Sunday, October 13, 2013

Haydn: Symphony No. 70

As we move through these Haydn symphonies, certain things become evident. The most striking to my mind is how he is completely outside our typical narratives about composers. A holdover from both the Romantic and Modernist periods in music is the notion that composers come in two basic flavors: there are the reactionary stick-in-the-mud ones that refuse to move forward with the times and the revolutionary ones, the progressives, that are discovering new ways of composing. Examples of each kind would be Brahms for the former and Beethoven for the latter. Among more recent composers we could list Sibelius or Shostakovich as examples of the former and Cage and Stockhausen of the latter.

This kind of model is still how we tend to look at things today, though I think it is fast disintegrating. But it fails to fit with Haydn's career. He falls completely outside this narrative frame. He was a progressive as we have seen. Virtually every symphony is a bold experimentation with the basic possibilities. He was a radical, redesigning how music is written from the ground up. It was his forward-looking experiments that really made what his friend Mozart and his student Beethoven did possible. But according to the Romantic and Modern narrative, Haydn should have been a social and political progressive as well (something that we insist on in the case of Beethoven), fighting against the powers that be. But he was not. His experiments were done while he was in service to the Prince of a great noble family--with his blessing and encouragement.

Other than the disconnect between aesthetic progressivism and sociopolitical progressivism, there is also a disconnect with the mood we are used to sensing in progressive composers. Since Beethoven there has always been a sense of strain, of emotional extremity, in forward-looking music. The Romantics, and Schumann is a good example, paid a high emotional price for their experiments. But Haydn's music always seems to be charming, even when he is going against all our expectations. His experiments usually make us smile. There is no sense that there is an element of torture as there often has been in progressive art over the last two hundred years. There are exceptions of course, John Cage always seemed to be having a good time, even as he challenged our expectations.

The Symphony No. 70 was written to celebrate the beginning of construction of a new opera house on the Esterházy estate and for once we know the exact date of the premiere: December 18, 1779. In order to make a splash, Haydn came up with several innovations. The most obvious is the inclusion of trumpets and tympani in the orchestra. They had certainly been used before, notably by J. S. Bach among many others, but until now, they were not typically part of Haydn's orchestra. The wind section now includes flute, two oboes, bassoon, two trumpets and two horns. The tympani, consisting of two drums with the pitches D and A, could only be used to underline passages in the tonic and dominant.

The more interesting innovations Haydn came up with were the use of fugal counterpoint in the finale, which foreshadows Mozart's Symphony No. 41 "Jupiter" of August 1788. The other innovation was the skillful alternation of minor and major and especially the use of minor in the last movement to set up a triumphant major finish. Who else used this? Oh, yes, it is credited to Beethoven in the finale to his Symphony No. 5, completed in 1808. But Haydn was there long before! So in this symphony, which is barely known to most concert-goers as it lacks a nickname, Haydn comes up with two brilliant ideas that Mozart and Beethoven later on elaborate to perfection.

The first movement, built on motifs from a single theme, begins with an absolutely standard eight measure period:

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This may seem a very simple theme, based on chord tones in the first half and passing notes in the second, but there are a lot of motifs that can be extracted from it. In fact, this is all the material Haydn needs for the whole first movement. Here are some of the motifs he uses. This is from the upbeat to measure five and measure five, inverted:

Here is how he uses the motif of the first two notes of the phrase, setting them against themselves displaced by one beat:

The next is a little more complicated. This is an inversion of measure 3 of the theme, combined with the rhythm of measure 7:

The next is used as a closing figure at the end of the exposition. It is yet another version of the upbeat to measure 5, measure 5 and measure 6 of the theme:

All these motifs occur just in the exposition! So the reason Haydn writes a lot of monothematic sonata movements is that instead of giving us a contrasting second theme, he just works on developing the one and only theme--even in the exposition. Here is the beginning of the development:

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This is the kind of harmonic maneuver that composers ever after liked to use: it is a harmonic feint that surprises us and confuses us as to what key we are in. That C natural, given in unison by all the strings, turns out to be the Neapolitan of B minor, which is the relative minor of D major, the original key. Also notice that Haydn is still working with the same motifs. The whole development, which continues to stress B minor, is just more working out of the basic motifs.

One of the basic elements of the symphony is the interplay between major and minor, so Haydn casts the second movement in D minor. The movement has a title, presumably from Haydn, that seems to terrify program note writers and Wikipedia contributors: "Specie d'un canon in contrapunto doppio". I say, "presumably" by Haydn because usually when he adds a note like this, as in the minuet to his "Palindrome" symphony, it is a simple description of what he is doing. Not so in the present case. Yes, we do get some invertible counterpoint (that I discussed in this post), but most of the movement is just a set of variations. Here is how that invertible counterpoint works. First there is a theme with accompaniment. Here the theme is in the first violins:

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Then Haydn turns it upside down, that's the invertible part, and puts the theme, that he labels "canto fermo" in the cello and the accompaniment, that he labels "contrapunto" in the violins:

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That's the "double counterpoint" part; double counterpoint is just a synonym for invertible counterpoint. The odd thing is that while there are some nice variations in both major and minor, there aren't actually any canons. So I wonder if someone, not Haydn, with a shaky grip on music terminology, got hold of the manuscript at some point and scribbled a little note to themselves that has now been canonized in the collected edition. Just a thought.

The third movement is a nice extroverted minuet with a very smooth contrasting trio. Haydn's only innovation here is to write a coda to be played after the repeat of the minuet.

The finale begins in D minor with a sentence featuring repeated notes:

This is an odd, fourteen-measure theme. Partly that can be explained by the tempo. In fast tempos a normal eight measure theme will usually come out to be sixteen measures. Here the first four (not two) measures are the basic idea, immediately repeated. Then we have a continuation with a cadential formula ending with a half cadence. The only deviation from a normal sentence is that the continuation phase is compressed. Some interesting harmonies here as well. The whole note Ds are re-harmonized in interesting ways: first as tonic, then as fifth of G minor (subdominant) then as the diminished 5th of a vii°7 of V.

After this introductory presentation of the theme, taking twenty-six measures and ending with a half-cadence again, fermata, the movement proper begins labelled in the score as "a 3 soggetti in contrapunto doppio" meaning, a fugue with three subjects in double (i.e. invertible) counterpoint. Fugues always have to use invertible counterpoint as the fugue subject appears in different voices.

Haydn had used fugal finales before, notably in three of the six quartets of op 20, where he used two, three and even four subjects. These are rather different fugues than Bach would have written: the textures are simpler and the episodes less elaborate. Here are the three subjects of the finale of Symphony No. 70:




What distinguishes them is the rhythm. The first subject has a sustained note, tied over a strong beat followed by eighth notes. The second has the repeated note figure and the third begins with eighth notes and a descending scale. So we can easily distinguish the three subjects. The repeated note subject is used a bit differently than the others as it often appears doubled in many different voices to unite the texture. But most of the time we have a kind of kaleidoscope of the three themes bouncing off one another and overlapping to wonderful effect.

At the end of the fugue the opening theme reappears as a recapitulation, immediately followed by a reiteration on E flat, the Neapolitan. This powerful predominant harmony is used to set up the shift to D major--all of the movement up to now has been in D minor. Then we have a brief section of the three subject fugue, now in major, followed by a recapitulation of the original theme in D major. End of movement.

This effect, minor to major, was then developed by Beethoven in his Symphony No. 5 and in retrospect, after seeing what Beethoven did, we see that Haydn could have gotten a more striking effect by expanding the major section--we just don't get enough of it! Similarly, if we then notice what Mozart did in the finale to his Symphony No. 41, we see that Haydn could have extended and made the three subject fugue more intense. But this is to forget that in this symphony Haydn is discovering two amazingly powerful symphonic ideas for the first time! He is the pioneer.

Now let's listen to the whole symphony. Here is the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, conducted by Adam Fischer:

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