About this Recording
8.554108 - HAYDN: Symphonies, Vol. 17 (Nos. 54, 56, 57)

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 54 in G major
Symphony No. 56 in C major
Symphony No. 57 in D major

Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, he spent some years earning a living as best he could from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to learn from the old musician Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn's first appointment was in 1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin. This was followed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, succeeded on his death in 1762 by his brother, Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydn succeeded to his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.

On the completion, under the new Prince, of the magnificent palace at Esterháza, built on the site of a former hunting-lodge set on the Hungarian plains, Haydn assumed command of an increased musical establishment. Here he had responsibility for the musical activities of the palace, which included the provision and direction of instrumental music, opera and theatre music, and music for the church. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds, particularly for the Prince's own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.

On the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790, Haydn was able to accept an invitation to visit London, where he provided music for the concert season organized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterházy family, the new head of which had settled principally at the family property in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career. Much of the year, however, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dying in 1809 as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.

Whether Haydn was the father of the symphony is a question best left to musical genealogists. His career, however, spanned the period during which the classical symphony developed as the principal orchestral form. He himself certainly played a major part in this development, from his first symphony some time before 1759 to his final series of symphonies written for the greater resources of London in 1794 and 1795. The London symphonies were preceded by similar works for Paris and a much larger body of compositions of more modest scoring for the orchestra at Esterháza and at Eisenstadt, many of the last calling for a keyboard continuo, at least with the relatively smaller number of string players available.

The three symphonies here included form part of a group of four such works, written at Esterháza in 1774, a busy year in which Haydn received particular rewards from his patron. The Symphony No. 54 in G major is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns (in G and, for the slow movement, low C), trumpets and timpani, with strings. It seems that this final full instrumentation was the result of later revision. The first movement opens emphatically, its first chord answered with restraint, as is the second emphatic chord of the dominant, before the unanimous statement that follows. The Presto starts with arising arpeggio figure played softly by the strings and answered by bassoons and horns. The second subject provides more scope for the woodwind, answering the strings. It is the opening Presto figure that starts the central development of the movement, now moving from D major to B major and through arising sequence of keys. A pause leads, but for the key, to the expectation of a recapitulation, but is followed, instead, by the lower strings and first bassoon playing the opening figure in E major. A later pause is followed by the return of the original key and material, now varied in recapitulation. Muted strings open the c major Adagio assai, scored for pairs of oboes and horns, with strings. Necessary modulation to G major, the dominant key, is followed, as the central section starts, by a sudden shift to a unison B flat. This extended movement brings its own surprises, not least the appearance, so it seems, of a cadenza for two violins or for first and second violins, after which the movement comes to an end. The Minuet performs its necessary function, breaking the tension, restoring the original key and full instrumentation and framing its own contrasting Trio section, with the first violin doubled at the octave by a solo bassoon. The final Presto is, like the first movement, in tripartite sonata-allegro form, the first of its two subjects appearing over a syncopated accompaniment, and the second gentler material first stated by the strings. There is a central development, with shifts of key, and a final recapitulation that allows an unexpected twist in the first subject.

Symphony No. 56 in C major is scored for two oboes, bassoon, two horns (in high C and, for the slow movement, in F), pairs of trumpets and timpani, with strings. The first movement opens with éclat, as all join in a descending arpeggio figure, gently answered by the strings, which later introduce the elegant second subject. The central development brings changes of key and continuing contrasts of dynamics, reduced to the softest before the return of the principal subject in recapitulation. The return of the second subject comes after a pause and soft roll of the drums, and the use of high C horns and trumpets ensures a particular brilliance of timbre. Oboes, bassoon and F horns join the strings in the F major slow movement, opened by muted violins, followed by the unexpected emergence of a solo bassoon, accompanied by the strings and a sustained low F from the second horn. The movement, as it proceeds, brings an effective use of the two oboes and passages of first violin elaboration. The C major Minuet, with the transparent texture of its F major Trio, prepares the way for the final Prestissimo, opening with triplets that characterize the first subject and allow cross-rhythms in the second, played by the violins over a sustained note from the first oboe and violas, and a plucked marking of the metre from cellos and double basses. Dashing triplets provide excitement in the central development, before the final return of the material with which the movement had opened.

Symphony No. 57 in major D, scored for two oboes, bassoon, two horns (in D and, for the slow movement, in G) and strings, follows a more modest pattern of instrumentation, in which the bassoon doubles the string bass line. Haydn may have added trumpets and drums for later performances. The first movement opens with a slow introduction, followed by an energetic Allegro in the first subject of which the oboes double the violins, before the strings repeat the subject alone. The A major second subject is entrusted first to the violins, while the central development section of the movement provides variety of key and texture, before the material is recapitulated. The G major Adagio starts with plucked strings, the violins muted for the bowed second bar, alternation that characterizes the theme, which is then varied with increasing elaboration. The D major Minuet has a D minor Trio for strings alone and is followed by a rapid finale of almost perpetual motion that at once poses rhythmic problems in performance. The course of the movement is broken by held notes, diminishing in sound, which re-appear in the final recapitulation of a technically demanding piece of writing.

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