Haydn: Symphonies #44, 45, & 49
I must admit that while I listen to a fair amount of classical music that occasionally I find myself listening to music from labels or at least imprints that are unfamiliar to me, and such is the case with Apex, which has combined three symphonies of Haydn that were written and first performed in a period close to each other where Haydn worked for low wages in the obscurity of the Hungarian estate and palace of the Prince of Esterhazy. According to the trilingual liner notes in English, German, and French, many of Haydn’s friends and admirers sought for him to find more remunerative work composing for other sponsors or the general public at large but at least while the incumbent prince was a sponsor of music Haydn was content to create in some obscurity where he had a good degree of loyalty to the household and its orchestra and where he had the creative freedom to work. One can certainly think of these particular symphonies as creative ones, and as a violist who has played one of these symphonies in concert I can say that they are well-suited to a small but reasonably accomplished chamber orchestra if I may humbebrag about my own abilities and those of my fellow musicians at SPC’s Community Orchestra with whom I performed.
This particular disk is made up of three albums. Like all of Haydn’s symphonies, they are high classical symphonies with four movements, although there is some experimentation in the four movements involved. Symphony 44 is in E minor, and it is called the “Funeral Symphony” because it was apparently stated that this was to be played at Haydn’s funeral. It happens to be the symphony of his I played personally and it is beautiful if melancholy. IT begins with an Allegro con brio, is followed by a Menuette (canon) trio, then by a long adagio and finally a short and fast presto Finale. The second of the symphonies included in this set is in F# minor and is called “The Farewell” in part because it was written as a way of protesting the separation of the musicians from their families during a long performance season. It begins with an allergo Assai, is followed by a lengthy Adagio, is followed by a Menuet allegretto – trio which ends with a violin duet after all the other musicians leave, and then is ended by a lengthy Finale: Presto. The third of the symphonies is in F minor and is called “The Passion,” beginning with a lengthy Adagio, then followed by an Allegro di molto, after which there is a Menuet-trio and a short Finale: Presto.
By and large all of these symphonies demonstrate the harmony between passion and design that marks the High Classical and Haydn’s work in particular. There are certainly hints of the sort of emotional use of instruments that would be later carried further by Beethoven and then the Romantics, but that emotional resonance is kept within a harmony with reason in a way that the time understood and appreciated. Yet despite the fact that Haydn definitely kept to the style that was dominant during his time, he was certainly very willing to vary the order of the four movement types within the classical symphony form as well as write in different keys and vary the length and the instrumentation to make a point or to fulfill his artistic ambitions. Whether or not the listener is always able to distinguish the point of the artist involved and what subtle changes are wrought as the author flexibly uses the symphony form as a handmaiden to his creative efforts, this flexibility demonstrates that however restrictive we may find forms, they represent all the same a means by which creativity can be exercised and developed within constraints.