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Hyperion Records

CDH55123 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 82-84
CDH55123
(Originally issued on CDA66527)

Recording details: December 1991
Watford Town Hall, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: April 2003
Total duration: 78 minutes 27 seconds

GRAMOPHONE CRITICS' CHOICE

Symphonies Nos 82-84
Vivace assai  [11'06]
Allegretto  [7'50]
Menuet  [5'07]
Finale: Vivace  [5'23]
Andante  [7'42]
Finale: Vivace  [5'32]
Andante  [6'36]
Finale: Vivace  [5'52]
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 Austro-Hungary as Spain and England. 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 renumeration from such popularity. Yet he took every opportunity to respond to commissions from abroad, particularly Paris, the most important of which resulted in the six so-called ‘Paris’ symphonies, numbers 82 to 87.

Concert life in Paris during the eighteenth century (and indeed later) was organized 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. 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 Parisian musical patrons, Claude-François-Marie Rigoley, Comte d’Ogny (1757–1790). It was at his instigation that in about 1784 the Concert commissioned six symphonies from Haydn (he later also commissioned numbers 90, 91 and 92), though he appears to have enlisted the help of the composer and chef d’orchestre Le Chevalier Joseph-Boulogne de Saint-Georges (incidentally, described by the Haydn scholar H C Robbins Landon as a ‘swashbuckling ladykiller’) to liaise with Haydn.

As so often with Haydn’s symphonies their numbering is at odds with their true chronology. He requested his Viennese publisher Artaria to 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 reordering (presumably for commercial reasons) that has left them in the order we know them today. In their original sequence, the first three date probably from 1785, the second three from the following year.

The six symphonies 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 the works to publishers in Vienna and London):

Ces Symphonies … ne peuvent manquer d’être recherchées avec le plus vif empressement par ceux qui ont eu le bonheur de les entendre, & même par ceux qui ne les connoisent pas. Le nom d’Haydn répond de leur mérite extraordinaire.

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

Neither of the subtitles attached to the first two symphonies are Haydn’s own and were probably added by admiring Parisians in the early years of their existence. No 82 gained its nickname of ‘The Bear’ from the opening of its finale, with its heavy, drone-like ostinato bass. But there is an almost animal-like vigour and excitement too to the opening movement, dominated by the aggressive repeated semiquavers of its first subject. The Allegretto bears a resemblance to variation form, but Haydn’s treatment of his theme is characteristically idiosyncratic, with two minor-key ‘B’ sections alluding to the contours of the main theme, but recognizably asserting their own individuality. With the Minuet he favours French grace and grandeur over Germanic rusticity (indeed, in most of these symphonies he uses the French term menuet) and in the trio he courts the reputed esteem of the Olympique’s wind players. This continues in the (definitely rustic) finale, a sonata movement in which the aforementioned ‘bear-like’ ostinato marks each structural moment.

Haydn rarely returned to the minor key for a symphony after the emotionally heavily laden works of his Sturm und Drang period in the 1760s and ’70s, but when he did, as in No 83, the result is on a par with the equivalent works of Mozart (whose own G minor symphonies date from 1773 and 1788). Though perhaps only Haydn would have counterpointed an earnest G minor opening with the naive humour of his ‘clucking’, major-key second subject, from which the symphony derives its nickname, ‘The Hen’. It is in fact a work in which the major key comes to dominate: the first movement itself is brought to a close in a triumphant G major. The Andante is in E flat major and is a movement full of dramatic dynamic contrasts, while the Minuet is perhaps a little more Germanic than that of No 82 and the finale is a sprightly G major galop.

Symphony No 84 may not be distinguished by a nickname, but its individuality is no less apparent than in its companions. The expectant Largo introduction and delightfully varied Allegro are followed by a set of variations on a 6/8 theme with Haydn again making the most of his wind instruments—towards the end of the Andante they achieve independence from the strings in a brief but effective pizzicato-accompanied passage. A gutsy Minuet and spirited finale complete the work.

Matthew Rye © 1992


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