Saturday, October 5, 2013

Haydn: Symphony No. 39 in G minor

You might have noticed that in our Haydn symphony survey so far we have not encountered a single one in a minor key. Indeed out of the approximately 106 symphonies we know from Haydn (some have been lost) only 11 are in minor keys. Most of these are concentrated in that brief period around 1771/72 when he is supposed to have explored what is called a "Sturm und Drang" style. The term is taken from the literary movement, though, oddly enough, Haydn's music came first! Here is how the Wikipedia entry on Haydn describes it:
In the late 1760s and early 1770s Haydn entered a stylistic period known as "Sturm und Drang" (storm and stress). This term is taken from a literary movement of about the same time, though it appears that the musical development actually preceded the literary one by a few years.[64] The musical language of this period is similar to what went before, but it is deployed in work that is more intensely expressive, especially in the works in minor keys. James Webster describes the works of this period as "longer, more passionate, and more daring."[65] Some of the most famous compositions of this time are the "Trauer" (Mourning) Symphony No. 44, "Farewell" Symphony No. 45, the piano sonata in C minor (Hob. XVI/20, L. 33), and the six string quartets of Op. 20 (the "Sun" quartets), all from c. 1771–72.
The "Sturm und Drang" movement is characterized as a "proto-Romantic" one, a kind of reaction to the objectivity and rationalism of the Enlightenment. In contrast, "Sturm und Drang" (in English usually translated as "storm and stress") emphasizes emotional subjectivity and extremes of expression. If Haydn's symphonies of 1771 and 72 are "Sturm und Drang", then we have the odd situation of music influencing a literary movement that seems to come a bit later. The play that gives its name to the movement, by Friedrich Maximilian Klinger, was published in 1776.

The symphony we are going to look at today, Symphony No. 39 in G minor was written even earlier, around 1767/68, but is also considered to be in the "Sturm und Drang" style. It certainly has its stormy passages! It is written for two oboes, four horns, bassoon and strings. There are four horns, not to create big fanfares as in the symphony we just looked at, but because of the key. Two of the horns are in B flat and two in G. The reason is that in G minor, we need a B flat, especially for the inevitable modulation to the key of B flat. Natural horns can only play notes present in the overtone series and the overtone series does not have the minor third that minor keys do. An interesting quirk and one that explains why the 19th century spent a great deal of time and energy re-engineering all the wind instruments so as to be fully capable of playing all the chromatic notes in tune.

Here is the opening of the first movement. No slow introduction here, we leap right into the storm:

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These opening four measures are followed by one measure silence (exaggerated in the performance I am going to put up). Then followed by a six measure continuation:

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The performance also adds a Mannheim-style crescendo that is not marked in the score, but seems suitable. This opening phrase, which I propose consists of both examples I just put up, is interesting for a couple of reasons. One is that it is a nice example of a musical sentence, as opposed to a period. In a sentence, the first two measures are repeated, as they are here. Then the continuation of the phrase is not an answer, as it is with a period, but rather a continuation where there is some 'liquidation' of the motivic material as we see here. It ends with a cadence on the dominant. See how the second part breaks that motif down and begins developing it? That is characteristic of the musical sentence. A couple of other interesting things are how Haydn inserts a pause into the middle of the very first phrase of the piece. This is very unusual! This pause extends the phrase by a measure. Then in the continuation he extends it by two more measures so this opening phrase is not only interrupted, but consists of a total of eleven measures! Conventionally a phrase like this would be only eight measures and we have seen lots of examples of that so far in Haydn.

So from the very beginning this symphony is extreme in being in a minor key and also have a very unusual phrase structure. As this first part continues, the phrases are adjusted to more typical lengths and some ferocious sixteenth-note scales are added:

As is typical in a minor key, the modulation is to the relative major, B flat major. There is a nice bit of harmonic color when Haydn hammers on the vii°7 of the dominant of B flat:
That is spelled E natural, B flat, D flat, resolving to F, A, C, the dominant of B flat. After that, all that remains in this first section, the exposition, is some cadential formulas in B flat. Again, Haydn writes a movement in sonata form with one theme, not two or more. The textbooks say that a first theme in the tonic is followed by a contrasting theme in another key, usually the dominant or the relative major in a minor key. Well, we get the modulation, but Haydn just sticks with the single theme, which he varies in interesting ways. Of all the symphonies we have done so far, I think there was only one that even hinted at a contrasting second theme.

In the second section, which begins with the development, we still have the same theme but we move to E flat and C minor and the same theme goes through some harmonic development. Then we have the recapitulation which is a repeat of the beginning with adjustments to end with strong cadential formulas in G minor.

The second movement is a kind of ingratiating little waltz for the strings alone that features a lot of really ingenious rhythmic variation on the basic ideas. There are also a lot of strong dynamic contrasts:

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The third movement is a pretty typical minuet and trio, but the trio especially features lovely writing for the winds.

Haydn finds an entirely new texture for the finale. Here is the opening:

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Again, a sentence-type phrase with this time a two-measure tonic version motif followed by the dominant version. The continuation again shows the liquidation of the motif. What gives this texture its dynamic quality is the contrast between the fairly slow, striding notes of the theme and the quick repeated notes of the accompaniment, tremolando. But this phrase isn't over yet and actually continues as follows:

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As in the first movement, this is a pretty complex and irregular phrase. I'm claiming this is all one phrase for the simple reason that we don't get a cadence until the end of this second line--and even then, it is a half-cadence! I was tempted to try and see if the phrase actually continues, but no, from here on it starts modulating. So what we open with is a thirteen measure phrase that ends with a half-cadence. I actually don't recall seeing that in the textbooks! You might call this a 16 measure phrase in which the second half is radically compressed. The last movement is in sonata form, like the first. Incidentally, you might notice that the second part of that first phrase, my example just above, has some strong similarities to the first part: apart from the F#, the first measure of this second part is an expanded version, in eighth notes, of the descending tonic arpeggiation in measures one and two of the first part. From here on the movement unfolds as you would expect.

Now let's hear a performance. This is the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, again, conducted by Adam Fischer:


Jakub said...

One description of this early Haydn symphony is given as The Fist!

God alone in his conservatoire, restoring Beethoven and Faure's hearing must Himself wonder where this bizarre title crept in!

The Sturm und Drang could not have arrived at a better moment in Haydn's long life.
Despite being made to sup alongside the servants at Eszterhaza, he survived two sea voyages across the Channel to England and wisely observed ' that the English drank to excess'.
Nothing much has changed since the late 18th century in that respect!Jakub.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for the comment and welcome to the Music Salon, Jakub!

I love it when someone discovers my series of posts on Haydn, the World's Most Underrated Composer!

Gavin said...

Just discovered this blog, because I'm going through all the Haydn symphonies (bought the same Adam Fischer set it looks like you used). This is a good write-up -- the sort of clarity that I don't see that often in music writing.

Bryan Townsend said...

Hi Gavin and welcome to the Music Salon. I used the Adam Fischer clips for a lot of examples in my survey of the Haydn symphonies just because they were available on YouTube. In my collection I have the Dennis Russell Davies/Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra complete set on Sony. Good performances and very well-priced.

Thanks for the compliment! Being a Haydn-lover you obviously have good taste.

Vance Lehmkuhl said...

I will join the parade of those happy to have found this blog and working my way through your posts on the Haydn symphonies - who is, yes, the World's Most Underrated Composer! I've listened at least once or twice to all the symphonies, most of them more than that, but like Gavin I just got the complete Adam Fischer set and am now going through them in numerical order and keeping notes on each one before moving on to the next. Always great to see someone else's perspective on these treasures. Keep it up! (Um... you ARE keeping it up, right?)

Bryan Townsend said...

Very delighted to hear you are enjoying both the Haydn symphonies and my posts! I haven't done any recent posts on Haydn, but believe me, he is part of my regular listening. I just recently got the Trevor Pinnock, English Concerto box of all the "Sturm und Drang" symphonies which I have really enjoyed.