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Hyperion Records

CDH55114 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 13-16
CDH55114
(Originally issued on CDA66534)
St Giles' Cripplegate, United Kingdom
Release date: May 2002
Total duration: 73 minutes 7 seconds

'An impressive addition to a fine series. Recommended with enthusiasm' (CDReview)

Symphonies Nos 13-16
Allegro molto  [4'56]
Adagio cantabile  [6'51]
Menuet  [5'54]
Allegro molto  [3'54]
Andante  [6'10]
Finale: Allegro  [3'02]
Menuet  [4'59]
Andante  [6'01]
Finale: Presto  [2'32]
Allegro  [4'22]
Andante  [6'46]
Finale: Presto  [3'07]
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Despite their numbering, the present four symphonies were not written consecutively. Their order of composition is more likely to be the reverse—16, 15, 14, 13, with the second two post-dating the former pair by two or three years—but all being representative of works written for two of Haydn’s principal employers, the Morzin and Esterházy families.

The Morzins gave Haydn his first position in the important role of Kapellmeister (literally, head of the chapel music, or music master of the household). The count and his family divided their time between a summer castle in Bohemia and a town house in Vienna, though most of Haydn’s time was spent at the former residence. Morzin’s orchestra was relatively small, but he also employed a wind band (oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani) whose players joined the strings of the orchestra when required. It was for this enlarged ensemble that Haydn composed some dozen or more symphonies, including Nos 15 and 16 (they are in fact closer to 7 or 8 in number), between about 1759 and 1761 when financial problems forced Morzin to disband his orchestra and Haydn took up his appointment with the Esterházys.

Symphony No 15 is one of the most interesting works from this period. Its first movement is unusually in the style of a French overture, a form marked by its A–B–A, slow–fast– slow structure with, here, extensive Adagio sections framing a lively Presto. The second movement also has a French character to it, particularly in the dotted rhythms of the main Minuet section. The finale is again a Presto and shows Haydn’s nascent mastery of instrumentation and formal ingenuity.

Symphony No 16 is no less fascinating a work. Again in three movements, here they are more straightforward in layout, though no less striking in content. The first movement, for example, already shows Haydn’s penchant for monothematic symphonic movements, with the main contrapuntal theme of its opening providing all the motivic material he requires to produce a cogent and coherent Allegro. The slow movement for strings alone is by contrast much less intense and is marked by the doubling at a lower octave of the main violin theme by a solo cello throughout. The excitement returns with the 68 Presto finale, one of the first manifestations in his symphonies of Haydn’s predisposition to musical wit.

By the middle of the eighteenth century the Esterházys were the wealthiest and most powerful family of the Hungarian aristocracy and were also among the most culturally influential, with Haydn as the linchpin of a highly developed musical infrastructure giving regular performances of orchestral music and opera week in, week out during the society season.

When Prince Nikolaus Esterházy succeeded his brother Paul Anton (who had initially brought Haydn to Eisenstadt) in 1762, he set about enlarging the orchestra and generally expanding the musical activities of the court. By August 1763 Haydn had doubled the horn contingent in the orchestra, from the then-prevalent two to a generous four, and the same year wrote a pair of symphonies to justify this extravagance to the prince. No 72 (one of the most grossly misnumbered in the conventional ordering) was a real display piece, but in Symphony No 13 Haydn attempted to show how well the horn quartet was suited to ensemble-playing. He wrote for it in a way that was to become the standard nineteenth-century practice in which four-part writing gave horns I and III the upper voices and II and IV the lower, in interlocking fashion.

The great hall in the palace at Eisenstadt was fairly large and had an ample acoustic, something that Haydn bore in mind in his twenty or so symphonies written there between 1761 and 1765 (from 1766 the bulk of the court’s musical activities shifted to the new summer palace of Eszterháza, the intimacy of whose music room led Haydn to experiment with more chamber-music-like sonorities). This is most notable in the first movement of No 13, whose sustained, organ-like wind chords counterbalance and support the vigorous rhythmic repetitions of the unison arpeggio string theme that dominates the movement. A further subtle use of the acoustic occurs when the recapitulation arrives with a surreptitious piano, before the four unison horns proudly proclaim the arpeggio idea.

Almost something straight out of a concerto, the ‘Adagio cantabile’ is a movement for solo cello whose melody gently meanders above a repeated staccato chordal pattern on the other strings. The Minuet restores the tutti forces of the whole orchestra, but for the trio Haydn again reduces the instrumentation to strings, this time accompanying a solo flute. For the finale, Haydn combines a fugal style with sonata form. The cantus firmus subject will doubtlessly sound familiar, being the same four-note Gregorian ‘Credo’ theme that would later furnish the finale of Mozart’s last symphony, No 41 in C, K551.

Symphony No 14 is a somewhat more compressed work than its probable successor, No 13. Here, a restless first movement and contrapuntal finale (the latter anticipating the cantus firmus treatment in No 13) frame an Andante based on a movement from an early divertimento and a Minuet in which the horns are again prominent.

Matthew Rye © 1993


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