Friday, October 4, 2013

Haydn: Symphony No. 31 in D major, "Hornsignal"

In May 1765 Haydn's employer, Prince Nikolaus employed two new horn players, Franz Stamitz and Joseph Dietzl, bringing the strength of the horn section back to four, as it had been a few years previously. Haydn took advantage of this and wrote four symphonies using four horns. You might think, so what, four horns are normal in a modern orchestra, but as the orchestra was still quite small, doubling the horn section to four made a big alteration to the sound. In addition to the normal string section, there is a flute and two oboes.

Once more Haydn creates a unique form for the symphony. There are four movements:

  1. Allegro, 3/4
  2. Adagio, 6/8
  3. Menuet - Trio, 3/4
  4. Finale: Moderato molto, 2/4

The first opens with a brilliant military-style fanfare for the horns with the ensemble answered with a little solo for the first horn:

Click to enlarge
In what may have been another first for Haydn, this opening fanfare returns at the very end of the last movement, framing the whole symphony. Afterwards the first movement is devoted to two brief motifs, both of which we see in this passage:

Click to enlarge
The first comes in two forms, the descending scale passage in turns that we see in the last measure of the first example and in the next to last measure in the first line of this example. This is answered by its own inversion, an ascending scale passage in turns. There is a contrasting motif that we see in the second line of the above example: the eighth note theme outlining triads in the violins, flute and oboes. This motif comes in a number of different variants, but always with the eighth note rhythm. The movement ends with an abbreviated version of the horn solo and fanfare.

The second movement is quite original. It has a bit of the feel of a siciliano in 6/8 and is dominated by ornate solos like decorated opera arias for both violin and cello in a very high register. Underlining the operatic feel is the pizzicato accompaniment. The horns get a couple of brief passages to show off their lyrical side. Here is the opening of that movement so you can see the texture:

The menuet and trio are quite conventional with equal weight given to the winds and strings. The last movement is another first for Haydn: it is in the form of a set of seven variations on a theme in very moderate tempo. Here is that theme:

Click to enlarge

This is an early example of a kind of theme that Haydn would specialize in in later years. In a moderate tempo with absolutely clear harmonies it consists of two periods, one modulating to the dominant, the other moving from a suggestion of the dominant of the dominant, to the dominant and cadencing on the tonic. The theme itself is simple, balanced and graceful. What Haydn does with this theme is use variations on it to highlight his musicians. In order the variations feature the whole wind section, the cello, the flute, the four horns, the violin, the whole wind section again and finally the double-bass. Then there is the fanfare to end the movement and the symphony.

Notice that once again, Haydn makes this symphony, while most certainly a wonderful example of Classical style, yet unique in its own right. In later years Haydn talked about his development as a composer in these words:
My prince was content with all my works. I received approval for anything I did. As head of an orchestra, I could make experiments, observe what enhanced an effect, and what weakened it, thus improving, adding to it, taking away from it, and running risks. I was cut off from the world, there was nobody in my vicinity to make me unsure of myself or interfere with me in my course, and so I was forced to become original.
This is one reason I find early Haydn so interesting: it is the period when he was most inclined to experiment and the variety of things he came up with are remarkable!

Now, let's listen to this symphony. Here is  Charles Mackerras and the Orchestra of St. Luke's:


Shantanu said...

Very nice symphony.

But you are just tossing them like divertimenti. Hehe.

Bryan Townsend said...

I try!