Exploring The Haydn Symphonies: Nos. 70,71,72
Of Haydn's 104 numbered symphonies, relatively few are well-known. Fortunately, there are a substantial number of recordings of most of the symphonies, on individual CDs or in complete sets, that allow the exploration of this treasure-trove of music in depth. I have been enjoying listening and getting to know many of Haydn's symphonies, from the earliest written before Haydn's employment at Esterhazy, to the concluding London symphonies, performed by a variety of ensembles and conductors. I have found this a great way to learn about some wonderful music.
In the early 1990's, Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band recorded many of the Haydn symphonies using period instruments and harpsichord continuo. Their recordings have been reissued on the low-priced Helios label. They are of consistently high quality and an ideal way to hear Haydn. The CD I am reviewing consists of three little-known symphonies, nos. 70, 71, and 72. Symphony no. 72 is chronologically far out of order as it was written well before its companions on this CD. I will begin with it.
Haydn's symphony no. 72 in D major dates from the composer's earliest years in the service of the Esterhazy family (1761) and was probably composed around 1763. During this time, Haydn was writing concertante symphonies -- works which feature extensive passages for solo instruments -- to show off the exceptional skills of the musicians in the Esterhazy orchestra. The symphony no 72 is a concertante work and features a virtuoso horn quartet. It is similar to the better-known symphony no 31 "Hornsignal" composed slightly later. The opening movement opens with a theme stated by the strings, but the horns soon take over and comment upon and embroider the theme throughout the music. The horns frequently play as a quartet, but they also play in pairs in call-and-response patterns, and there are solos in the high range of the instrument for the first horn. The horns do not appear in the second movement, an andante, which is given over instead to concertante passages for the first violin and flute playing and discoursing with each other in turn. In the minuet, the horns again have the preeminent role, both in the theme, accompanied by the strings, and in the trio, where they play alone. The finale is based upon a slow walking theme stated by the strings. The theme is then subjected to a series of solo variations for the flute, cello, violin, string bass, and oboes and horns. The movement and the symphony work to a presto close with a stirring call for the horn quartet. With its varied instrumentation, this early symphony is a delight.
Symphonies no. 70 and 71 date were composed about 15 years after symphony no 72, in 1779. Haydn's symphonies in the 60s and 70s are transitional works, between the sturm and drang symphonies with numbers in the 40s and 50s and the final group of symphonies beginning with the Paris symphonies, nos. 82-87. It is valuable to see Haydn develop as a symphonist, slowly and sometimes in fits and starts.
Symphony no 70 in D major has been appropriately described as a "neglected masterpiece" in the Oxford Companion to Haydn (p. 395) edited by David Wyn Jones. It is a flamboyant, lively, and accessible work, yet full of learning and subtlety. The work opens with a celebratory first movement, but it includes an unusual harmonic twist in the development and close contrapuntal writing in the recapitulation. The second movement is an andante which Haydn marks "an example of invertible counterpoint." The first theme of the movement is somber and in the minor key. It is subjected to complex, inverted counterpoint (played backwards) when it appears. This first theme is alternated with a lyrical second theme which is played simply, without counterpoint. The two themes appear alternately with variations throughout a remarkably learned movement. The minuet returns to the flashy, ceremonial style of the opening movement, while the conclusion again is in the language of learning and counterpoint. After an opening consisting of a repeated five note figure, Haydn writes a fugal finale the sophistication of which is only exceeded by its grace. Surprisingly, the opening five-note phrase returns to bring the symphony to a close.
The symphony no. 71 in B flat, composed at about the same time, is a different type of work, somewhat restrained and dark-hued. It opens with a serious slow introduction, followed by a brusque opening theme and a contrastingly graceful second theme. The slow movement consists of a simple theme followed by three embroidered variations, including a lovely solo for the flute in the second variation and a wind choir in the third variation. The minuet features a rhythmically irregular opening theme followed by a rustic dance-like trio for two solo violins. The symphony concludes with a lively, humorous movement in sonata form with contrasting themes and sudden stops.