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Hyperion Records

CDH55117 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 42-44
CDH55117
(Originally issued on CDA66530)

Recording details: February 1992
Watford Town Hall, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: October 2002
Total duration: 77 minutes 45 seconds

'Superbly skilled playing … a sense of sheer enjoyment which communicates itself magnificently to the listener' (CDReview)

Symphonies Nos 42-44
Allegro  [6'49]
Adagio  [9'33]
Menuetto  [3'46]
Finale: Allegro  [5'51]
Allegro con brio  [6'08]
Adagio  [7'46]
Finale: Presto  [4'45]
Some seventeen of Haydn’s symphonies date from the early 1770s, years in which the form well and truly reached maturity in his hands. It was also the period in which a new profundity and tragic seriousness entered his music and that of his contemporaries. Although often linked to the Sturm und Drang (‘storm and stress’) movement in literature, the use of such a term in the musical field is a little misleading (though convenient) since the German literary movement to which it more properly applies (and which first coined it from the title of a play by Friedrich Maximilian von Klinger) itself began a few years after its manifestation in music.

Seen together, these activities were in effect the first stirrings of the Romantic movement that would dominate artistic endeavour in the following century. In literature the source of Sturm und Drang may well be the hoax perpetrated by one James Macpherson, who supposedly ‘rediscovered’ poems by a non-existent Gaelic bard, Ossian. Together with the greater acceptance of emotion in artistic expression encouraged by the humanist ideals of the Age of Enlightenment, these poems heavily influenced such early Romantic writers as Goethe, whose romantic character Werther from Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774) became Sturm und Drang’s figurehead.

However, this German intellectual movement barely touched Austrian literary circles and Haydn’s anticipation of its spirit in his music must be regarded as coincidence (he is known anyway to have had little interest in artistic activities outside his own field). Indeed, there is little evidence for any external, personal reason for this so-called ‘romantic crisis’ in his music, where cheerful major-key symphonies lie happily alongside his more overtly tragic, minor-key works.

It is the emotional freedom of these latter works that marks them out from their predecessors in Haydn’s output. Together with a preponderance of minor keys they are dominated by musical elements that can be described as typical of Romanticism until the present century: a generous use of dynamic and other expressive markings, harmonic adventurousness and rhythmic urgency. More individual and personal traits are the increased use of contrapuntal forms and typical Haydnesque eccentricities of material and its treatment.

Most of these characteristics are present in Symphony No 44, the first of the three recorded here to be written (c1770/71). Its nickname—‘Trauersinfonie’, or ‘Mourning Symphony’—seems for once to have been Haydn’s own, and it is reported that he later requested that its slow movement should be played at his funeral. There is no attempt at a funeral march as such (where one might be expected—the aforementioned slow movement—we have an Adagio in E major) and the mourning conveys more the sense of anger of loss than quiet contemplation.

The tense opening movement sums up Haydn’s Sturm und Drang style with its fierce contrasts of dynamics, urgent semiquavers and, towards the end, a brief passage combining contrapuntal imitation with tonality-destabilising chromaticism. Counterpoint is again to the fore in the Minuet, a strict canon between upper and lower strings. The brighter mood of the major-key trio prepares the way for the Adagio, a movement which provides the calm contemplation lacking in the first movement. The finale is one of Haydn’s most remarkable, a movement brimming with nervous energy that is the embodiment of ‘storm and stress’.

The source of the ‘Mercury’ nickname of Symphony No 43 (1772) remains unknown. It could refer to its use as incidental music from some play or other given at Eszterháza, or it may not have appeared until the nineteenth century. It would certainly be wrong to impose any programmatic elements on to the abstract musical drama and search for a portrait of the gods’ winged messenger.

The symphony is marked by a unifying figure that links together the musical material of the various movements in much the same way that Beethoven was to do with the ‘fate’ motif in his Fifth Symphony. The idea here also has a three-note ‘knocking’ rhythm, first heard in the Allegro’s opening theme, then in the repeated quavers of the Adagio’s main idea, and finally in the reiterated figure of the Minuet. Only the finale avoids its use, being dominated instead by its strangely uncertain opening theme and vigorous, rushing quavers.

Devoid of programmatic suggestions it may be, but Symphony No 42 represents Haydn’s middle-period symphonies at their finest and most abstract. Here, in a bright-coloured work in D major, he reveals the power of his symphonic grasp, with effortlessly achieved structural modulations, a cogency of thematic material and a shrewd sense of dramatic timing. No better are these qualities displayed than in the beautifully paced opening ‘Moderato e maestoso’ (these more descriptive movement headings, uncommon in Haydn, but to become familiar in Beethoven’s music, unusually preface three out of the four movements here). The slow movement is more expansive, allowing for the gradual elaboration of its two main themes. The Minuet is notable for its motivic simplicity and sparely-scored trio, while the finale represents one of the earliest, fully-fledged rondo movements for which Haydn was soon to become renowned. Here the main theme is presented by the strings alone and scored in only two voices—upper and lower strings. The wind have the second theme to themselves while the strings return with a varied version of the main idea. Thus the movement continues, finding room before its conclusion for a couple of witty, virtual disintegrations of the theme and musical flow.

Matthew Rye © 1992


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