Saturday, February 6, 2021

Haydn - Symphony 82 in C Major, 'The Bear'

Joseph Haydn was Kappelmeister for almost thirty years for the affluent Esterházy family at their isolated and remote estate in Hungary.  "I was cut off from the world. There was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original," Haydn has been quoted as saying.  He composed endlessly for his patrons at the estate, was in charge of the care and upkeep of the instruments, lead the orchestra, played in chamber music groups, and lead the production of operas at the estate. 

Haydn's fame as a composer grew despite his isolation, and he was granted permission from his employers to accept commissions for works from others. Haydn's works were known in France, and a group led by Claude-François-Marie Rigoley in Paris commissioned six symphonies from Haydn for the orchestra Le Concert de la loge Olympique (Orchestra of the 'Olympic' {Masonic} Lodge). This was one of the largest and most famous orchestras of the time, and Haydn did not disappoint as all six symphonies were very well received.   The first numbered of these symphonies was number 82 in C Major, 'The Bear' (L'Ours in French). 

I. Vivace assai -  Haydn took delight in writing for such large forces, as the Paris Orchestra is said to have had 40 violins alone, while Haydn's usual forces at the Esterházy family estate usually numbered no more than a total of 25 of all instruments. Haydn begins with a robust theme that outlines the C major chord in repeated notes in the strings. Haydn gave the option of playing this symphony with two horns, or two trumpets, or two of each. As usual, the second theme is in the dominant key, in this case G major, and is played by 1st violins and flute with a light staccato accompaniment by the 2nd violins and a drone of one note played by a solo bassoon.  The development goes through differing keys through scraps of each main theme until the recapitulation is reached. The first theme is sounded, and makes its way to a modulation of the second theme to C major as well. This time the theme is heard in the 1st violins and solo bassoon that plays high in its register. The drone notes are played by the two horns. The movement is rounded out with a short coda in the home key and ends with a flourish as it began.

II. Allegretto - Haydn eschews a slow movement for a double variation, which he was very fond of as he used the form many times. Double variation form is like a theme and variations, but it has two themes that are varied. The first theme is in F major. The second theme is in F minor. These two themes alternate with each other, and each time they are heard changes are made. Sometimes in instrumentation, sometimes in small details. The first theme finally wins out and the movement ends with a fragment of it quietly played. 

III. Menuet e trio - In the third movement, Haydn bows to the grace of the French dance,  with punctuations added by the timpani. The trio showcases the winds, no doubt to the delight of the French audience and the orchestra players. 

IV. Finale: Vivace - This is the movement that gave the symphony it's nickname, for the droning strings reminded contemporary audiences of the dancing bears that would 'dance' to music from bagpipes. Bears were stolen from their mothers when small cubs, and trained to dance for the amusement of people (especially royalty) and for the fortune of their owners. To say it was a miserable existence for the bear is an understatement. 

History does not say who gave the music the name, as Haydn didn't give nicknames to any of his works. But it does convey the feeling of the steady beat of the bagpipe drone, and the rustic atmosphere that was part of this kind of music. 

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