Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Haydn's Mature Symphonies

The best of Haydn's symphonic production is recorded in his last twelve Symphonies, composed in London from 1791 to 1794. Some of these carry distinctive titles, as the Drum-roll (No.I), the London (No.II), the Drum-beat (or Surprise, No.VI), and the Military (No.XI). There is also an Oxford Symphony, written in 1788 for Paris, but first performed in London, July,1791; it was so named in recognition of the distinguished honor accorded to Haydn by Oxford University, in conferring upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Music on that occasion.

The title Drum-roll is due to the singular opening of the Symphony with a solo roll on the drum.

The history of the Drum-beat (not to be confounded with the "Drum-roll") again discloses Haydn's unconquerable humor, and his love of a good musical joke. The second (slow) Movement of the Symphony is an extremely simple melody, of folk-song character. At the end of the Period, on the heels of the softest pianissimo repetition, there is a sudden terrific crash of the drum (and the entire orchestra). One explanation of the origin of this jest is to be sought in a remark of Haydn's time: "It was my intention to give the audience something new that would surprise them." But the real underlying impulse was Haydn's determination to check the inclination of his hearer's to fall asleep (after the customary heavy dinner), during the performance of his music. It was a genuine surprise, and led to the nickname Surprise, by which the Symphony was thereafter known.

The Military Symphony was so called chiefly because Haydn, in the second Movement (based upon a most charming French Romance), augmented his orchestra in a very unusual (at the time) manner by the addition of a bass-drum, cymbals and triangle---strong percussion instruments which give the 4/4 measure the character of a military parade. But there are still other traits which contribute to the "military" impression.

Haydn's last, and in many respects best and most mature Symphony (No.XII of the London group) exhibits the following thematic factors. The first Movement begins with an impressive Introduction---an addition to the form for which Haydn manifests a more positive inclination in his later than in his earlier Symphonies. The form is a regular sonata-allegro of unusual length and breadth of conception. The Development is masterly, and indicates plainly the important advance in Haydn's musical thought. The early type of the Development-sections, practised by Haydn's predecessors and for quite a period by Haydn himself---the dry, perfunctory, haphazard (or worse still, purely mechanical) recurrences of the motives of the Exposition, with no fixed purpose, and no higher aim than to occupy the hearer's attention until it was about time to go back to the beginning---this lifeless type was gradually supplanted, in Haydn's works, by the genuine Development, in which the material of the Exposition was made to serve a definitive progressive plan, with ingenuity, originality and spirit. Such is this one of Haydn; and it exhibits some of the fine artistic qualities that entered so vitally into the supreme methods of Beethoven. Herein Haydn was unquestionably influenced by the last three great Symphonies of Mozart, written in 1788 (six years before these of Haydn). It is a curious historic phenomenon: Mozart, at first the pupil and emulator of Haydn, becomes finally his preceptor and model.

The second Movement, which reveals marked affinity with Mozart's most characteristic slow Movements,is a regular Three-Part Song-form (Part I repeated). Its message is serious, but delivered affably and without sentimentality, in a delightfully smooth, flowing rhythm.

The third Movement is the Menuetto with Trio---already a firmly established conventionality. Of special charm is the Trio, with its interesting melody, and the singularly attractive cadences, in which (measures 8-9, 15-16) the flute lays a lovely tonal arc over the cadence-lines of the other instruments---six times in all, and always the same tones f-d. Note the altered rhythmic location of these tones, at cadence-points---at first over, and then at the cadence.

The Finale is, as usual, a rollicking Presto Movement, sparkling, and permeated with humor. It is cast in the Third Rondo-form. It would require a lengthy essay to point out all the marvels of ingenuity, imagination and technical dexterity with which Haydn manipulates this material. It would be rewarding to make a thorough study of this felicitious Finale; one would discover the scource upon which Beethoven freely drew, even in his later works, for many a clever conceit that we are accustomed to appraise as original with Beethoven (for example, the episode in the Coda). Of note is the manifold treatment of the first three-tone figure. Also, that the two subordinate Themes employ the motives of the principal Theme, in a different manner and environment.

Thus did Haydn round out his symphonic activity, and crown the final concept with a genius and mastership that vindicate his rank as Founder and Father of the Classic Symphony.


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