About this Recording
8.555324 - HAYDN: Symphonies, Vol. 27 (Nos. 50, 51, 52)
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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Symphony No. 50 in C major • Symphony No. 51 in B flat major

Symphony No. 52 in C minor


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 Eszterháza 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 two or three 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.


On 31st August 1773 the Empress Maria Theresa and her court visited Eszterháza. The first day brought a play in the palace theatre, followed the next day by Haydn’s opera L’infedeltà delusa, and in the magnificent ball-room, with its chinoiserie decoration, a masked ball, at which Haydn and his musicians appeared dressed in what was described as Chinese fashion. On the third day a marionette opera, Philemon und Baucis, for which Haydn provided music, was performed, its distinctly patriotic dénouement followed by fireworks. The occasion seemingly brought a performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 48 and it has been suggested that Symphony No. 50 might also have been played for the Empress, its first two movements derived, perhaps, from the Prologue to Philemon und Baucis, with two additional movements to make up a complete symphony. The work is, in any case, in scoring and key, designed for a festive occasion, with its trumpets and drums. The first movement starts with a stately introduction with formal dotted rhythms, leading to a characteristic Allegro, the repeated exposition with a shortened second subject, material to be developed in a central section, before returning in recapitulation. The G major slow movement is entrusted principally to the strings, with the oboes only marking the recapitulation. The Menuet starts with the ascending notes of the C major triad, as in the first movement. The Trio brings a surprise, starting as it does with the same figure as the Menuet, but moving then to an F major oboe melody, and then to an E major conclusion, before the return of the Menuet. The last movement has only one theme, which returns with the necessary shifts of key, both in its second appearance, in the central development, and in the final recapitulation.


Symphony No. 51 in B flat major was written in the early 1770s, dated to a period between 1771 and 1773. The first subject of the opening movement is punctuated by the notes of one of the French horns. A transition that moves through a dramatic G minor leads to a delicately scored second subject, largely shared by first and second violins. The central development includes a particularly deceptive false recapitulation in E flat, anticipating the true return to the material of the exposition that later follows. Muted violins, with the lower strings, accompany a solo horn in the E flat major slow movement. The second horn follows the high register melody of his partner with notes at the bottom of the instrument’s range, before the entry of a solo oboe. In the middle section the horn follows the oboe, leading to the amplification by the strings of triplet figuration already briefly heard. The recapitulation allows the second horn a short moment of glory in an accompanying arpeggio. The Menuetto frames a first Trio for strings alone and then a second Trio that makes fuller use of the pairs of oboes and horns, with the first horn ascending to the very height of its range, and the second descending to the depths. The symphony ends with a rondo, its recurrent principal theme serving as a framework for contrasted episodes, with the horns finally urging the work forward to its conclusion.

Symphony No. 52 in C minor is dated to the same period. The first movement opens with a unison figure, the start of a characteristic Sturm und Drang work. The second subject appears twice and there is a strong figure of contrapuntal suggestion, realised in the development. The violins are muted in the C major slow movement, with the high C and the E flat horns now replaced by low C instruments. Serenity is interrupted by the same descending semitone that had added a touch of sinister drama to the first movement. The Menuetto brings with it a C major Trio of surprising off-beat accentuation.


It is followed by a final Presto, the principal theme introduced by the syncopation of the first and second violins. Its rapid course is interrupted, in the repeated second part of the movement, by a sudden silence, before proceeding to five strong chords, followed by the near unanimity of the strongly stated final bars.


Keith Anderson

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