It was written for Haydn's patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, while he, Haydn and the court orchestra were at the Prince's summer palace in Eszterháza. The stay there had been longer than expected, and most of the musicians had been forced to leave their wives back at home in Eisenstadt, so in the last movement of the symphony, Haydn subtly hinted to his patron that perhaps he might like to allow the musicians to return home: during the final adagio each musician stops playing, snuffs out the candle on his music stand, and leaves in turn, so that at the end, there are just two muted violins left (played by Haydn himself and the concertmaster, Alois Luigi Tomasini). Esterházy seems to have understood the message: the court returned to Eisenstadt the day following the performance.Having the orchestra do some music theatre like this is actually very uncommon. Apart from avant-garde pieces, the only piece I can recall that does something similar is the Alban Berg violin concerto, where, in an impassioned section with the strings in unison, he asks each section to stand up as they join in the melodic line. Mind you, in every performance I have seen, the orchestra and conductor just ignore this, but the instruction is very clearly in the score!
Haydn indicates the departure of the musicians in his score by either writing "nichts mehr" ("no more") in the score or by ending the stave. By the end there are only two staves for the two violinists who are left. Here is a performance by the "Les Siecles" orchestra conducted by François-Xavier Roth:
That is a very odd seating arrangement, by the way. I have never seen the bassoons seated on either side of the conductor like that, nor the double basses on opposite sides of the orchestra. Nor, for that matter, the violins buried in the center. I have also never seen a left-handed violinist before!
Now, let's have a closer look at the music. Just from listening to that performance you start to get the idea that the stage business ending is probably the least radical thing about this symphony! There are certainly a lot of other things going on.
First of all, this is the ONLY symphony in the whole 18th century written in the key of F# minor! This gives a certain kind of color to the orchestral sound, even as it limits the participation of the horns, of which there are four, two in A and two in E. There are four movements:
- Allegro assai, 3/4 (F# minor)
- Adagio, 3/8 (A major)
- Menuet: Allegretto, 3/4 (F# major!)
- Finale: Presto, 2/2 - Adagio, 3/8 (F# minor and A major, then F# major)
The second movement uses just the two horns in A and the third movement, in the outrageous key of F# major, uses two in F#. Presumably the two E horns were able to change their E crooks for F# ones during the slow movement. In any case, they would have to change back for the last movement, again requiring four horns, two in A and two in E.
The first movement opens with a long, sixteen measure phrase that I will have to break up into three parts:
There are three statements of a four measure motif. The first two outline two chords. The first is tonic/subdominant, the second dominant seventh/tonic. Then the harmonic rhythm quickens and the third outlines tonic, V of iv, iv and the last Neapolitan Sixth/dominant/tonic. (UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the motif changes to a tremolando version for the last four measures.) This is a period-type structure rather than the sentence-type structures we have seen most often previously. It is also nicely symmetrical. Haydn immediately starts breaking this down into little motifs. One is this one that ended the first three parts of the opening period:
Another is this one, which is an ingenious synthesis of both the motif I just quoted and the opening descending arpeggio:
And that's it for the exposition--which after that opening period spends all its time actually developing motifs. After the double bar the 'development' begins by exactly restating that opening period, but this time in A major. Another little development follows, modulating to B minor and ending in a half-cadence. Then, for the first time in any of the Haydn symphonies we have examined so far, a real contrasting second theme appears--in the wrong place, of course! The new theme is in D major:
After repeating this theme a couple of times, interspersed with a bit of the motivic working of the first theme, Haydn moves right into a very compressed recapitulation. He only gives us half of that opening period before returning to working new developments of the motifs. Before you know it, the movement is over. Oh yes, that second theme? It never returns...
The second movement is obsessed by three different kinds of Lombardic rhythms (known in some circles as the "Scotch snap"). This is the reverse of a dotted rhythm and is often described as a hiccup. Here is how they look:
The first kind is created by the grace notes at the very beginning. Then we have a different kind of Lombardic rhythm in the violins in measure four. The third kind comes in mm. 17 to 19, also in the violins. The adagio has some pretty interesting harmonies. In one place it can't seem to decide if it wants to be in the key of B minor or C major and comes to a half-cadence spelled as a kind of mixture of both:
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Just before we were pretty clearly in B minor, but in this passage Haydn moves one step higher. If you look at the chord at the fermata you see it spells out D B E# G. What the heck is that? Well, it is a dominant seventh, actually: G B D F, as the E# is actually functioning as an F. Afterwards he keeps on with the E# and pulls us back to the key of B minor where that E# reverts back to an E natural. We never actually get a C chord. Later on this same passage recurs with an G# major chord and a diminished seventh on A#.
Normally the minuet is the one place where nothing too outrageous happens, but not this one. First of all, it is probably the only minuet in the key of F# major in the whole century. And then, right in the middle of the first phrase--actually the first chord we hear--is a D major harmony! In F# major this is bVI, a major chord on the flattened sixth degree. Schubert, among others, became famous for his use of this harmony for special Romantic effects. Here Haydn just tosses it off as a little joke. Notice how it is accented by being placed on the downbeat and given a forte dynamic:
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The opening phrase of the finale is as perfect an eight-measure period as one could ask for:
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Four measures ending with a half-cadence answered by four measures ending with a full cadence and nicely balanced in register (the phrase actually ends with an F# on the first beat of the next line). This is all repeated and then that little turn in eighth notes is developed, mostly in inversion. The development proper, after the double bar, feints at E minor and C# minor and does a lot of working out of a new motif from the theme, the little C# to D bit, also in inversion:
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The recapitulation is an exact repeat of that original theme which is then followed by some more development. Then everything comes to a halt on the dominant. Pause. Then an entirely new movement in 3/8, Adagio and beginning in A major:
This is another slow movement, more serene than the first one, and Haydn ends it by simply thinning out the texture until there are only two violins at the end. This final section is in F# major:
Praise God indeed!
What an amazing symphony!
Now let's listen to Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music with the whole symphony: