Thursday, August 23, 2007

Reading Haydn's 100th and 104th

Two more of Joseph Haydn's most overplayed works, and therefore works you should know by name, are the 100th and 104th Symphonies.

The 100th, in G major, has the nickname "Military," owing to the references to Turkish military music in the second and fourth movements, and the trumpet fanfare in the second movement. It begins with a slow introduction that has a stately melody. After a loud outburst, this intro comes to an emphatic end. Then the flutes introduce the sprightly main theme of a "very lively" sonata movement. The second theme, full of teasing good humor, leads off in the development, followed by minor-key fragments of the first theme in which the bassoon plays an important role. A condensed recap and an energetic coda close the movement.

The second movement repeats the same noble tune several times, alternating between a "straight" orchestral version that makes remarkably sensitive use of the woodwinds, and a "janissary" version in which bass drum, cymbals, triangle, and Turkish crescent are used to create the majestic effect of Turkish military music. This style was in vogue in those days (perhaps you recall Mozart's "Rondo alla Turca") and was regarded as both exotic and awe-inspiring. It certainly makes an unusual impact in a Haydn symphony! After going back and forth between these two styles, the peaceful and the military, Haydn begins to mix them up. Then a dramatic trumpet call and drumroll trigger a brief but severe climax, after which the Turkish-colored pomp-and-circumstance ending seems quite cheerful.

Movement III is a dignified, fluent Minuet of relatively broad proportions. Its trio is quieter and lighter, with a skipping rhythm; together they make a very charming movement. Get a good earful of it, because if you listen to a lot of fine-art music, you will probably hear this piece so often that it will all but fade to inaudibility.

Movement IV is another lively sonata, this time with a jig rhythm. Even so, the development has some meditative and serious moments. After a while, the jig rhythm takes on the aspect of a woodpecker's hammering - an impression reinforced when the timpani picks it up. Toward the end, the janissary band rejoins the ensemble to add an exotic, military sparkle to the final bars.

In the 104th or "London" Symphony, the first movement - like the finale of the 100th symphony - is a monothematic sonata. That is, instead of having a full-blown second theme, it modulates to the dominant where we hear the first theme all over again. The great thing about Haydn is that he could get away with this without being thought a cheat or a bore.

First there is a slow introduction in D minor, beginning with a strong unison statement that outlines the tonic note and the dominant at a fifth above and a fourth below. Between returns of this unison passage there is other material, some of it quite poignant. The last return of the opening phrase sets up a transition to the D major sonata. This is a strong, confident, cheerful movement whose one theme breaks up into two parts. The development section builds on the second part of this theme, to exciting effect.

The Andante has a gentle, hesitant, mincing melody, full of refined pathos and a single very dissonant note that marks it as a prominent pimple marks an otherwise beautiful face. This theme seems to grow in character and charm each time it returns, again showing Haydn to be a master of orchestral color and delicate phrasing. The movement is not without drama, however, having a central section full of harmonic searching and a tragic climax, and added character facets toward the end, such as a wry flute solo and a chuckling countermelody.

Movement III is a minuet with a strong tendency toward hemiola, or changes in the pattern of rhythmic accents, and surprise pauses. The Trio gives an impression of measured haste, like a long-distance runner who knows how to pace himself; it also has freak pauses and turns of chromaticism that lend it an air of gentle pathos.

The finale - the final Finale of Haydn's enormous symphonic oeuvre - lays out a drone bass under a tune that might have been taken from Croatian folk music. When it isn't kicking up its heels, the movement leads us through unexpected chord progressions and a graceful second theme with a fourth-beat accent. Haydn breaks these ideas and more into fragments and develops them, letting in more and more of a spirit of abandoned celebration until the bright, strong, characteristically manly conclusion.

I love Haydn. Perhaps, in listening to these symphonies, you will begin to see why. To truly appreciate Haydn, you may have to immerse yourself in his world for a while; in so doing you may develop a "palate" for his work. Why bother? Well, it has been a couple hundred years since many people thought in his musical language. What you hear, as you listen to Haydn through ears fresh off a Mahler symphony, may not seem very weighty or emotionally deep. But to those who have ears to hear, they are far more than testaments to the order and grace that typefied his time. They are, rather, extraordinary statements of conviction and sentiment that can still, to this day, speak to the heart as well as the mind. They are the expression of a bright, jolly, independent-spirited man who knew more of the world than most people of his class and generation, and reveled in it. They are works of refined genius that can both thrill a come-and-go dabbler and enlighten a patient disciple.

EDIT: In the video below, Mariss Jansons conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in the first movement of Haydn's 104th.

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