Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Haydn: Symphony No. 2 in C major

This is the first in what I plan to be a series of posts giving an overview of the Haydn symphonies. He wrote well over one hundred symphonies so I certainly won't talk about every one. Instead, I will pick and choose interesting symphonies and look at how they are put together. When I was in graduate school I shared an office with a fellow whose specialty was Haydn. I think he could probably play you, from memory, the important themes to most of the Haydn symphonies--a rare achievement! I must confess that I only know a few of the symphonies and have probably heard less than half! So this exercise is as much for me as for the reader.

Haydn's first symphonies date from the very end of the 1750s when he got his first position as music director (Kapellmeister) of the establishment of Count Morzin. The count had a small orchestra of fewer than 20 players for which Haydn composed his very first symphonies. In the summer, the household was based at the count's hereditary estates in the small village (about 800 inhabitants, then and now) of Dolní Lukavice in what is now the Czech Republic. Winters were spent in the capital, Vienna. Here is a photo of the now much run-down Morzin palace:

I often write as if the Classical style sprang fully-formed from the forehead of Joseph Haydn and he was certainly the central figure in the development of the style. But, especially when it comes to orchestral music, he was not the only important figure. I had already mentioned in a previous post the influence of C. P. E. Bach, who was based in Berlin. But I should also mention a school of composers for orchestra based in Mannheim and called, of course, the Mannheim School. It was this orchestra of virtuoso players that developed a host of special techniques such as the whole orchestra crescendo, and the Mannheim rocket, a particular kind of theme that used an ascending arpeggio combined with a crescendo to exploit the sonority of the orchestra. They also pioneered the use of wind instruments in an independent way and not just to color and reinforce the string sound. Indeed, along with the virtuoso innovations of Antonio Vivaldi in Venice, it was the Mannheim school that created the foundation of the modern orchestra.

What was needed was a new musical 'language' to give shape and form to the orchestral materials and it was this that Haydn provided, starting with his first, brief symphonies composed for that tiny orchestra of Count Morzin.

Let's start with probably the most modest of Haydn's early efforts, the Symphony No. 2 in C major written for Count Morzin sometime between 1757 and 1761. There are three movements, a quick opening in what was to become known as "first movement" form, a slow movement and a quick, dance-like finale in rondo form--Haydn's first attempt to write a symphonic rondo! The instrumentation is two oboes, basson, two horns and strings.

The opening theme has a strong, clear character with an octave leap, followed by a scale:

According to the textbooks, in sonata form (another name for this form), the first theme should be followed by a second with a contrasting character, but Haydn, throughout his career, was famous for often using just one theme, and variants, to build a movement. In this case, the first theme in C is followed by another in G, the dominant:

But you will notice that it bears a striking similarity to the first theme: both have the octave leap followed by a scale, though in this case, just half a scale. Then another theme is introduced, this one does contrast by taking a sudden swerve to G minor (but notice we still have that scale-segment):

Click to enlarge
This leads to a dominant pedal in the new key of G major, at which point the first theme appears in the new key. There is only the slightest of developments before we return to the opening with a recapitulation of the C major theme. A nice touch is the return of the minor section, but now in the tonic minor, C minor. This is to be a fundamental feature of sonata form: the themes of the exposition, the first part of the form, after being developed in the second part, return in the third part, the recapitulation. But now the themes, that originally appeared in the tonic and a contrasting key, will all return in the tonic, what is known as a "double return".

The second movement is not terribly interesting. It is a perpetuum mobile in G major in just two voices: the violins are in unison and the violas merely follow the cellos an octave higher. There are no winds.

The rondo theme is interesting as it again is very similar to the first theme from the first movement with its octave leap down followed by an ascending scale. We hardly notice the similarity because of the different meter, triple instead of duple and because the first note is different:

The rondo theme is a sixteen-measure period extended by four measures by expanding the final cadence for twenty measures total. The first episode takes a tiny upbeat figure from the theme and inverts it then uses it for some contrapuntal treatment. The second episode takes a page from the first movement and moves to two flats: initially in B flat major, then E flat, then F minor, giving us some real harmonic development that we didn't get in the first movement but in the same direction: two flats (and then more). The next return of the rondo theme is sixteen measures without the extension and it also ends on G, setting up a brief episode that hints at F major, then G major. A truncated rondo theme is followed by a much longer episode that fully establishes F major. The movement ends with a restatement of the whole rondo theme twice sandwiching the opening episode.

The significance of this kind of formal structure is that it blends rondo form with sonata form so is often called "sonata rondo". There is certainly a "development" feeling in the middle of this movement and a "recapitulation" feeling at the end.

You can find the whole score to this symphony here. And now let's listen to a performance:


Shantanu said...

Just heard this symphony and could not help but feel that even an offhand work from the classical period sounds more truthful and heartfelt than some of the "significant" music of our times. I have a feeling I will like a lot of Haydn's music.

Bryan Townsend said...

I chose this symphony partly because it is a modest effort--it will set up some of the amazing symphonies later on. Haydn really has enormous charm, doesn't he?

Shantanu said...

Yes, he does, and that charm speaks of the established and abundant conditions in which he developed his craft.