The two most recent outings are on Bruckner, Symphony No. 8 and Haydn, Symphony No. 102. I just haven't had the time to look into the Bruckner (plus the mere thought of listening through it makes me tired!), but I would like to mention a couple of things about the Haydn, a current interest of mine. Oh, by the way, while Tom Service gets the story right, the Guardian's headline writer makes the error of assigning the nickname "The Miracle" to the Symphony No. 102 when it is traditionally given to the Symphony No. 96. Traditionally, though mistakenly! Confusing, isn't it? The Miracle was that during the performance of the Symphony No. 102, a chandelier fell from the ceiling into the seats. But the audience in that part of the hall had gotten up and crowded around the performers so that no-one was seriously hurt. For a long time this event was thought to have taken place during the performance of the Symphony No. 96, but it was actually while No. 102 was being played.
I'm not going to do an analysis of the symphony here, though I may do when I get back to doing my own traversal of the Haydn symphonies. But let's have a listen to No. 102, one of his enormously successful symphonies written for and premiered in London during Haydn's second visit. Here is the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, conducted by Adam Fischer:
I want to just qualify what I mean by "enormously successful". Haydn by this point was a very famous composer--the best-known in Europe. After many years of service with the Esterházy family where he was supported and in charge of chamber music, orchestral music and opera, he was released from daily service and allowed to pursue his career by traveling to London. He was admired in the highest reaches of society. On the list of subscribers to his concerts and publications were the most powerful people in Europe: emperors, kings, princes, ambassadors. There is no equivalent today! It would be like someone like Philip Glass giving a special concert of his music and it being attended by President Obama, Bill Gates, Queen Elizabeth, Pope Francis and a host of others.
The nobility of Europe at this time were very knowledgeable in music. Indeed, the Empress of Austria, Maria Teresa, even sang the soprano solos in Haydn's oratorios. Haydn was feted and admired by the most powerful and influential people wherever he went. And his music, in turn, celebrates the magnificence of the aristocracy at its best.
You might think that this gives us excellent reasons to hate Haydn and his music! But that would be to fall under the spell of the propaganda of the French Revolutionaries who were not very sympathetic to music. They were the ones who burned the harpsichords, after all. And it would also be to ignore Haydn's character. Especially towards the end of his life he worked very hard to support charities for the families of impoverished musicians and those injured in the on-going Napoleonic wars. He gave benefits that provided thousands of florins for charity. Think of him as being like an early 19th century Bono or Bob Geldof.
Now let's look at Tom's article on the Symphony No. 102. He writes:
By the time Haydn was preparing for his second visit to London, he knew what to expect from his audiences. He knew how much this middle-class audience of concert-goers – among the first properly public, as opposed to aristocratic, audiences for symphonic music in history – understood and appreciated his invention, his games of expectation and surprise, his effortless manipulation of genre, affect, and expressivity. And he knew he could push them and himself even further when he came back, when his celebrity and status were even greater than before. That means these symphonies are, in effect, palimpsests of listening, pieces composed with their effectiveness for a musically literate audience in mind. Haydn needed to keep surprising his London audiences, and to do that, he became still more skilful and economical – as well as bold and chandelier-breakingly shocking – in his deployment of his symphonic resources.Well, first of all, the audience wasn't "middle-class" in the sense we understand it today. For example, one venue that was used for concerts was the Hanover Square Rooms. The main room, measuring 79 by 32 feet, had 2528 sq ft of space, sufficient for perhaps 800 listeners. These listeners were not small shopkeepers or publicans but ladies and gentlemen with a very large proportion of nobility and royalty. Haydn had been invited to the Queen's ball on his first visit to London and was particularly admired by the Prince of Wales. Personages like these were of course in attendance at his concerts. As the article in Wikipedia notes, "The Rooms enjoyed royal patronage from 1785 to 1793, with George III and Queen Charlotte frequent concert-goers."
I wish I knew what Mr. Service could possibly mean by the phrase "palimpsests of listening" but sorry, don't have a clue! Later he says about the first movement that
Haydn turns this movement into a miniature musical roller-coaster of the flouting of classical conventions.The problem with this is that at this point in music history there were no "classical conventions". The whole notion of the relatively fixed conventions of classical music was really a theoretical postulate of 19th century theorists like A. B. Marx. For Haydn, who spent his whole life experimenting with different ways of organizing music, they simply didn't exist. Nor did they for his audience. So, no "flouting" of anything.
But these are mere quibbles. Tom Service is doing excellent work in re-acquainting readers of the Guardian with the symphonic repertoire. Much of what he says is very helpful and I wish him the very best in the rest of his project.