Saturday, October 26, 2013

Haydn: Symphony No. 82 in C major, "The Bear"

In 1785 (not 1786 as asserted in Wikipedia), just four years before the French Revolution, a group named "Le Concert de la Loge Olympique" commissioned six symphonies from Haydn. This was the first important international commission for him and it was to be followed by others. The group, a private society of Masonic musicians, had an orchestra of sixty-five member musicians--forming an orchestra much larger than Haydn had written for previously. The society was quite new, having been formed in 1782, and their first concerts were only given in 1785. This symphony was premiered in Paris in 1786. A French website of the Université de Lyons dryly notes that the society "ceased all activity" in 1789.

The Chevalier de Saint-Georges, conductor of Le Concert de la Loge Olympique

The Symphony No. 82 was actually the last written of the six Paris Symphonies. The key of C major was usually associated with brilliant and festive music and so it is here. The opening, the kind of motif that the French called a premier coup, reminds us of the "Mannheim rocket" of previous years:

This is immediately followed by a contrasting motif:

and the whole opening theme is concluded with a brilliant fanfare taking twelve measures and ending on a half cadence. I'm not going to do a detailed analysis, but I want to point out some of Haydn's techniques. For example, in this transition passage from the exposition, we can see the opening motif underpinning the texture in the cellos:

Click to enlarge
But we can also see the syncopation in the violins which is there to destabilize the feel of the music, which is what you want in a transition. Also notice in the violas a "pasting over" motif that fills in the silences in the original theme. All these are techniques developed by Haydn that were used later on to great effect by Mozart and Beethoven.

Unlike a lot of Haydn movements, this one actually has a real contrasting second theme:

I'm tempted to hear a bit of a family resemblance with the second part of the first theme, but maybe that's just me. The first movement is full of wonderful harmonic effects that the French appreciated and called Haydn's grand effets d’harmonie. One is the unexpected beginning of the development, not with some dominant or pre-dominant harmony, but rather with the dominant of F, the subdominant. It also begins right in the middle of the first theme and continues with the fanfare:

The second movement, in the subdominant of F, is one of Haydn's specialties: double variations on two themes, one in major and one in minor. This is not really a slow movement as it has the character of a very genteel polka. But everything is extremely well-composed. I suppose the danger of a set of variations is the problem of ennui, which is why a set of variations often includes one in the minor. By alternating variations on two themes, major and minor, Haydn avoids the problem entirely.

The minuet and trio is mostly as you would expect, with one difference. Suddenly, in the second half of the trio, Haydn surprises us by turning what should have been a simple binary dance form into, briefly, a sonata form movement:

The movement is in C major, but this ambiguous passage moves through C minor to a half-cadence on G. Pause. Then the music continues in E flat, the relative major of C minor! A bit of development in E flat ensues before we are wrenched back to C major at the end.

The last movement is the one that gives the symphony its nickname. How this occurred is a bit unclear, but it seems that in 1829 a piano arrangement was printed that was titled "Danse de l'ours", "Dance of the Bear", presumably because it reminded someone of the music that was used to accompany dancing bears, played on a bagpipe. Why this association? The last movement, a frenetic vivace dance, features a drone with an accented grace note beginning, an evocation of the bagpipe:

But, you know, I doubt that bears danced that quickly! Dancing bears have a long history in Europe and it seems they were often associated with bagpipes. Here, from a 1448 manuscript, is an image of a bear dancing while playing the bagpipes, presumably collapsing the bear and an accompanying musician into one image:

Now let's listen to the symphony.

What I think we hear in this music is a new confidence and a new ability to appeal to popular taste. Some of the eccentricities of the earlier years have been pared away and there is a brilliance and security to the invention. By this time Haydn is beginning to be recognized as the most admired symphonist in Europe. Everything in this symphony is done with consummate skill. The symphony has come of age and while it is certainly the case that Mozart and Beethoven in the next few decades would write more intense, more striking, symphonies, everything that they did is really based on what Haydn had created. They upped the ante, but Haydn invented the game.

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