Joseph Haydn

Symphonies Nos. 88–92

Symphony No. 88 in G major

1. Adagio – Allegro
2. Largo
3. Allegretto
4. Allegro con spirito

Haydn’s popular symphony No. 88 is a particularly successful blend of gaiety and towering intellectual strength, and in this respect is allied closely to No. 92. The work also displays a striking innovation, or rather a double innovation: this is the first of Haydn’s symphonies to use trumpets and drums in the slow movement.

The symphony begins with Haydn’s usual ‘light’ scoring, that is, without trumpets and drums. It was in fact not usual to use these instruments in a G major symphony at that time (1788), for purely technical reasons. Trumpets in G, also known as ‘English trumpets’, were too high-pitched, whereas the alternative C-trumpets would have played too limited a role in the key of G. Haydn’s G minor symphony No. 54, which does have trumpets and drums, was originally composed in 1774 without them, and it is now thought that he only added them when he later performed the symphony in England. Thus no-one at the Paris premiere would have been expecting to hear trumpets and kettledrums, and would have been very surprised to see the players sitting patiently through the first movement. When the D major second movement commenced they would been equally bemused, since trumpets and drums were rarely used in slow movements of symphonies; Haydn and Mozart had never done so before 1783. The astonishment at hearing them enter after forty bars of the slow movement must therefore have been considerable. Mozart’s first (and last) use of trumpets and drums in a slow movement was in the ‘Linz’ Symphony K 425 (1783), but the Parisians had not heard a note of it, and would not do so for many years to come, though the Viennese knew it, and possibly Haydn knew it too. Many years later the Leipzig Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung recorded the tremendous effect that was created by the introduction of trumpets and timpani into slow movements by Haydn and Mozart – even in 1798 people still recalled it. This is the kind of thing which we would do well to remember, accustomed as we are to the eight horns, three trumpets and tubas of German Romantic music, and the two pairs of kettledrums in a Wagner Walküre.

If anyone wanted to know why Haydn wrote slow introductions to most of his late symphonies, they might try playing the first movement of No. 88 without the Adagio. The introduction is particularly necessary in movements where the quick section begins piano, and you will notice that this situation occurs in Symphonies Nos. 84, 85, 86, 88, 90, 91 and 92: all their quick sections begin softly. Conversely, the other late symphonies, Nos. 82, 83, 87 and 89 all begin forte. The opening theme of, say, the Allegro of No. 88 is too delicate, too fragmented to come in out of the cold.

Of the great slow movement, Brahms is reported to have said ‘I want my Ninth Symphony to sound like that’. A variation movement built upon one of Haydn’s hymn-tunes and marked Largo, this finely wrought score gives the theme’s announcement to solo oboe supported an octave below by solo cello, and accompanied by solo bassoon, second horn, viola and the bass line. The effect is as original as the Prelude to Tristan if we attune our ears to the year 1788. How Haydn gradually enriches the theme as the movement progresses is a wonder to behold.

The Menuetto in G with C-trumpets and kettledrums is a scene out of Breugel – stamping peasants dancing round kegs of wine and tables groaning with a harvest feast. To appreciate the difference, in one word (or rather in one minuet), between Haydn and Mozart, compare this earthy, rich painting with the fantastic sophistication of the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony’s third movement, written within a year of the Haydn. In the Trio the banquet is over, much wine has been consumed and the bagpipes drone to the drowsy couples in the afternoon sun. It is another painting in vivid colours, and as earthy as the Minuet itself.

The Finale is one of the most intricately conceived yet brilliant sounding movements Haydn ever composed: a sonata rondo which is a perfect tribute to the Viennese predilection for combining intellect and beauty. Notice in the development section how – after returning rondo-like to the tonic key – Haydn suddenly launches into a fortissimo canon between upper and lower strings which continues, bar after bar, before our fascinated eyes and delighted ears: this is surely one of the great contrapuntal feats of the Viennese classical symphony.

Symphony No. 89 in F major

1. Vivace
2. Andante con moto
3. Menuet
4. Vivace assai

Placed beside the glowing strength of No. 88 Symphony No. 89 seems at first glance a rather pale companion. In fact the symphony is reserved, cool and of immaculate formal design, rather like the perfectly fashioned German porcelain figurines of the period. It is often said that Haydn opened the doors to the eighteenth-century salon and let in the fresh air; no doubt this is true to some extent – we just need to recall the barnyard richness of No. 88’s Minuet to hear it – but for No. 89 he momentarily closed the door again.

The slow movement and Finale were borrowed from the Concerto No. 5 for the King of Naples, composed in 1786, one year earlier than the symphony. Haydn retained the form of the Concerto’s slow movement more or less unchanged, but he enlarged the Finale with a highly symphonic section in F minor, whose rather ferocious off-beat accents add strength and orchestral colour to an otherwise rather Rococo movement.

Perhaps the most original part of this symphony is the Menuet. It begins with a rustic wind band solo and the first part ends with a rather coy solo for the flute. At the beginning of the second section, the bass voice is provided first by the horns and then by the bassoons: it all sounds very droll. The end of the Menuet proper is a long tonic pedal point which suddenly bursts into fortissimo in a very Beethovenian way.

Symphonies for the Comte d’Ogny and the Prince von Oettingen-Wallerstein

Symphony No. 90 in C major

1. Adagio – Allegro assai
2. Andante
3. Menuet
4. Allegro assai

Haydn may have dedicated three symphonies (Nos. 90-92) to Monseigneur le Comte d’Ogny in Paris, and he may have sent them to Schloss Wallerstein in Bavaria, but he always had in mind his own orchestra at Esterháza. The evidence for this can be found in the wind scoring: Symphony No. 90 has one flute, two bassoons, two horns pitched in C alto, and two trumpets. There were certainly two flutes not only in Paris but also at Wallerstein, whereas at Esterháza there was only one. Another speciality at Esterháza were the C alto horns which took the place of trumpets in festive works with kettledrums. But Haydn must have known that C alto horns were (and are) extremely difficult to play and that they were probably unknown in Paris and London. It is typical that the authentic Le Duc edition, based on the autograph manuscript, simply dropped the word ‘alto’ and so did Longman & Broderip in their authentic edition of 1791. So we have a fine point here; when Haydn played the works at Esterháza he used high horns and simply omitted the trumpet parts; in London we know that he used the trumpet parts (because they are included in the authentic print ‘as performed by Mr. Salomons [sic] concert Hanover Square’), but what did he do with the horns? Did they really play in C alto? Life for an eighteenth-century musician was nothing but an endless series of compromises...

There is an interesting formal device in the first movement. Haydn must have pondered the problem of uniting the slow introduction more closely to the body of the movement. Here he does so by the simplest, most direct but also most effective, easily audible means: the music of bars 5-8 of the Adagio introduction, speeded up to Allegro assai, becomes the main theme of the quick section. The movement as a whole has the brilliance for which Haydn’s C major festive symphonies are known, but it lacks the trenchant power of the opening of the Symphony No. 82. No. 90 is more ceremonious and has something of the cool reserve that can be detected in No. 89.

The slow movement is much in the same restrained vein: even the large section in F minor is more of a formal device than a sense of self-identification with the somber key (as in Symphony No. 49 or the Quartet op. 20, no. 5). The coda, with its rich woodwind scoring, is beautiful in its quiet dignity: one notes the pianissimo which suddenly enters to underline the surprise modulation to D flat major.

There is once again, as in the Symphony No. 82, something very French about this Menuet: gone are the stamping peasants of No. 88; here is a glittering ball at the Château de Versailles in the last season it would ever know. It is extraordinary that Haydn could have imagined another civilisation without ever having experienced it at first hand. If we sense the bluest sky in the world when hearing Haydn’s music for the King of Naples (Concertos Hob VIIb:1-5), with Symphony No. 90 Haydn has with the same genius entered Louis XVI’s artificial, brilliant and extravagant court, flourishing while France lay in the grip of starvation.

The finale is one of Haydn’s fast-moving, monothematic movements in sonata form. When the movement appears to have come to a close, there follows a rest of four bars, and the movement suddenly continues in the flattened supertonic (D flat), rather in the way that popular melodies nowadays are pushed up a semitone towards the middle, the ensuing coda is enormous (over seventy bars) and full of drollery. It is the familiar Haydn, but without the usual warmth – possibly for that reason, the jokes appear more ironical than witty.

Symphony No. 91 in E flat major

1. Largo – Allegro assai
2. Andante
3. Menuet
4. Vivace

E flat major is a favourite key with many composers, and Haydn was no exception: he, too, appreciated its mellowness, the rich sonority that wind instruments assume when in that key, and the curious effect whereby the sound of the strings loses its edge. The very introduction of Symphony No. 91 shows how much the key influenced the composition, as it did at the same juncture in No. 84. When, in 1791, Haydn asked Frau von Genzinger to send the work to London, he had completely forgotten this expansive and generous music, and had instead to quote the beginning of the fast section. (In a similar way, Mozart forgot the whole ‘Haffner’ Symphony and was astonished at how good it was when his father sent it back to Vienna six months later.)

The main theme of the first movement’s Allegro assai is constructed in double counterpoint at the octave, whereby the second part of the theme is the top and bottom lines reversed. Haydn keeps adding extra voices to his theme: when the dominant key is reached, the 1st violins have a new voice, and soon the flute and oboe as well. There is a sequential second subject and a long closing episode to set off the contrapuntal austerity of the main theme. In the development, this subject is given yet another extra voice, first in the oboe and then in the flute. We now have the main subject, itself in double counterpoint, with a variety of counter-subjects, and finally, at the end of the movement, there is a supreme contrapuntal feat of combining them all simultaneously in a four-voiced display: countersubject I in the flute, 1st oboe and 1st violins; countersubject II in the violas; top voice of the theme in 2nd oboe and 2nd violins; bottom voice in bassoons, cellos and basses. Deo matematica.

The dancing quality of the Andante is immediately apparent. The movement appears to be a normal theme and variations, with the usual droll effects (the bassoon solo, the minore section, and so forth); but we are not prepared for the riotous series of trills, just before the end, where the whole orchestra seems to have gone mad.

In the third movement, marked (oddly) ‘Un poco Allegretto’, we notice the beautiful lead-back to the return of the ‘A’ section of the Menuet proper: a long dominant pedal point, with delicate bassoon colouring. The Trio has strong elements of the waltz. In its second section, there is a series of very original fz decrescendi, first in the horns, then in the oboes: Haydn would return to this little bizarrerie with added zest in the Trio of Symphony No. 92.

The finale has a gay melody over a chattering 2nd violin part, later transferred to the cellos. Except for a tiny second subject, the whole movement is in the secure grasp of this main theme: Haydn detaches the first six notes and uses them as accompaniment, then uses just the fifth and sixth notes, spinning these out to produce a whole passage in the middle of the development. A winning conclusion to a bright, warm-hearted symphony.

Symphony No. 92 “Oxford” in G major

1. Adagio – Allegro spiritoso
2. Adagio
3. Allegretto
4. Presto

On 14 July 1789 two things happened: the Bastille fell and, by a curious stroke of fate, Mozart’s revolutionary opera on Beaumarchais’s text, Le nozze di Figaro arrived at Esterháza. As the ordered and serene life of the ancien régime began to disintegrate, Haydn was penning his Symphony No. 92, a tribute to all that was gracious and beautiful in pre-revolutionary Europe.

The symphony opens ‘in the middle’ and, moreover, off-tonic. Once again, Haydn was breaking rules: it would not have done to start a symphony with this non-theme in the non-tonic. Thus we find that the slow introduction, with its wandering middle voice in the cello, has in its own right an extraordinary profundity and loveliness. Its intense chromaticism as the music progresses underlines the late-summery stillness that, as the Symphony moves into the slow movement, becomes autumn.

The off-tonic first theme does not settle into G major until the first tutti, when the trumpets and kettledrums also enter. Haydn’s invention with this very small subject (four bars to be exact) is boundless. As is very often the case when Haydn’s first subject is very small in size, we are given a fully developed second subject. Haydn reveals to us the enormous contrapuntal possibilities of the first subject during the development section: the first subject with the grace-note figure of the second, the first subject in canon with itself, in inversion with itself, as a canon in several parts. It is in the greatest contrapuntal tradition.

This is the second slow movement (Adagio) in which Haydn introduces trumpets and timpani. The theme is one of the hymn tunes which we have come to know from these years of Haydn’s life, and there is once again (as there was in No. 88 and in No. 92’s introduction) a separate cello line.

The Menuet is on the same large symphonic scale as that in No. 86, and with a large middle or ‘development’ section. It is also a very serious movement, not solely because of its frequent excursions into the minor: the heart jumps, but not for joy. The Trio takes over the syncopated forzato-decrescendo trick found in the Trio of Symphony No. 91: here it is still further extended. The whole Trio is very influenced by these syncopations. Again, we note that it, too, is a serious movement.

The Finale is even more dazzling, if that were possible. It begins with a bizarre effect: the theme in the first violins over nothing but bare octaves in the cello. Later editors added harmony here, but the autograph and other authentic sources are quite clear as to what the composer intended. There is also a big second subject. Never has Haydn showed such ingenuity as in the contrapuntal extension of his thematic material in the development; nothing seems too much for him to attempt. Finally, after all this daring and highly chromatic experimentation, we land in C major and the second subject: suddenly the C-trumpets enter with a delightful effect. When the second subject returns in the recapitulation, Haydn gives a new accompaniment to the second horn, who must not only display agility in octave jumping but also show off his ‘stopped’ note C sharp.

Haydn was quite right to pick this symphony for the concert to celebrate his Oxford degree in July 1791, for it artlessly combines the greatest contrapuntal mind since J.S. Bach with a rich symphonic style.

H.C. Robbins Landon