My Recent Encounter With The Symphonies Of Haydn- All 104 of Them !
The other week I was able to borrow a huge set of CDs from a nearby library on interloan - nothing less than the complete symphonies of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809 ) . Yep. All 104 of the symphonies by the great 18th century composer known as the "father of the symphony" , even though he was not the first one actually to compose them . 37 , count 'em, 37 CDs ! The performances are on the Sony Classical label , with the noted American conductor Dennis Russell Davies and the excellent Stuttgart chamber orchestra , and are excellent .
I had already heard most of them on individual recordings by many eminent conductors , including parts of the first integral set by the late Hungarian conductor Antal Dorati , and Bernstein,Karajan, Colin Davis, Karl Boehm , and others , but this was my first chance to hear the whole vast symphonic output of Haydn in one fell swoop . These works , most of which are rarely if ever heard live , were written over a period of nearly 40 years , from the 1760s to the late 1790s and are highly varied , ranging from the brief and simple early ones to the grander and somewhat lengthier later ones . None is as long as the Beethoven symphonies except for Bethoven's first and eighth , his shortest . Haydn's range form about fifteen minutes to a little over thrity .
Quite a few have nicknames , none of which was given to them by the composer . Over the years , various listeners and even critics were reminded of certain extramusical things by the music , and nicknames somehow stuck to them . Probably the best known of these is the so-called "Surprise symphony", no 94 , which features sudden outbursts of loudness amid quietness in the slow movement . No 68 is known as "La Poule" (hen in French ) because a certain passage reminded someone of the pecking of a hen ! No 100 is called "The Military" because it makes use of extra percussion in the second movement and the finale . No 101 is called "The clock " because the slow movement reminded someone of the ticking of a clock . And so forth . A trio of early ones are known as "Morning, Midday and Evening ". No 31 is called the "horn signal" because it features prominent virtuosic parts for four French horns and is virtually a concerto . All the others use only two French horns ; four did not become the norm until the 19th and 20th centuries when composers began to write for larger orchestras .
Many of the symphonies were written when Haydn was serving as Kapellmeister, or music director for music -loving members of the nobility who had their own small private orchestras and would have him compose a variety of works for their enjoyment and to entertain noble visiitors . Haydn spent many years in an isolated Hungarian manor owned by the count Nikolaus Eszterhazy , a great music lover . Haydn also composed a number of operas for the count , who maintained his own small opera company in a private theater . Haydn was responsible for writing the music and hiring the musicians , and directing the orchestra at private concerts . He was literally a paid servant, and had to wear a servant's uniform , but it was a secure and well-paying job . Having the great Haydn as his kapellmeister was a feather in the count's hat . Over the years , Haydn's music achieved great popularity throughout Europe , and when the count died and the estate was inherited by a relative who was not much of a music lover , Haydn moved to Vienna , iwell off on his own and famous . He continued to compose and traveled around Europe , including extended stays in London ,where he was ocmmissioned ot write his late symphonies, which became known as the "London symphonies " . He was also awarded with an honorary doctorate from Oxford University , and the symphony he wrote for the occaision , no 92 , is known as the "Oxford symphony ".
Haydn died in 1809 at the advanced age of 77 , unusual for the day , universally revered as a great master . He outlived his great younger friend Mozart , whom he greatly admired , by 18 years . The symphonies are so inventive , melodious and life-affrming that I fail to see how anyone could possibly dislike them in the least . It's feel good music .
It's been a great experience hearing the whole shebang !