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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  !  


Posted: Oct 10 2012, 09:44 PM by the horn | with no comments
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