Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Haydn: Symphony No. 6 in D major, "Le matin"

Haydn's employment in the household of Count Morzin only lasted a couple of years as financial reverses forced the Count to disband his orchestra. But the twenty-nine year old composer had a stroke of luck (probably brought on by his already evident gifts as a composer) as he was given a far better position as vice-kapellmeister to the great and wealthy Esterházy family. Within a few years he was promoted to the post of Kapellmeister and for nearly four decades he was supported by and composed tirelessly for the large musical establishment of the Esterházys. Here is a view of their country estate, modeled after Versailles:

In many ways this was the perfect setting for a composer like Haydn. While often isolated in the country in what is now Hungary, Haydn was in charge of the music, both chamber and orchestral (and later opera) of a family of musical connoisseurs. He had his own orchestra with whom he could rehearse new compositions on a daily basis. I doubt any composer today has these benefits!

Haydn soon began producing outstanding symphonies in his new post. One of the first, Symphony No. 6 in D major, nicknamed "Le matin", ("the morning") is characterized by a more fluid, assured style and considerable writing for solo instruments, including solos for both bassoon and double-bass in the Trio. This would, of course, be flattering to the musicians of the orchestra with whom Haydn would want to be on the best of terms!

The Symphony No. 6 is in the four movements that Haydn established as standard for the symphony:

  1. Adagio, 4/4 – Allegro, 3/4
  2. Adagio, 4/4 – Andante, 3/4 – Adagio, 4/4
  3. Menuet e Trio, 3/4
  4. Finale: Allegro, 2/4

It is also, at about twenty minutes, over twice as long as the Symphony No. 2. The symphony begins with a slow introduction that, to some listeners at least, suggested a sunrise as the music seems to unfold from nothingness. This gives the work its nickname: "Le matin" which probably does not come from Haydn, but was tacked on at a later date. Here is that introduction:

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The movement proper is built from the most minimal of materials. Apart from a brief motif, first heard in the solo flute, it consists mostly of cadential figures and sequences. Here is that motif, which merely arpeggiates the tonic harmony:

It has various continuations and is heard in several different instruments, but that is basically it. Often it is shortened to just the first four notes. Another motif appears, but it is so brief it is hard to call it a second theme:

The second half of the movement begins by simply restating the opening theme on the dominant. The basic structure of binary movements for the last hundred years or so had been tonic to dominant and then dominant returning to tonic and Haydn merely adapts this for sonata form. The new idea of Classical style is to have a middle section that will "develop" or work with the basic material of the movement in various ways. Later on this might involve some contrapuntal treatment, but for Haydn in this symphony it means just a bit of a harmonic journey. Here is the heart of the development:

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The section begins on the last measure of the previous line which has a repeated A--the tonic at this point as we have modulated to the dominant. The goal of this passage is B minor, the relative minor of D major. It is achieved by the simplest means: a chromatic ascent in the upper voice from A to B flat, to B and so on to E sharp, the root of the vii°7 of F sharp, the dominant of B minor. There follows a passage in B minor that restates the opening theme, then a brief transition that takes us back to D major. As soon as we are there, Haydn repeats the opening in the original key, but this time adjusted to end in the tonic instead of modulating to the dominant. And that's the recapitulation! Voila, finis!

Extraordinarily simple, but entirely effective. At this point I should point out something about Classical style. As we have learned from Charles Rosen, the deceptive simplicity of Classical style, which cleared away a great deal of the intricate contrapuntal elaborations of the Baroque, was based on some very popular musical styles: the bouncy vivaciousness of opera buffa and the divertimenti and cassations of the entertainments of street music. A little theme, accompanied by a great deal of repeated notes, was all you needed. But, working with such minimal materials, they had to be just the right materials and here is where Haydn excelled, as we see in this movement.

The slow movement in G major, an Andante framed by an Adagio, is like a concerto movement for solo violin and cello with lovely, lyric writing for both instruments. The Minuet and Trio feature important solo writing for the winds, who were absent in the slow movement.

And now the finale. Haydn's first movement came together so well that he seems to have decided to just repeat the formula: basic sonata form with one theme, tonic to dominant and then dominant to tonic with an extended section in the second half acting as a development. Oh, in both first and last movements of this symphony, both halves are repeated. The theme for this movement, and yes, there is really only one, is nearly as simple as in the first movement:

What does distinguish this movement is its concerto grosso style. The concerto grosso was a favorite of Baroque composers as it was a concerto for several solo instruments with a small backing orchestra. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos are the ideal example. So in this movement nearly everyone gets a virtuoso solo. Here is part of the cello solo:

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There are solos for the flute, violin, cello, horns, oboes, pretty well everyone.

You can find the score to the symphony here. Now let's listen to the whole piece.

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