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Hyperion Records

CDH55115 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 17-21
(Originally issued on CDA66533)

Recording details: January 1993
Watford Town Hall, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: May 2002
Total duration: 77 minutes 24 seconds

'Delightful performances, stylish, spirited and deftly executed. Recording, documentation and playing time are all up to the standards set by previous issues in the series' (Gramophone)

Symphonies Nos 17-21
Allegro  [7'22]
Andante moderato  [6'40]
Allegro molto  [4'38]
Tempo di Menuet  [3'50]
Allegro molto  [5'25]
Andante  [3'11]
Presto  [2'48]
Allegro molto  [4'53]
Menuet  [3'50]
Presto  [2'56]
Adagio  [4'09]
Presto  [4'43]
Menuet  [3'44]
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A certain amount of mystery still clouds the history of Haydn’s earliest symphonies. Autograph manuscripts are few and far between, and contemporary records are scarce. Moreover, the accepted numbering contrived by Eusebius Mandyczewski in 1907 attempted to assign works that were difficult to date with any accuracy to their latest possible year of composition, causing further confusion. The five symphonies on this disc, for example, are more likely to have been composed in an order closer to 18, 19, 20, 17 and 21, over a period possibly as wide as seven years and with a fair number of other symphonies interspersed among them. As a result, these few symphonies provide a fascinating résumé of Haydn’s early work in the field, from some of his earliest works to the burgeoning inspiration of his Esterháza compositions.

As an example of the confusion that surrounds many of Haydn’s early works, he himself claimed towards the end of his life that he had composed his first symphony for Count Morzin in 1759, the year he became his Kapellmeister. Yet, although it is generally accepted that No 1 was indeed his first, there is documentary evidence dating at Ieast one of the ‘later’ symphonies to 1758 and others might possibly derive from a year earlier still. Also paradoxical is the fact that while Morzin’s household apparently provided Haydn with his first opportunity to work with an orchestra in a non-Iiturgical situation, he seems to have been composing symphonies for it or another comparable body for up to two years before his full-time appointment. Since the recommendation for the position had come from his former benefactor Baron von Fürnberg (for whom Haydn created the genre of the string quartet), it is quite possible that the highly musical Morzin already knew Haydn and was commissioning symphonies from him before 1759.

Three of the five symphonies recorded here are presumed to date from between about 1757 to 1761, numbers 18, 19 and 20 with, in addition, the possibility that No 17 was composed either for Morzin, or Haydn’s subsequent employer, Prince Esterházy (i.e. after 1761), though its style suggests the former.

The Morzin family (it is not known if it was the widowed father or his son who was responsible for engaging Haydn) spent the winter in Vienna and the summer at its castle near Pilsen in Bohemia, Lukavec. It employed a small orchestra of perhaps a dozen players (strings and continuo instruments) and a wind band (oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani), whose players were called upon to join the orchestra when the occasion demanded. Haydn’s scoring in the Morzin symphonies was thus modest: with the exception of No 20 (which boasts trumpets and drums), they call for a small body of strings with continuo and pairs of oboes and horns.

No 18 is one of the most antiquated of these works in terms of form. Haydn adopted (and adapted) the movement pattern of the church sonata, an instrumental form originally designed for liturgical use (in effect a larger-scale, orchestral version of the organ voluntary). The most characteristic aspect of this form is its opening slow movement, displacing the more characteristically symphonic opening allegro. The church sonata was usually in four movements, but here Haydn omits the traditional finale component. Instead, the symphony features, in addition to the ‘Andante moderato’ (which, incidentally, contains an opening theme in which Haydn seems to be alluding to the form’s Baroque origins in its dotted rhythms), a lively ‘Allegro molto’ and a Minuet and trio.

No 19’s pattern of movements is more characteristic of Haydn’s early symphonies. There are just three: a motivically taut Allegro is followed by a minor-key Andante (for strings alone—a practice that probably derives from the desire to give the hard-working wind players a rest) and a vigorous finale.

Although hinting at the larger scale of the Esterházy symphonies, No 20 can only date from the Morzin period owing to the presence of trumpets and drums in the score. They did not exist in the Esterháza orchestra until about 1773. Nor was this Haydn’s first ‘trumpets and drums’ C major symphony: No 37 (more likely to be the true No 2) contains them in one source, and Nos 32 and 33 (similarly closer to the early teens in true chronology) present themselves as a matching pair. This festive use of the orchestra derives from the numerous solemn Masses composed in the key during the eighteenth century and carried into purely secular (though possibly still celebratory) realms. One other characteristic of these C major symphonies is their adoption of the four-movement structure that would become the symphonic norm. Here Haydn writes a lengthy first movement in which the development section is notable for being almost as long as the exposition. The slow movement is again for strings alone, as is the trio to the Minuet. The finale is a lively movement in triple time with a central section in the minor.

No 17 demonstrates Haydn’s use of the more normal contingent of wind instruments (oboes and horns) in the symphonies of this period. They are still used largely as harmonic filler and in doubling the lines of the violins, while among the strings themselves the thematic interest is very much concentrated in the first violin part with occasional pseudo-contrapuntal interpolations from the lower strings. Despite this relatively unadvanced use of his instrumental contingent, however, Haydn’s use of his motivic material shows him already coming to terms with the rich rewards of true symphonic thinking. In the first Allegro, for example, a patchwork of motifs and short thematic ideas is held together by the constant running quaver movement. The slow movement is a stately, duple-time Andante in the minor mode and again for strings alone, while the finale is a succinct, triple-time Allegro of only some ninety bars.

With Symphony No 21, we come to a work of a slightly later period. In 1760 Haydn married Maria Keller, a former pupil, and some time that year or the next, Morzin had to disband his orchestra in the face of financial difficulties. Haydn then moved to take up the position of Deputy Kapellmeister to the Esterházy family—his contract was dated May 1761—a post, soon upgraded to Kapellmeister proper, that he would hold for some three decades. The pattern of his life in his new post has been detailed elsewhere in the notes to other recordings in this series. Suffice it to say that he was the court’s chief provider of music, composing everything from sonatas for the prince’s baryton to large-scale operatic works and, of course, the vast majority of his symphonies.

Unlike the other symphonies recorded here, No 21 at least survives in a dated autograph manuscript from 1764. This suggests that it post-dates some dozen other Esterháza symphonies, resulting in an output averaging at least four symphonies a year during the early to mid-1760s. Like No 18, this symphony again falls into the form of a church sonata, though at least here Haydn maintains the full four-movement structure. It also shows, in neat contrast to No 20, how his wind writing was beginning to mature: the oboes, for instance, are given brief solos independent of the string line early on in the fantasia-Iike first movement. The ensuing Presto provides a rhythmically taught foil to this opening and is followed by a Minuet and a lively finale that features some nifty alternating quavers between the violins in its main theme.

Matthew Rye © 1993

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