Haydn’s Morning, Noon and Evening Symphonies with Jonathan Cohen
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, like a sunrise breaking over the horizon. The fast body of the movement begins 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 (a collective concerto for multiple soloists and orchestra) as much as it is an offspring of the operatic sinfonia or overture.
The slow movement, scored without winds, emphasizes solo parts for violin and cello. Instead of continuing to the fast finale in the manner of a three-part Italian sinfonia, Haydn borrowed from the French dance suite and inserted a Menuet, a court dance marked by its stately pulse of three beats per measure. Through Haydn’s influence, the minuet (and later, in Beethoven’s adaptation, the scherzo) became an indispensable component of a symphony. Even in this very early example of symphonic form, the finale displays Haydn’s typical panache, like how he turns a simple melodic gesture of a rising scale into a pervasive, energizing accompaniment figure.
Aaron Grad ©2018
With its slow introduction built from regal dotted rhythms, the opening movement of the Noon Symphony again points to the influence of the French dance suite. The fast portion of the movement features two solo violins and other individual voices in textures reminiscent of the Italian concerto grosso.
The slow movement is prefaced by a halting Recitativo, a convention borrowed from opera. In the tuneful body of the movement, two flutes replace the oboes, adding a smooth new color. Haydn wrote out the fluid cadenza at the end for violin and cello.
With a rustic, outdoorsy quality reminiscent of the Austrian ländler dance, the minuet brings extra attention to the horns, while the contrasting trio section features a solo bass. Flute, violins and horns all return to the fore in the lively and virtuosic finale.
Aaron Grad ©2018
Like its siblings, the Evening Symphony includes ample solo passages in the manner of a Baroque concerto grosso. But many other details of form, harmony and orchestration point to Haydn’s mature symphonic voice, a craft he explored in nearly 100 more works over the next thirty-plus years. Perhaps the most distinctive and Haydnesque moment comes in the first movement’s recapitulation, when a held chord momentarily diverts the harmony to the “wrong” key. Haydn was a master of the Sonata-Allegro form that organizes this and most other symphonic first movements, playing off the listener’s expectations for a particular resolution.
The new color in the slow movement is a solo bassoon, which works with the solo cello as a tenor-range counterpart to the two solo violins in the soprano register. Continuing the pattern from the two previous symphonies, a solo contrabass adds a distinctive growl to the contrasting trio section. As a bookend to the sunrise that begins the trilogy, the finale, labeled La Tempesta, engages in literal scene painting by conjuring a storm full of descending swoops and arpeggios.
Aaron Grad ©2018