympique and boasting an orchestra much larger than any Haydn could muster in Austria. Founded in 1769 as the Concert des Amateurs, with the Belgian-born composer François Gossec as its conductor, the Loge Olympique (as it was renamed in 1780) was run by a group of Freemasons. Principal among them was one of the most important late eighteenth-century music patrons, Claude-François-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Ogny (1757–1790).

It was at the Count’s instigation that in about 1784 the Concert commissioned six symphonies from Haydn (he later also commissioned numbers 90 to 92), though he appears to have enlisted the help of the composer, chef d’orchestre and infamous ladies’ man Le Chevalier Joseph-Boulogne de Saint-Georges to liaise with Haydn (any correspondence from this period is lost).

As so often with Haydn’s symphonies, their numbering is at odds with their true chronology. He requested that his Viennese publisher Artaria should issue them in the order in which he sent them (87, 85, 83, 84, 86, 82) and it appears to have been Artaria’s dogged re-ordering (presumably for commercial reasons) that has left them in the order we know them today (Imbault issued them in a third arrangement). In their original sequence, the first three probably date from 1785, the second three from the following year.

The six were first performed to great acclaim during the Olympique’s 1787 season (with the young Cherubini among the violinists) and soon after were repeated at the Concert Spirituel. In January 1788 they were advertised for sale by the Parisian publisher Imbault (Haydn also gave the rights to publishers in Vienna and London):

These symphonies … cannot fail to be eagerly sought by those who have the good fortune to hear them, and also for those who do not know them. The name of Haydn answers for their extraordinary merit.

Such was the success of these works that none other than Marie Antoinette expressed her appreciation, claiming No 85 to be her favourite, whereupon Imbault added the subtitle ‘La Reine de France’ to the first edition. Haydn had already established the symphony’s place in Parisian hearts by including a French folksong, ‘La gentille jeune Lisette’, as the subject of his slow movement. The last phrase of the decorative flute solo in the second half of the movement has, in the first published score, an instruction for an exclamation of joy—whether this was the publisher simply recording an early audience’s reaction at this point, or was a direction of Haydn’s, is not known.

Preceding this Romance is a Vivace first movement (with slow introduction) boasting a rather understated principal theme underlined by descending scales. The trio of the third movement Minuet reveals a distinctive solo use of the woodwind instruments characteristic of these Parisian works, while the energetic finale is a fine example of Haydn’s sonata-rondo form, where the recurring themes of the rondo are developed and arranged formally in a manner comparable with a symphonic opening movement.

Symphony No 86 is one of the most harmonically adventurous of the set. The Adagio introduction is straightforward enough, but the Allegro’s first main theme only arrives at the tonic key by way of an aside alluding to a more distant tonality, a ploy that gives Haydn plenty of scope for quick modulations in the development section. The slow movement—unusually named Capriccio—continues tendency towards chromaticism, with passages of a poignancy worthy of Mozart.

The Minuet sees Haydn introducing elements of sonata form, particularly the more developmental procedures, into the standard tripartite dance structure. The finale is another characteristically witty rondo.

Symphony No 87 was probably the first in this set to be written, though since all six were composed over a relatively brief period of time there is little of significance to mark out one as being more advanced than another. That said, the opening movement of No 87 (no slow introduction this time) does display greater concision and textural transparency than its more complex neighbours. The Adagio makes much use of solo woodwind (flute, oboe and bassoon) and there is an extended solo for the oboe in the Minuet’s simple trio. A brisk rondo finale rounds off one of Haydn’s sunniest symphonies.

Matthew Rye © 1994

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