Saturday, November 19, 2005


Haydn: The Psychological Scheme of the Symphony

Haydn is the grand architect of the psychological scheme of the Symphony. A Symphony opens, in its first (allegro) Movement, with that dignity and seriousness of bearing which immediately proclaim the lofty purpose, nothing short of the most perfect design, that of the sonata-allegro form, with its firmness of line, its provision for contrast and confirmation, and its wholly satisfactory total effect, could be tolerated. To emphasize this weighty quality still further, it became customary with Haydn, especially in his later Symphonies, to prefix an Introduction, in slow tempo (generally largo), serious in tone, but arresting, and sometimes mildly dramatic. All the succeeding masters of the Symphony adopted the idea of the Introduction, and either applied it or omitted it, as swayed by the specific conceptive quality and aim of the work in its totality.

In the second Movement the atmosphere changes from this sterner aspect to a more intimate, lyric, emotional, altogether sympathetic mood, in slow or stately tempo. Now, the subsequent abrupt transition from this gentler mood to the hilarity and bustle of the Finale might well prove to be too startling; and for this reason Haydn drew upon the Suite for one of its most congenial dances (usually the Minuet); its complacent, graceful, partly subdued and partly rhythmically animated character fitted into this transitional purpose admirably, without interfering with the lively spirit, the rollicking gaiety of the last Movement.

The Finale itself naturally adopts the only medium of contrast that is left to choose from---the spirited, light-hearted, brilliant mood, which matches each of the foregoing phases sufficiently well, and leaves the hearer at the end with a sensation of exhilaration and complete satisfaction that crowns the enjoyment of the whole work.

These are the established qualities which earned for Haydn the title of Founder of the modern Symphony.

The proof of his wisdom lies in the fact that this four-square disposition of the symphonic Movements, with its well-defined and sensibly bridged contrasting moods, was accepted by Haydn's successors and has held its own without essential modification to the present day. Any deviation from it seems to lower the standard, and has necessitated the use of other titles, such as Tone-Poem, Orchestral Suite, and the like.

In the above example, Haydn, it is true, places the Minuet after the Allegro as second Movement; but the Dance soon gravitated to its established place as third Movement. Further it was Beethoven who, by quickening the tempo of the Minuet and calling it a Scherzo in many of his works, established a slightly different and in some instances even more effective alternation and merging of moods.

The sonata-allegro design was occasionally adopted for the slow Movement, especially in larger and more pretentious works; and it was not unusual to apply it also to the Finale---although for a Movement of so light a nature, the more perspicuous and recognizable design of the Rondo appears to be more consistent and effective.

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