In 1761, the 29-year-old Joseph Haydn received a lucrative job offer from Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, the head of one of Austria’s richest and most powerful noble families. During his first five years as Vice-Kapellmeister, Haydn was responsible for putting on concerts with the world-class private orchestra at his disposal, leading him to compose about two dozen symphonies along with various concertos and other instrumental works.
His first Esterházy symphonies were a trilogy connected to times of day—“Le matin” (Morning), “Le midi” (Noon) and “Le soir” (Evening)—an idea that may have been suggested by Prince Paul Anton. The work cataloged as Symphony No. 6 was probably closer to Haydn’s tenth, chronologically. In some regards, the music preserves the established Baroque style, particularly in the use of concertante solo instruments, as in a concerto grosso. But we can also recognize aspects of Haydn’s symphonic voice that are as strong here as they are in the final examples he wrote for London, 30-plus years and nearly 100 symphonies later.
Like most of those London Symphonies, the Morning symphony opens with a slow introduction. The first violins enter alone, then the second violins join in harmony, and soon the entire orchestra surges to a bright climax: The sun has risen.
The fast body of the movement enters with a melody played by flute alone, the first of many solo passages that show this symphony to be a descendent of the concerto grosso as much as the operatic sinfonia. The slow movement, scored without winds, shines the spotlight on the solo violin and cello.
The Menuet, a court dance marked by its stately pulse of three beats per measure, was a staple of the French dance suite. Haydn was among the first to add this extra movement to the Italian sinfonia template, one of the innovations that earned him the nickname “father of the symphony.” Even in this early example, the finale shows Haydn’s typical panache, like how he turns a simple melodic gesture of a rising scale into a pervasive, energizing accompaniment figure.
Aaron Grad ©2017