About this Recording
8.554406 - HAYDN: Symphonies, Vol. 21 (Nos. 66, 67, 68)

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 66 in B flat major; Symphony No. 67 in F major
Symphony No. 68 in B flat 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 subsequently spent some years earning a living as best he could from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to profit from association with the old composer Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn's first appointment was in 1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin, whose kinsman had once served as patron to Vivaldi. This was followed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, succeeded after his death in 1762 by Prince Nicolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had found much to complain about in the professionalism of his young and resented deputy, Haydn succeeded to his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.

On the completion of the magnificent palace at Esterháza in the Hungarian plains under Prince Nicolaus, 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 music for the theatre, as well as 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.

Prince Nicolaus died in 1790 and Haydn found himself able to accept an invitation to visit London. There he provided music for concert seasons 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 with them. 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.

Haydn lived during the period of the eighteenth century that saw the development of instrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel to the era of the classical sonata, with its tripartite first-movement form and complementary three or four movements, the basis now of much instrumental composition. The symphony may claim to have become the most important form of orchestral composition and owes a great deal, if not its precise paternity, to Haydn. He first attempted such composition some time before 1759 and wrote his last symphonies for London in the last decade of the century.

The mid-1770s found Haydn occupied with the usual varied obligations of his position. Operas were to be composed and staged both for the theatre at Esterháza and the palace Marionette Theatre and there were visits for performances at the Imperial Palace at Schönbrunn. Although the bulk of Haydn's work was carried out at Esterháza, there were shorter periods spent in Vienna, when other business might be transacted. The busy months brought the composition of dance music and, on a weightier level, of a number of symphonies, including Nos. 66, 67 and 68, conjecturally dated to the years from 1774 to 1776. The three symphonies were issued with some inaccuracies by the Berlin-Amsterdam publisher Hummel in 1779, numbered as Œuvre XV.

Symphony No. 66 in B flat major is scored for the usual orchestra of oboes, bassoons, horns and strings. The first movement opens with a formula that Haydn had occasion to use elsewhere, a call to attention in a loud initial chord, followed by the descending notes of the arpeggio. The secondary theme is marked dolce e piano and both themes are used in the central development, concluded by oboes and violins alone before the fuller return of the two subjects in recapitulation. The greater part of the F major slow movement is entrusted to the strings, with dynamic contrasts for the muted violins. A dramatic climax ends the first section on a violin trill, followed by a central section that brings its own excitement, before the return of the opening. The original key is restored in the Minuet, framing a Trio in which the bassoon and oboe take it in turns to double the first violin. The final rondo opens with a principal theme in two live-bar phrases, which are immediately repeated, and this material is used to frame a series of contrasting episodes.

Similarly orchestrated, the Symphony No. 67 in F major opens with a very soft and rapid 6/8 theme from the first violins, soon backed up by the seconds, before more forceful development. The smoother second subject is introduced by violins and oboes, both paired in thirds. The characteristic rhythm is rarely broken throughout the movement, and then only to introduce the secondary theme in which the same motion persists. Muted violins introduce the B flat major slow movement. The second section includes a canon for second and first violin, entering in close imitation one of the other, followed by the return of the principal theme. The movement ends with five bars played col legno (with the wood of the bow). The Minuet is paired with a Trio for two muted solo violins, the second using scordatura, a retuning of the fourth string of the violin, the G string, down to the note F to provide a drone Musette bass. The first violin, meanwhile, is to play everything on the first string, the E string. The last movement introduces another surprise when, after the two expected subjects have been presented, the orchestra breaks off and its place is taken by a string trio, two solo violins and a solo cello, in a further slow movement, marked Adagio e cantabile, in which the whole orchestra eventually joins. The Allegro di molto returns in due course, to bring the symphony to an end.

A brilliant Vivace opens the Symphony No. 68 in B flat major, its opening echoed by pairs of oboes and bassoons. The secondary theme is announced by the first violin over a staccato accompaniment from the second violin and viola and the plucked notes of the cello and double bass, a procedure followed in the final recapitulation, after the central development of the material. The Minuet, here placed second, frames a Trio of dynamic contrasts, to be followed by an E flat major slow movement that is opened by muted violins in melodic material that returns, after a varied central section to the movement. The mood changes with a final rondo of surprises, its first contrasting episode allowing the bassoons to disport themselves and the second episode sharing the honours between oboes and strings. There is an excursion into a sombre G minor and a later use of solo instruments to echo each other, before the lively conclusion.

Keith Anderson

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