Franz Joseph Haydn was born the son of a wagon maker at Rohrau, a small town in eastern Austria near the Hungarian border. He received his earliest musical training from an uncle. At the age of eight he became a choirboy at the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna. In the following nine years, he acquired a great deal of musical experience, but no systematic training in the theory of music. After leaving the cathedral choir when his voice broke, he took lessons in composition from an Italian singing-teacher, teaching himself counterpoint along the way.In 1759 he found employment in the household of a Bohemian nobleman. In 1761 he took service with Prince Paul Esterhazy, a man devoted to music and the arts. Within the Esterhazy Palace were two theatres and a concert hall with a resident orchestra. Haydn was to remain in the Prince's service for 30 years until the Prince's death. The succeeding Prince closed the theatres and concert hall and disbanded the orchestra, but Haydn was awarded a pension, retained his lodgings, and was free to travel abroad.
Haydn's reputation had much earlier reached England. When the impresario Peter Salomon (who had previously tried to attract Haydn to London) heard that Haydn was now a free agent, he set off hot-foot to Vienna to persuade him to come to London. He succeeded, and so successful was Haydn's first visit of 1791-92 that he returned in 1794. King George III tried to persuade him to stay. For this visit, Haydn composed his second set of six so-called 'London' symphonies, Nos 99-104.
The London concerts took place in the Hanover Square Rooms; Haydn leading from the harpsichord with Peter Salomon playing first violin. Haydn returned home in 1795 a happy man, with more than just loose change in his pocket.
Throughout the twelve 'London' symphonies Nos 93-104 he was developing his orchestral compositional technique. Trumpets and timpani start to appear in his slow movements, and clarinets feature in all except No 102. In addition, his harmonies and key structures were becoming a little more adventurous.
The opening slow introduction, in D minor, is dark and tense in character. There is more than a hint of chromaticism, and the dramatic pauses within its 23 bars may give the listener cause for concern. However, in the very next bar this is immediately swept aside, for we are now into a rollicking 6/8 Presto in D major. A rising staccato scale passage from the violins announces the movement's first subject (or theme).
Following the repeat of the first subject, strings alone lead into the C major second subject. This is taken up by the flutes and oboes, and its dotted minim theme becomes more relaxed in character. The second subject is quite short, and could easily be missed. Throughout the development section, Haydn interplays both subjects very subtly. There is a certain amount of chromaticism and tonal movement until 30 bars from the movement's end. Then just four bars in A major lead to three transitional bars, which include four emphatic chords from bassoons and French horns, and the Coda skips into our hearing. This is now back in the home key of D major, and repeats the opening Presto theme, played an octave higher. The movement proceeds swiftly to its strong chordal close.
Staccato bassoons, and the plucked strings of the second violins and celli, open the movement. It is their persistent tick-tock pulse which gave rise to the symphony's nickname. Above this, the first violins present the first subject, which has its own distinctive skipping pulse. This is a delightful variation on what is going on below, and is itself to be developed through semi- and demi-semi-quaver configurations as the movement proceeds.
Haydn's subtle key changes add variety to the movement's progress. It opens in G major, goes through the minor, and comes back to the major. At this point, the opening design of the movement is turned upside down, with the flutes taking over the tick-tock pulse (albeit with the bassoons). The lower strings are now silent for 34 bars. After a pause the music re-starts in G minor. It is somewhat dour in character, but not for long. We are soon back into the major, and with the basic pulse and note groupings tossed hither and thither throughout the orchestra, the movement proceeds to a quiet close.
With accents off the beat, and uneven phrasing, Haydn presents us with an earthy rather than a genteel dance. The Trio's rhythm is firmly rooted in the soil (touching on the Ländler). The flute's ascending theme recalls the violin's very first entry in the symphony's opening Presto, but is now much more mellifluous. The stolid quaver crotchet rhythm is maintained throughout the Trio, passing through differing instrumentation until the minuet is reprised.
The rondo opens with strings alone. The first violins introduce an eight-bar theme, spirited yet wistful in character. Its first three minims are to play an important part in the later 'fugato'. The second theme is more open and airy, and extends over 20 bars. Both themes are repeated. The two themes are dexterously worked together, and interwoven throughout the orchestra. A less driven D minor episode leads into the fugato, now in the home key of D major. This begins with the violins re-stating the movement's opening eight-bar theme. The whole orchestra is subsequently drawn into the fugato's development. Having seemed to be irretrievably lost, that opening theme reappears very softly in the strings. It is used to introduce the Coda, which sails forth to conclude the symphony in exultant fashion.
Programme notes for BHSO performance, Apr 1999
Written by Roy Saberton
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