Three years after Symphony No 72, Prince Nikolaus’s rival to Versailles was completed. This new summer palace of Eszterháza, in the marshes bordering the Neusiedlersee, now became Haydn’s home for much of the year, and it was here, with the regular performances of operas and concerts, that the court’s reputation as one of the most cultured in Europe soon began to grow. The palace boasted its own opera house as well as a marionette theatre. But in November 1779 a fire, which started when stoves over-heated and exploded in the Chinese ballroom (while being prepared for a wedding ceremony several days later), swept through the neighbouring opera house. Haydn lost his harpsichord and countless manuscripts (particularly of his operas) and the cultural life of the palace seemed doomed. Yet the opera company retired to the small puppet theatre and the puppets to an even smaller pavilion in the gardens and exactly a month after the fire a ceremony was held in which the prince laid the foundation stone for a new and even grander opera theatre. It was for this occasion that Haydn wrote a new Symphony, No 70 in D major.
Always ready to respond to particular circumstances, he produced a work worthy of the occasion, beginning with an overture-like first movement that sets an optimistic tone. In the second and fourth movements we see him little short of showing off his contrapuntal powers. The Andante is a two-part canon, or ‘specie d’un canone in contrapunto doppio’ as he wrote in the score, in which the two parts are capable of being inverted—and indeed are in the second half of the opening paragraph. The Finale is even more remarkable. Not only is it primarily in the tonic minor (not unknown, yet not that common in a major-key work of the time), but at its heart is a contrapuntal tour de force—a triple fugue ‘in contrapunto doppio’, in other words three concurrent two-part fugues. (Haydn later added trumpet and timpani parts to the third and fourth movements when he managed to enlist some instruments from the prince’s Forchtenstein Castle to replace those lost in the Eszterháza fire, though none of these additions are included in the present recording.)
from notes by Matthew Rye © 1991