Haydn’s opportunities to profit from his music broadened in 1779, when he negotiated a new contract with the Esterházy family that permitted him to sell scores more freely. He cashed in on his popularity around Europe, and he was not above selling the same work to various local publishers, a lucrative if not entirely scrupulous practice. The three symphonies Haydn composed in November of 1784 appear to have been tailored to the publishing market, and he found outlets for them in Vienna, Paris, London, Berlin, and Amsterdam.
The Symphony No. 80, one of Haydn’s ten symphonies in a minor key, does not exhibit the same angst as, say, the Lamentation or Tragic symphonies from his earlier Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) phase. In fact, it is remarkable how little this minor-key symphony actually dwells in the minor mode. The opening movement only spends about its first fifteen seconds (as well as the repetitions of that passage) in a convincingly turbulent D minor. The rest of the movement trades mainly in major sonorities, including a cheeky theme, set to oom-pah-pah accompaniment, which has the last word in D major.
The Adagio exudes warmth and beauty in the cozy key of B-flat major, and its few minor touches have a regal bearing, signaling profundity rather than emotional turmoil. Only the brief Menuetto begins and ends in the Symphony’s home key, with a detour to D major for the contrasting trio section. The Presto finale makes its optimistic intentions clear from the start, repeating the note F-sharp (the major third in the key of D) three times, canceling out the F-natural that darkened the earlier D-minor chord. This movement has some of Haydn’s most devilish syncopations, and yet they are not the jarring, punch-in-the-gut surprises he sometimes unleashed, but rather invitations to expect the unexpected.
Aaron Grad ©2014
About This Program
These composers from across the centuries understood how music could bridge time and space, from the distant echoes of Vivaldi and Castrucci (Handel’s lead violinist) to the devotional resonance of Messiaen and Bulgaria’s Dobrinka Tabakova. In the Symphony No. 80, Haydn takes a different kind of journey, probing the emotional chasm that can open between a major and a minor key. From the microscopic to the interstellar, every note on this program expands our horizons.