Saturday, October 25, 2014

Bax - Symphony No. 1

The cataclysm of World War One truly had a global effect while it was being fought and even more so after it was over. With tens of millions of dead and wounded, the destruction of major monarchies of Russia and Germany, and with the vengeful victors of the war burdening the losers with the punitive punishment of reparations, history has shown that the First World War was but a prelude to even more death and destruction twenty years later.

The aftermath of the war took the trend of Modernism and sped it up by giving it a hard shove, and in the process created a world that no longer seemed to have any direction for many. This was reflected in the arts, most notably with writers such as Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But all the arts were affected, with music composers reflecting the loss of direction and chaos in music that threw away some of the most time-honored practices of music in favor of dissonance and extreme emotion.  

Arnold Bax was an English composer and poet that lived through the war, but due to a heart condition he did not serve in it. He was fortunate in that he was born to an upper class family and most likely never had to scramble to earn a living. He was taught privately and showed great musical talent as well as an overall high intellect. He read widely, and took inspiration from literature and after he read some poems by Irish poet William Butler Yeats he became interested in Ireland. For over 30 years he spent part of the year in Ireland where he became friends with Irish writers, rebels and peasants. 

He was on the side of Irish Independence, perhaps a somewhat precarious position for a Englishman, and he was profoundly affected by the Easter Rising of 1916 in Dublin where over 400 people died and Irish revolutionaries were executed. World War one also caused an increase in violence in Ireland in 1918 when the British who were on the brink of entering the war, inflicted conscription on Ireland. 

Bax's  Symphony No. 1 was finished in 1922, and exactly how much the war and the events in Ireland influenced the work is not certain. Bax himself discounted any influence the war may have had, but with a composer that was as sensitive as Bax, it is hard to believe that both the war and the events in Ireland didn't influence the work.  The symphony is in three movements:

I. Allegro moderato e feroce - Moderato expressivo - Tempo I - The first movement begins in the rather obscure key of E-flat minor with a soft chord in the woodwinds that increases in volume with a harp glissando added until a one-measure motive is played fortissimo by the horns, 1st violins and violas:
 This kernel of music is the basis of the first theme, which continues until a shift in mood occurs with the second theme. This theme is more lyrical and placid, in contrast to the beginning of the work. This theme continues the mood until the contra bassoon brings the development section that is full of dark rumblings as the theme stabs its way through the colorful orchestral texture with a rhythm that lies underneath the rest of the music that is heard repeatedly:
Other short themes are heard as the working out continues until the first theme begins the recapitulation. The second theme is then transformed as it is played softly by the flute over a light accompaniment from harp and strings. The theme continues until it slowly dies away and the bassoons and horns begin a coda in a scherzo-like section that leads to the dominating rhythm's return. It steps up in volume as it makes its way through the strings as chords are played in the brass, horns and woodwinds. A crescendo brings the same instruments to a whole note chord that play E-flat and B-flat, in what first appears to be a lead-in to an ending in E-flat major, but the defining note of G natural is missing as the rest of the orchestra plays the same two ambiguous notes until a cadential chord is played that fools the listener as it sounds like the work indeed will end in E-flat major. But the final chord of the movement is a devastating and powerful E-flat minor chord that thunders through the orchestra triple-forte.

II. Lento solenne - After the horror of the first movement, the next movement begins in a diaphanous veil of mystery with strings playing sul ponticello along with harps, held chords in the brass and the light riffing of a snare drum with snares off. The music moves steadily forward until a march-like section begins.  The horns and trumpets play a prominent part in this movement that brims with contrasts of power. Strings and woodwinds play a throbbing accompaniment to timpani and horns, the music reaches a climax. The music grows more gentle as it nears the end of the movement, when the mystery of the beginning returns and the music dies away.

III. Allegro maestoso - Allegro vivace ma non troppo -  Presto Tempo di marcia Trionfale - The loud beginning of the movement leads to an imaginative and brilliantly scored scherzo. This scherzo is brief. The first theme from the opening movement reappears in a different guise in a section that toys with until another section works the theme into a triumphant march. After along journey and much struggle, the symphony has finally reached the key of E-flat major and ends.

Bax's orchestral palette is broad and colorful as is evidenced in his seven symphonies and many tone poems. He took inspiration from many sources, including Russian, German and Irish folksong.  He was a prolific composer and wrote music in many genre excluding opera. He died in 1953 at the age of 69.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Haydn - Symphony No. 99 In E-flat Major

After having spent most of his adult life in the employ of  Prince Esterházy, Haydn made two trips toLondon beginning in 1791. London had already taken Haydn's music to heart after the death of Johann Christian Bach in 1782, and he had been approached to go to London before, but had always refused out of loyalty to his employer. When his employer died, his situation changed. His new employer was not as much of a music lover so he disbanded much of the orchestra and gave Haydn his freedom (while still keeping him on salary for bragging rights).  Shortly after Haydn moved to Vienna in 1790, Johann Salomon, a German musician and impresario who had relocated to London, paid him a visit. When Haydn answered a knock on his door, the impresario said (according to Haydn):
I am Salomon of London and have come to fetch you. Tomorrow we will arrange an accord.
Shortly after their meeting, Haydn made his way to the English Channel with Salomon and sailed for England on New Year's Day, 1791.  When he got there  he was feted by London music lovers, made many new friends and participated in many concerts. He stayed in London for two concert seasons and finally made a trip back to Austria in the summer of 1792.

Haydn made his second trip to London in January of 1794 and stayed another two concert seasons. The King and queen of England offered him a suite of rooms at Windsor Castle if he would stay in England, but Haydn went back to Vienna in the summer of 1795.  The London trips resulted in the composition of the twelve London Symphonies, six for each trip. In addition, Haydn also composed quartets, songs, concertos, and other pieces for a total of about 250 compositions. Haydn was now very well off financially as the London trips paid him more money than he had ever earned before, and made him the most famous composer of the time.

The first six symphonies composed for London, Numbers 93-98 were enthusiastically received, along with the second group of six, as can be seen from the excerpt from a review of the February 17th, 1794 concert which included a string quartet and Symphony No. 99 by Haydn as published in the London newspaper The Morning Chronicle on the 19th of February 1794:
...the richest part of the banquet , as usual, was due to the wonderful Haydn. His new quartetto gave pleasure by its variety, gaiety, and the fascination of its melody and harmony through all its movements: and the overture, [a term synonymous with symphony at the time] being performed with increasing accuracy and effect, was received with increasing rapture. The first movement was encored: the effect of the wind instruments in the second movement was enchanting; the hautboy [oboe] and flute were finely in tune, but the bassoon was in every respect more perfect and delightful than we ever remember to have heard a wind instrument before. In the minuets, the trio was peculiarly charming; but indeed the pleasure the whole gave was continual; and the genius of Haydn astonishing [ly] inexhaustible, and sublime, was the general theme. 
Concerts in those times gave a much larger variety of types of compositions. In addition to the string quartet and symphony by Haydn, there was a symphony by a different composer, a violin concerto, and some vocal works thrown in for good measure.

Symphony 99 In E-flat was the first symphony of the second London visit, and it was also the first symphony in which Haydn included parts for clarinets.  It is in four movements:

I. Adagio - Vivace assai -  Eleven of the twelve London symphonies begin with an introduction, with this one being exceptionally rich in modulations; E-flat, B-flat, E minor, C minor, before arriving back at E-flat in preparation for the first theme which is heard in the violins:
The first theme is developed and expanded with additional material, and instead of modulating to a different theme the first theme is repeated in B-flat and the development of the theme continues. Haydn didn't always use a second contrasting theme, but made small changes in the first theme and used it as his second theme. Enough time passes on this variant of the first theme to seem as though this is Haydn's intention, a second theme in B-flat major appears in the violins just before the end of the exposition:
The development begins with the first few bars of the first theme, and as if to make up for the short shrift given to the second theme, there is an extended working out of the second theme with the first theme appearing briefly in the middle of the development. The recapitulation repeats the first theme briefly and transitions to the second theme played in E-flat. With the roles of the themes reversed, the second theme dominates the recapitulation like the first theme dominated the exposition. A fragment of the first theme returns briefly and the movement comes to a close on E-flat.

II. Adagio -  The second movement is also in sonata form and is in the key of G major, a key far from the home key of E-flat. The writing for woodwinds shows Haydn's skill as an orchestrator and the inclusion of the timpani and trumpets in the middle section of the movement shows his ability to use his forces to good effect, for he very seldom included both in any of his slow movements. This middle section foreshadows Beethoven, but Haydn keeps the tension brief and under control.

III. Menuetto e Trio. Allegretto -  This movement is an example of how the minuet continued to evolve in Haydn's symphonies, for with its accents and fermatas it is a direct ancestor of Beethoven's scherzos. Indeed, if the tempo were increased to vivace, the relationship would be even clearer. The trio section is in C major, another key far removed from E-flat.

IV. Finale: Vivace -  A type of finale Haydn was fond of; a hybrid between a rondo and sonata form. The woodwinds pass around snippets of themes between themselves and the strings as the main theme winds through the movement. There is a slowing of the tempo close to the end, but the music picks up speed once again as the woodwinds and strings play a game of tag with motives before this short movement ends in E-flat.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mendelssohn - Symphony No. 3 In A Minor 'Scottish'

Unlike the childhoods of many composers in the early 19th century, Felix Mendelssohn had the good fortune of being born into a family of wealth. His father was an influential banker and could afford to give the best to his children, including a sound overall education as well as a musical education after Felix showed his natural aptitude for the art.

Included in that education was the finest private teachers and opportunities to hear his latest compositions at the Sunday concerts held in his parent's home.  Felix was to be exposed to other countries and cultures as well, and went on a Grand Tour of Europe beginning in 1829.  He made his first trip to England while on the Grand Tour, where he met many of the leading musicians of the day. Mendelssohn was always very popular in England and made many trips there during his short life.

His visit to England in 1829 included a trip to Scotland, which inspired two compositions. The
Hebrides Overture also known as Fingal's Cave was inspired by this trip, as well as the 3rd Symphony In A Minor.  While the Hebrides Overture was completed in 1830, Mendelssohn set the 3rd Symphony on the shelf in 1831, and didn't return to it until 1841, finally finishing it in 1842.  As with the numbering of other composer's works, this symphony was the fifth in the order of completion but the third to be published, hence the numbering of it.

Mendelssohn visited a specific place in Scotland that gave him the first inspiration for a symphony, as he wrote in a letter home:
In darkening twilight today, we went to the Palace [of Holyrood] where Queen Mary lived and loved. There is a little room to be seen there with a spiral staircase at its door. That is where they went up and found Rizzio in the room, dragged him out, and three chambers away there is a dark corner where they murdered him. The chapel beside it has lost its roof and is overgrown with grass and ivy, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything there is ruined, decayed and open to the clear sky. I believe that I have found there today the beginning of my Scotch Symphony.
The nickname of the symphony came directly from Mendelssohn, and refers to the inspiration the country gave him rather than any Scottish folk music he included in it. On the contrary, Mendelssohn was somewhat of a snob as far as folk music. He absolutely detested it and said so in another letter home:
No national music for me! Ten thousand devils take all nationality! Now I am in Wales and, dear me, a harper sits in the hall of every reputed inn, playing incessantly so-called national melodies; that is to say, the most infamous, vulgar, out-of-tune trash, with a hurdygurdy going on at the same time. It’s maddening, and has given me a toothache already.
The premiere of the symphony was in March 1842 by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, conducted by Mendelssohn.  It is in four movements that are played without a break:

I. Andante con moto  - Allegro un poco agitato -  The movement begins with a melancholy introduction that was derived from sixteen measures written in piano score in 1829 while Mendelssohn was in Scotland. The movement uses this introduction as a basis for the themes and mood of the rest as can be felt when the first theme of the movement begins quietly, and grows to a fortissimo with the second theme. The first theme returns along with other thematic motives, including one just before the end of the exposition (which is indicated to be repeated in the core, but not all conductors do). The development begins softly and builds to a climax, after which the first theme is dealt with. The second theme and some other motives are included in the working out before there is a smooth segue to the recapitulation, after which a section that sounds like the wind howling is played. This leads to a climax, and then the music from the introduction returns and leads to the second movement that is played without pause.

II. Vivace non troppo -  The second movement begins with a short introduction and the clarinet plays the them for the first time:
Because of this theme's rhythmic and melodic nature, this movement is considered by many to be in the spirit of Scottish music, even if it doesn't (and it doesn't) quote any actual Scottish folk tunes. Much has been made about the famous (some would say infamous) Scotch snap in the theme (at the end of the first phrase at the beginning of the 5th measure for instance) as proof that Mendelssohn used it intentionally in reference to Scotland.  This is of no consequence, for the music is an example of a  Mendelssohnian scherzo (although written in sonata form) that is fleet of foot and short in length that could have shown up in a different work. The scherzo ends with pizzicato strings that lead to the next movement.

III. Adagio - A short introduction leads to a flowing first theme that is contrasted with a dark, powerful second theme that reaches a climax before it quiets down and a 3rd theme appears.  The opening measures return, the second theme returns, followed by an expanded version of the first theme. The rumbling second theme grows to another climax, the 3rd theme is repeated. The first theme returns one last time to end the movement.

IV. Allegro vivacissimo - Allegro maestoso assai -  The finale begins with an agitated march, followed by the 2nd theme that is in the same mood. A 3rd theme quietly appears in the oboe. The first theme reappears and is developed with the other themes taking their turn in short sections. The first theme is played quietly and segues directly to a new majestic theme in A major. This theme is in such contrast to what has gone before that some have called it misplaced.  But by the nature of the theme (which some have called Germanic, whatever the hell that means) Mendelssohn may have been in a quandary how to end the work on a positive note with what had gone on before in the movement.

Aside from all that has been written about the work and its connections to Scotland, the 3rd Symphony is a masterpiece, and would be so if it had no nickname at all.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mozart - Symphony No. 1 In E-flat Major, K.16

Statue of the young Mozart in London
The inception of the symphony began at the end of the Baroque era, and due to the form being taken up by many composers it became an important part of concert life by 1790. In the beginning, the symphony was an offshoot of the opera overture. In fact, many early symphonies were originally written as operatic overtures. Early symphonies had three movements with a tempo scheme of the movements fast-slow-fast. Eventually an additional movement was added, along with more flexibility of tempo and mood of the individual movements.

Not all composers wrote symphonies, but many of the famous ones did. Joseph Haydn is known for the 106 symphonies with his first being composed ca. 1759. His younger colleague Mozart wrote up to 68 symphonies (there remains debate among musicologists as to the actual number) with his first being composed in 1764, only six years after Haydn's first. The difference between these composers first symphonies begins with the difference in their ages when they wrote them; Haydn was thirty-seven, Mozart was eight! 

Mozart was already known as a wunderkind by the time he was eight, but only as a performer. Mozart first went on tour in 1762 to the courts in Munich, Vienna and Prague. A tour of Europe that began in 1764 lasted over three years and took the Mozart family to many of the capitals and courts of Europe. While on this tour, he met many of the leading composers of the day, and it was while he was in London that he met Johann Christian Bach, the youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Despite the twenty years difference in age, they became friends and just as important to Mozart, Bach mentored him in composition. 

Bach was a very popular composer in London at the time,  so Mozart got to hear much of his music as well as play Bach's keyboard works. Leopold Mozart, the composer's father wrote:
What he had known when he left Salzburg is nothing compared with what he knows now; it defies the imagination … right now, Wolfgang is sitting at the harpsichord playing Bach’s trios.
Mozart's sister Nannerl wrote about Bach and her brother in her diary years later:
Herr Johann Christian Bach, music master of the queen, took Wolfgang between his knees. He would play a few measures; then Wolfgang would continue. In this manner they played entire sonatas. Unless you saw it with your own eyes, you would swear that just one person was playing.
Mozart plaque in London
Bach was a great influence on Mozart's developing style and talent.  So it is natural that his first attempt at a symphony would be under the older composer's direct influence, and so it was that Mozart wrote his first symphony while in London in 1764. A statue of the young Mozart and a plaque have been erected on the spot on Ebury Street.

There has been some question among scholars if the young Mozart actually wrote the symphony himself. His father was not only a composer and master musician in his own right, he knew how to promote his son. What better to show the precocity of Wolfgang than a symphony written when he was but eight years old? It is thought that Leopold assisted his son on his earliest compositions, if not actually creating the music at least writing it down on paper. So perhaps it is all an example of a proud and ambitious father. Whatever the truth of the matter, what is offered as Mozart's First Symphony is an interesting early example of the form.  The symphony is scored for two oboe, two horns, strings and continuo, and is in three movements as early symphonies were.

I. Molto allegro -  The movement opens with the notes of the E-flat major triad throughout the orchestra after which a series of whole note chords leads to a repeat of the opening and the string of whole note chords.  A section of transition leads to the second theme in B-flat major. Another transitional section leads to the repeat of the the exposition. The development begins with the first theme section in B-flat major, and then in C minor. The first theme is not repeated as a section transition continues in C minor and modulates to the home key of E-flat for the repetition of the second theme, and the movement ends.

II. Andante - The second movement is in C minor and has the theme played by the basses over a half-note accompaniment by the oboes and horns. The rest of the strings play a triplet figure throughout the movement that creates a cross rhythm of 2 versus 3.

III. Presto - The music returns to E-flat major with the first theme in regular 4-bar phrases that lasts 16 measures and then repeats. A second theme group includes a section of eight bars that travels downward chromatically from B-flat to D. The first theme returns, followed by the second theme group. A transition leads to the final repetition of the first theme which ends the symphony. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sammartini - Symphony In C Minor, J-C 9

The state of European music in the first half of the 18th century saw a tremendous change in styles and attitudes. At the beginning of the century the style of music was still firmly rooted in the Baroque era traditions of counterpoint, polyphony and fugue. The music of J.S. Bach can be considered the culmination of this era. The style galante came to the forefront, along with changes in not only the forms used in music but the instruments that were being written for.

One of the forms that began a long history of development was that of the symphony,which is a work of more than one movement, with at least one of the movements in sonata form. Sonata form can be viewed as the defining compositional form of the Classical era. There were many composers who used sonata form and added to the development of it, with one of the earliest being Giovanni Battista Sammartini.

Sammartini was a prolific Italian composer who composed works in many different genres, but
is most well known for his 68 extant symphonies which were written throughout his long life (1700-1775). He remained in the Milan area all of his life, but his music became well known to other composers and he met many of his contemporaries, including Mozart. Two symphonies Sammartini composed in 1732 are what musicologists believe constitute earliest dated symphonies known. And coincidentally, 1732 is the birth year of one of the most famous symphony composers in classical music, Joseph Haydn.

His works were forgotten shortly after his death and it wasn't until 1913 that he was rediscovered. The J-C numbers listed after Sammartini's works are from the musicologists Newell Jenkins and Bathia Churgin catalogue of Sammartini's known works in 1976. Symphony In C Minor J-C 9 is believed to be an early work written between 1730-1750 scored for strings and continuo, and is in three movements:

I. Allegro -  The first movement begins with a dotted rhythm theme in C minor that lasts for ten measures. The theme modulates to E-flat major and is expanded to fourteen measures long. The number of measures in the theme gives it a feeling of being slightly off balance phrase wise in both versions. The second section has the theme modulate to other keys and settles on G, the dominant of the home key. The theme returns in the original key of C minor and after a few short modulations the theme ends in C minor. The movement is an early version of sonata form that used a variant of the msin theme as a contrasting second theme, a method used later by Haydn in some of his sonata form movements.

II. Affettuoso - The second movement is written in E-flat major in simple binary form. The first section is 18 measures. the second section is extended to 22 measures, which like the first movement makes for unequal phrasing.

III. Allegro - As in the first movement, Sammartini uses one theme and varies it to achieve the semblance of a different theme. Triplets and sharp staccatos add to the velocity of the music, and it ends in C minor.

Dvořák - Symphony No. 9 In E Minor 'From The New World'

Folk music is based on the pentatonic scale, a scale that consists of 5 notes to the octave instead of the usual 7. The usual 7-note C major scale consists of seven tones before the series repeats: C-D-E-F-G-A-B.  A major pentatonic scale that is built on C consists of the same notes except the 4th and 7th notes are omitted: C-D-E-G-A. There are also minor pentatonic scales, and those that are constructed somewhat differently. The pentatonic traditions of specific areas and types of music may differ, but the basics are the same.

The Czech folk music that Antonín Dvořák heard all his life had its own tradition of pentatonic scale usage.  He used it many times himself in his compositions long before he came to New York city in 1892.  He took a great interest in Native American music as well as Negro spirituals, and understood them quite well. For a homesick Bohemian they may have struck a familiar chord (or melody) within his ears.

He composed the Symphony No. 9 in 1893, and while American music inspired him, he did not use any American melodies in the work. He wrote in the American style of pentatonic scale use and did it so well that for a long time many put the cart before the horse, especially in regards to the melody from the 2nd movement. A song named Goin' Home takes its melody from the symphony, not the other way around. The words were not set to the melody until many years after the symphony had been written.

The premiere of the work was the greatest success of Dvořák's career, as each movement was applauded so much that he had to take a bow after each. He had created interest in the work months before its premiere when he was quoted in New York newspapers as saying that an American school of composition should be built around Negro and Native American melodies. In a late 19th century American culture that was openly prejudiced against both groups, Dvořák's words created controversy as well as a great deal of curiosity about the work. Carnegie Hall was packed the night of the premiere, as Dvořák's son Otakar relates:
There was such demand for tickets for the gala premiere of the New World Symphony that, in order to fully satisfy the potential audience, Carnegie Hall, huge as it is, still had to increase the number of seats severalfold. All the newspapers competed with one another in their commentaries, reflecting on whether father’s symphony would determine the further development of American music and, in doing so, they succeeded in enveloping the work in an aura of exclusivity, even before the premiere had taken place. Its success was so immense that it was beyond ordinary imagining, and it is surely to the credit of the American public that they are able to appreciate the music of a living composer. Even after the first movement the audience unexpectedly burst into lengthy applause. After the breathtaking Largo of the second movement, they would not let the concert proceed until father had appeared on the podium to receive an ovation from the delighted audience in the middle of the work. Once the symphony had ended, the people were simply ecstatic. Father probably had to step up onto the podium with conductor Anton Seidl twenty times to take his bow before a euphoric audience. He was very happy.
The work was taken up by orchestras the world over, and it became one of the most performed works in the repertoire.  As with other often-played works in the repertoire, The New World Symphony has been called a warhorse, as over-familiarity can breed contempt with some ears. But it is a work that repays listening to with new ears, for it is a masterpiece that can yield new pleasures for the attentive, unjaded ear.  The symphony is in four movements:

I. Adagio -  Allegro molto -  The slow introduction begins the movement with a motive in irregular rhythms that anticipate what is to come.  Woodwinds repeat this motive. After a short rest the music increases to fortissimo with strings, horns and timpani. The music recedes and then builds up to a climax. Strings hold a tremolo, reduce the volume to pianissimo and the horns enter with the first theme. After the theme plays out, a section of dotted rhythm leads up to the second theme played in the woodwinds, and then the violins. A third theme appears, this is the theme that resembles the spiritual Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and then the exposition is repeated.  The development section deals with the main theme primarily, and puts the theme through many key changes and drama. The recapitulation plays through the themes until the coda is reached. The music gains in speed and drama as the orchestra runs to the end and collapses in loud chords.

II. Largo -  A remarkable progression of chords in the woodwinds and brass acts as an introduction to the slow movement. The famous melody for cor anglais plays over a subdued accompaniment.  A section for strings leads to a repeat of the melody. A middle section plays a plaintive melody over agitated strings, and continues in sounds of lonesome wandering. The music brightens, the tempo quickens as a section is played that recalls the cor anglais melody as well as the main theme from the first movement. The melody appears once again in the cor anglais, and then is taken up by two of each string instrument. The phrases of the melody are interrupted by halting rests and the music slowly makes its way to a return of the chord progression of the introduction. The music fades and ends with two barely audible chords in the low strings.

III. Scherzo: Molto vivace - Poco sostenuto -  Dvořák likened this music to the feast ofwild dancing as depicted in Longfellow's poem Song of Hiawatha. Music of off-accents, powerful rhythms and sounds grows more docile in the next part of the theme. A triangle gives color to the relative calm of this section. The boisterous dancing returns until the music fades into the next thematic section which is also accented by the triangle and by trills in the woodwinds and strings. The wild dance returns until a coda brings back the first theme of  the first movement as well as a reference to the third theme of the first movement before it all comes to a powerful end.

IV. Allegro con fuoco -  Written in sonata form, Dvořák combines new material with material heard in the other movements. The first subject is a powerful one heard in the brass. The clarinet sings the second theme. The third theme is given by the strings with accents by the trumpets. The development section begins with a recall of the first theme of the first movement. The cor anglais melody of the second movement is then heard. In one notable section he combines the main themes of the second, third and fourth movement.  The final movement is a summing up of all that has gone before, and Dvořák builds to a tremendous climax in a coda that includes the introductory chords to the second movement. The primary themes of the last movement combine with the primary theme of the first movement, and the music dies away in E major.

While for the most part the work was received quite well, William Apthorp, a Boston newspaper music critic reflects the level of prejudices held byh some of the time against new music, foreign composers and so-called barbaric Negro music:
The great bane of the present Slavic and Scandinavian Schools is and has been the attempt to make civilized music by civilized methods out of essentially barbaric material… …Our American Negro music has every element of barbarism to be found in the Slavic or Scandinavian folk-songs; it is essentially barbarous music.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mozart - Symphony No. 29 In A Major K. 201/186a

 The traditional number of symphonies attributed to Mozart is 41, but modern scholarship places the number closer to 68, as some of the earlier ones were not numbered, as well as some of the works traditionally referred to as divertimentos could be classified as symphonies. He was  about nine years old when he wrote his first symphony, and by the time he wrote his 25th symphony he was only seventeen years old. Symphony numbers 14-30 of the traditionally acknowledged symphonies were written while he was in Salzburg. It was within this group of middle symphonies that his first acknowledged masterpiece, Symphony No. 25 In G Minor was written. It was soon followed by another masterpiece, the 29th Symphony In A Major, composed in Mozart's eighteenth year, shortly after his return to Salzburg from a trip to Vienna.

Mozart made the trip to Vienna with his father to try and get an appointment at the Court there. Nothing came of the hoped for appointment, but the trip was not without value as Vienna was the capital of European music, and Mozart heard music by some of the current masters. Mozart always made the most of what he heard and absorbed influences like a sponge. By this time in his life he was an experienced composer and performer whose genius allowed him to use those influences as the building blocks to create his own voice. 

Symphony No. 29 In A Major is scored for two oboes, two horns and strings, and is in four movements:

I. Allegro moderato -  Mozart opens the movement with a downward octave interval in the first violins that is the beginning of the first theme:
This theme grows in volume and is played a second time by the violins with echoes of the theme played by the lower strings. The second theme is marked by trills and less space between the notes, in contrast to the skips of the first theme. A short thematic motif is played after the second theme which leads to transition material, and the exposition is repeated. The short  development section includes some examples of the octave skips of the first theme along with the string tremolos heard at various places in the exposition. The recapitulation revisits the two themes after which a short coda restates the first theme and the movement ends.

II. Andante -  The movement begins with the gentle warmth of muted 1st violins playing a theme in double dotted rhythm. The 2nd violins take up the theme as the 1st violins play a counter melody. The movement is in sonata form, but Mozart blends the separate pieces into a graceful whole, and a short coda ends the short movement with more volume and mutes off.

III. Menuetto: Allegretto - Trio -  The first theme of the minuet is played piano by the 1st violins with comments by the 2nd violins in dotted rhythm. The last two bars of each phrase is repeated at a louder volume and becomes part of the next phrase, a subtle playing with phrasing. The next section of the minuet extends the theme and then takes it up with the same scheme of soft and loud as before.  The trio is in E major and is not as heavily accented, after which the minuet repeats, with no coda. The movement ends with the oboes and horns up in the air as they play dotted rhythms A's by themselves.

IV. Allegro con spirito -  The symphony comes full circle as the first theme of the finale mimics the octave drop of the opening of the first movement along with string tremolos. The horns play a prominent part in the movement. The second theme is in contrast to the opening. Another short theme leads to violins playing a racing upward scale with a full stop before the section repeats.  The exposition deals with a working out of the first theme which leads to the violins once again racing upwards and coming to a full stop. The recapitulation repeats the themes and a coda parades the first theme once more before another violin scale leads to the closing chords. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Tchaikovsky - Symphony No. 5 In E Minor

When Pyotr Tchaikovsky got the idea to write his 5th Symphony in early 1888, he was full of self doubt, a frame of mind that recurred throughout his composing career. He had not composed a symphony in ten years, and he was concerned that perhaps he had written himself out as a composer. Despite his frame of mind, he pushed on and by August of 1888 he had the symphony completed.

The first performances of the new work in November and December of 1888 in St. Petersburg did little to alleviate Tchaikovsky's doubts, as he made clear in letters to his benefactor Nadezhda von Meck:
My new symphony was played twice in Saint Petersburg... I am convinced that this symphony is not a success. There is something so repellent about such excess, insincerity and artificiality... With each day that passes I am increasingly certain that my last symphony is not a successful work, and the realisation that it is unsuccessful (or perhaps that my powers are declining) is very distressing to me. The symphony is too colorful, massive, insincere, drawn out and on the whole very unsympathetic... Am I indeed, as they say, written out?... If so, then this is terrible. Whether my misgivings are mistaken or not, regrettably I have concluded that the symphony written in 1888 is poorer than the one written in 1877.
The work was well received in Russia despite Tchaikovsky's reservations, and a performance in Hamburg in 1889 caused the composer to change his opinion of the work.  The first performances in the United States did not fare as well. The New York performance of 1889 was very negative, but the review of the Boston performance of 1892 as written in one of the local newspapers was particularly harsh:
The general style of the orchestration is essentially modern, and even ultra-modern... is less untamed in spirit than the composer’s B-flat minor Concerto, less recklessly harsh in its polyphonic writing, less indicative of the composer’s disposition to swear a theme’s way through a stone wall. . . . In the Finale we have all the untamed fury of the Cossack, whetting itself for deeds of atrocity, against all the sterility of the Russian Steppes. The furious peroration sounds like nothing so much as a horde of demons struggling in a torrent of brandy, the music growing drunker and drunker. Pandemonium, delirium tremens, raving, and above all, noise worse confounded!
The 5th Symphony has been compared to Beethoven's 5th in the sense that within both works there is a sense of overcoming adversity, and that very broad comparison is valid. It is the manner in which these two very different composers go about it that make both works masterpieces. The symphony is in four movements:

I. Andante - Allegro con anima -  The theme, or fate theme that appears in all four movements is played straight away by the clarinets with a sparse accompaniment from the strings:
This theme continues and serves as an introduction to the first movement proper, which begins when the tempo quickens slightly and the new first theme is heard played by a bassoon and clarinet. This new theme is played through, along with subsidiary thematic material until a new passionate theme begins in the strings. A second theme appears in the woodwinds and is taken up by the strings in a dance-like mood. The exposition merges into the development section that devotes much of its time to the working out of the first theme. The second theme appears only briefly. The recapitulation begins with the first theme played by the bassoon, after which the material from the exposition is repeated. The music grows quiet as a portion of the fate theme is played and the music dies away.

II. Andante cantabile con alcuna licenza -  The second movement is in B minor, with the first theme modulating to D major as played by a solo horn. An oboe joins in before the theme continues in the strings with comments by the woodwinds. This theme is brought to a climax before the clarinet introduced another theme. This theme develops and builds until it is brutally interrupted by the fate theme. After a short silence, the orchestra recovers from the intrusion and continues with the first theme that opened the movement. The music builds to another climax on the first theme and as it is winding down the fate theme once again rudely interrupts.  The first theme returns in a subdued mood and gradually passes into silence.

III. Valse. Allegro moderato -  Tchaikovsky exchanges the usual scherzo movement for a waltz, at least in name and initial feeling, but the middle section resembles a scherzo by its busy nature and rhythmic play. The waltz and trio is played with the trio as an accompaniment before the waltz returns in full. Just as the waltz is winding down, the fate theme returns for a short interruption before the waltz ends with loud chords.

IV. Finale. Andante maestoso–Allegro vivace - The fate theme  as played in the strings begins the finale and builds to a climax and after a short transition the first theme proper thunders from the orchestra in full voice and fury.  A second theme is introduced by the oboe, and a third by the flutes. The fate theme reappears in regal form as an episode that begins the development section. A new theme briefly appears, and the recapitulation begins. The fate theme reappears briefly and the orchestra plays majestic chords in B major, followed by a fermata rest, which gives the impression to the ear that the symphony has reached its end. This has caused more than one audience to erupt in applause, but it is but the end of the recapitulation. A coda begins in the key of E major with the most majestic version of the fate theme yet played. The forlorn, funereal theme has been transformed to one of molto maestoso. Other snippets of themes are played until the fate theme returns one last time to finish the symphony.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brahms - Symphony No. 2 In D Major

When Robert Schumann proclaimed Johannes Brahms as the new Messiah of German music, Brahms was but twenty years old. Schumann was an influential music critic as well as composer, and his high praises were a double-edged sword to the young Brahms. Schumann became  mentor and introduced him to other composers and musicians, but Schumann's declaration also put a great deal of pressure on a musical genius who was far from being the master of music he was to become.

Brahms had been taught piano by Eduard Marxen in Hamburg, and Brahms early compositions were naturally for the instrument he was most familiar with. By meticulous self-study (and the mentoring of older musicians such as Schumann) he acquainted himself with choral music and the orchestral repertoire. Brahms by nature was very self-critical and destroyed many compositions outright. The proclamation by Schumann increased his self criticism to the point that he struggled with his works without having the technique to achieve what he thought was worthy of Schumann's confidence in him. He was tagged as being the German composer that would continue the great symphonic tradition, and after 20 years of sketching, working, revising and reworking, the 1st Symphony In C Minor was completed in 1876 when Brahms was 43 yeas old.

Eduard Marxen
The years that it took Brahms to complete his first symphony must have been good training ground, for his 2nd Symphony In D Major was composed in a single summer in 1877.  The 2nd Symphony is decidedly different in character than the 1st, and has been compared to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony in mood.  The 2nd Symphony is in four movements:

I. Allegro non troppo - Horns and low strings start with the beginnings of one of the major themes of the movement. The theme finally emerges complete in the full orchestra. The second theme arrives shortly and is taken from a song Brahms wrote that is popularly known as Brahms' Lullaby. A section of new material follows. The second theme is played through again, and the development section begins with the working out of the first theme, with the drama increasing with the added weight of the brass as the orchestra transforms the opening chords of the movement. Other themes of the exposition are heard until a short transition brings back the 'lullaby' theme. A coda sets the mood to one of tranquility until a lilting variation of the first theme is played. The figures that opened the movement briefly appear and fade into a quiet ending.

II. Adagio non troppo - A melancholy theme is heard in the cellos in B major. The theme continues in the upper strings. The second theme of this sonata form movement is played mostly by the woodwinds and horns. Part of the first theme returns, as does the second theme, a creative way of including development of both themes within the exposition. The short development section grows dramatic, and leads to a recapitulation that continues to expand and transform the two main themes. A short coda plays the first theme one last time and the movement comes to a close.

III. Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino) -  A gently dancing theme is played by the oboe that gives way to a brisk veriant of it in music that is almost Mendelssohnian (or daresay even Tchaikovskian) in its mood. The original tune returns, only to be interrupted by section of different material, which in turn is interrupted by a return to the brisk variant of the main theme. The main theme returns in the strings and the theme carries the movement to a gentle end.

IV. Allegro con spirito - The strings bring quiet motion to the start of the finale until there is a flash of volume as the theme that was hinted at comes to full bloom. This theme has been gleaned from the first theme of the first movement. Brahms plays the dance master in music that suggests his own rough-around-the-edges humor with clumping syncopation. The good humor of the music belies the complexity of it as there are sections of counterpoint that are far from dry and pedantic, but add to the total of effect.  The last section of the movement has the orchestra playing all-out in tremendous waves of sound and movement, one of the most thrilling endings of anything Brahms wrote.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Beethoven - Symphony No. 3 In E-flat Major 'Eroica'

There has been much written about the 3rd Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, and rightly so. The work is a turning point in Beethoven's career as a composer and for western music in general. The music is daring, innovative and there is a large number of stories and anectdotes relating to the symphony's non-musical life. Without a doubt the main story of the work is the title 'Eroica' and the relationship of the music to the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte.

The standard story is that Beethoven, a man who was politically progressive, admired Napoleon, the man who ruled France after the Revolution and The Terror. Napoleon was himself was progressive in the sense that he sought to reform the French legal system through what came to be known as the Napoleonic Code.  The Code became very influential for all of Europe due to the influence Napoleon had on countries he had conquered as well as other countries that were allied with him.  Basically the Code did away with privilege of birth, granted freedom of religion and said that government jobs should go to those most qualified. It attempted to revamp a legal system in France that was a hodge-podge of feudal traditions and laws that varied from area to area.

Beethoven wanted to dedicate a work to Napoleon early on, and there is evidence that was what he intended to do, but circumstances made him change his mind. Beethoven's pupil Ferdinand Ries related the incident concerning the dedication:
In 1803 Beethoven composed his third symphony (now known as the Sinfonia Eroica) in Heiligenstadt, a village about one and a half hours from Vienna....In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven's closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word "Buonaparte" inscribed at the very top of the title-page and "Luigi van Beethoven" at the very bottom. Whether or how the intervening gap was to be filled out I do not know. I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, "So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, he too will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!" Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page was later re-copied and it was only now that the symphony received the title 'Sinfonia Eroica.'
Title page of the Third Symphony with Napoleon's name scratched out
This is the only contemporary reporting of the incident by an eyewitness, and Beethoven's reaction may have been much more vocal and violent than Ries portrays. Beethoven's temper was legendary, and the relative calmness in Ries' retelling doesn't fit the anger and disappointment Beethoven probably felt after his hero falling off the pedestal.

But modern scholarship has found that Beethoven may have changed his mind about the dedication for a more mundane reason; if he dedicated the work to one of his patrons (along with a specific amount of time that the dedicatee had exclusive ownership of the work) he would be monetarily rewarded. There was no possibility of that if he dedicated it to Napoleon.

There is also a link between the symphony and the Heiligenstadt Testament, a will Beethoven wrote in 1802 while he was resting in the town of Heiligenstadt. By this time Beethoven was suffering the effects of  deafness, and a doctor suggested he needed to go to the small town and rest.  His hearing problems were getting worse, and the thought of losing his hearing drove him to despair, all of which can be read in the will he wrote in Heiligenstadt. He came to terms with his growing deafness and dedicated himself even more fervently to his art. This resulted in stylistic changes in his music that began in 1803. The Third Symphony was the turning point in his style, and while there is proof that Beethoven had Napoleon in mind while he was writing the symphony (at least the first and second movements), it may well be that the actual hero of the title is Beethoven himself.

The Third Symphony is in four movements:

I. Allegro con brio - There is no doubt that the symphony begins in E-flat major as two loud E-flat major chords are played by the full orchestra to begin the movement. The first theme also reeks of E-flat major as the notes within the theme that is played in the cellos and basses spell out the notes of the E-flat major chord until a C-sharp is thrown into the mix. This theme is expanded and passed to different instruments of the orchestra. A second, gentler theme is played by the woodwinds. While these two themes are the primary ones in the movement, they are more like sign posts for the listener to help keep track of what's going on, for there are other short themes in the movement. A transition section segues seamlessly to the repeat of the exposition. The development begins with gentle references to themes already heard, but the music soon becomes highly dramatic as a snippet of the first theme grows in volume and complexity. The second theme makes an appearance and leads into a short fugal section that flows into loud, highly accented chords by the orchestra. Beethoven stretches and builds on themes to an extent that defies description. The music gets quiet, as the transition to the recapitulation nears. As the violins quietly saw away, the infamous early entry of the horn that plays a fragment of the first theme appears, something that baffled most listeners in Beethoven's time.  Even his student Ferdinand Ries accused the horn player of playing the theme too early in the first rehearsal of the work:

Beethoven has a wicked trick for the horn; a few bars before the theme comes in again complete, Beethoven lets the horn indicate the theme where the two violins still play the chord of the second. For someone who is not familiar with the score this always gives the impression that the horn player has counted wrong and come in at the wrong place. During the first rehearsal of this symphony, which went appallingly, the horn player, however, came in correctly. I was standing next to Beethoven and, thinking it was wrong, I said, 'That damned horn player! Can't he count properly? It sounds infamously wrong!' I think I nearly had my ears boxed - Beethoven did not forgive me for a long time.
The orchestra comes together for the recapitulation and Beethoven begins to vary the first theme.  Themes are repeated and modulated until the music reaches the coda, but a coda unlike any written before. This coda continues to vary and develop themes and lasts nearly as long as the exposition. The movement ends as it began with loud chords for full orchestra. This movement usually takes between 17 and 18 minutes to play if the exposition repeat is taken. Beethoven requested that the exposition be repeated (which was not always automatically done) for the sake of balance.

II. Marcia funebre: Adagio assai - If the first movement can be viewed as a tribute to a hero, the second movement is the death of the hero. After the Funeral March of Chopin's 2nd Piano Sonata, Beethoven's is the next most famous. It begins in C minor, always a very dramatic key for Beethoven, with the 1st violins playing the lowest note in their range, followed by the lugubrious first theme that is sparsely accompanied by the other strings.  The melodic line of funeral marches are usually rhythmically diverse, and Beethoven's is no exception:
After the oboe expresses its grief with the theme, another theme in the major is played that sheds some rays of light on the dark proceedings, but not for very long. The music meanders into darkness and back to the first theme. A tragic outburst occurs, and the music transitions to a section in C major that gives some little comfort to the sorrow. While this section is in contrast, there is still an underlying tension to the music as two notes are played against three. The section reaches a climax, and after a short transition the music returns to the first theme, but quite soon it transitions to F minor and a fugue is played that thunders through the orchestra. The fugue comes to an end, and a fragment of the first theme is played, after which a section of great resolve and power is played until it too succumbs to the grief of the first theme. The second theme returns for a short while, until the music brightens in a short section before the first theme, fragmented and decaying like the corpse of the hero it honors, is buried after one last howl of grief in the sliding grace notes of the low strings.

III. Scherzo: Allegro vivace - The scherzo of the third symphony must have confused audiences as much as the previous movements, for it runs through the orchestra at the brisk pace of Allegro vivace and is even more rhythmically ambiguous. It is written three in a bar, but in such a brisk tempo the measures fall into groups of two, sort of an optical illusion for the ear:
The accents on off beats that Beethoven sprinkles throughout the movement add to a rhythmic complexity that is not readily apparent in the simple note values he uses. In the trio, Beethoven uses three horns instead of the usual two. The horns play off each other while the rest of the orchestra gives a comment after their phrases. The scherzo returns with changes, with perhaps the strangest change being in the syncopated section that is played a second time in Alla breve, or two in a bar instead of three. The ear thus staggered, the scherzo continues on its merry, quirky way until the thunderous end is reached.

IV. Finale: Allegro molto - For the last movement, Beethoven defies tradition and writes a set of variations. But these are no ordinary variations, for the bass of the actual theme is heard first and is varied. The true theme is heard in the oboe over the previously heard bass and the music makes more sense. Beethoven had used the theme in two previous works; a ballet The Creatures Of Prometheus and a work for piano solo Variations and Fugue for Piano in E♭ major that are also known as the Eroica Variations. The theme is repeated and varied, but the bass itself returns for its own variation, a fugue that uses a portion of it. The main theme returns in variations in high spirits and speed until the music winds down and changes tempo to Andante. Woodwinds play a lyrical version of the theme, with a section for oboe accompanied by rippling triplet arpeggios on the clarinet. The two against three rhythm is reinforced as lower strings join one clarinet in the triplet accompaniment. The horns nobly play the theme as the rest of the orchestra accompanies. The theme begins to change until the music grows quiet in a short dialogue between woodwinds and strings. With no warning, the music shifts dynamics to a double forte and the tempo increases to presto. Fragments of the theme are bounced around the orchestra. The timpani emphasizes the repeated E-flat major chords as they thunder to finish the movement.

The Third Symphony was premiered in 1805 in Vienna. The reaction was mixed to say the least. As reviewed in the contemporary Viennese magazine Der Freimüthige:
One party, Beethoven's most special friends, contend that this particular symphony is a masterpiece, that this is exactly the true style for music of the highest type and that if it does not please now it is because the public is not sufficiently cultivated in the arts to comprehend these higher spheres of beauty; but after a couple of thousand years its effect will not be lessened. The other party absolutely denies any artistic merit to this work. They claim it reveals the symptoms of an evidently unbridled attempt at distinction and peculiarity, but that neither beauty, true sublimity nor power have anywhere been achieved either by means of unusual modulations, by violent transitions or by the juxtaposition of the most heterogeneous elements....On that evening, the audience and H. v. Beethoven, who himself conducted, were not mutually pleased with one another. For the audience the Symphony was too difficult, too long and B. himself too rude, for he did not deign to give even a nod to the applauding part of the audience. Beethoven, on the other hand, did not find the applause sufficiently enthusiastic.

The Eroica Symphony went on to become one of the most played and studied symphonies ever written. It's depth of emotion, craftsmanship and innovation guarantee it an honored place in the history of western music. It is a work that can be heard in different ways for different people, as Arturo Toscanini the famous Italian conductor said when he talked about the first movement of the symphony:
To some it is Napoleon, to some it is a philosophical struggle, to me it is allegro con brio.
Whether listened to from an historical, emotional, or purely musical perspective, Beethoven's Third Symphony is a masterpiece.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Balakirev - Symphony No. 1 In C Major

Mily Balakirev was a brilliant pianist and composer who had an impact on the development of Russian national music, but could have had an even greater impact if he would have completed some of his early compositions in a timely fashion. The reasons for the delay in finishing some of his major works have been written about, with the main reason being that Balakirev suffered a nervous breakdown (whatever that is) in the early 1870's, as friends that visited him found his personality had shifted to lethargy and lack of interest in music. His interest in music gradually returned, but he had changed. He retreated into a strict and severe belief in the Russian Orthodox Church, and lived as a recluse with a house full of animals.

The first symphony is an example of the time it took for him to complete a work, as sketches were begun in 1864 with some of the first movement being completed by 1866, but the entire work wasn't finished until 1897, thirty-three years after it was started.  Despite the length of time the work was on the shelf, the music written later matched the style of the earlier music,  but by that time the current trends in music had past Balakirev by, and his music was considered old-fashioned.

Balakirev conducted the premiere of the work in 1898. Symphony No. 1 In C Major is in four movements:

I. Largo - Allegro vivo -  The movement begins with a slow introduction that contains fragments that are expanded into the two themes of the exposition. After the introduction, the first theme (which is built from the opening measures of the introduction) is played. The second theme is then played in the cellos. These two themes undergo a type of ongoing development throughout the movement, which is in a highly individual type of sonata form. Once the first go-round of the two themes has played through, the first theme is played and developed, then a different theme is played that begins in the clarinet. Then an actual development section begins. There is no formal recapitulation section as the themes continue to be developed until a coda brings the movement to a rousing close.

II. Scherzo: Vivo - Poco meno mosso -  A bustling scherzo in A minor with the flavor of a Russian folk song leads to a slightly sad middle section in D minor.  After the scherzo repeats, the theme of the trio appears in the coda in a different guise and the movement ends with harmonics in the divided first and second violins.

III. Andante -  Written in D-flat major, the initial theme of the movement is played by the clarinet over a gently moving accompaniment by the harp, muted violins and violas and pizzicato cellos and bass. This theme is developed until another theme (in E major) is heard in the low strings which leads ot a variant of the initial theme.  The movement proceeds with  variants of the two themes in a combination of sonata and rondo form. The movement returns to the clarinet to play its rendition of the main theme, after which there is a transitional section for harp that leads the way to the finale that is played without pause.

IV. Finale: Allegro moderato -  The low strings begin the movement with a Russian theme in C major that is played and developed until transitional material leads to a second theme in D major that is first played by the clarinet. A very short third theme is then heard in the violas and then violas and strings. The three themes (all of which are Russian folksongs) are varied and developed throughout with Balakirev showing his skill in handling orchestral color. The movement ends with a coda for full orchestra in Tempo di polacca (in the tempo of a Polonaise). 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Haydn - Symphony No. 59 In A Major 'Fire'

An attempt at a comprehensive catalogue of the works of Joseph Haydn was done by Anthony van Hoboken, who was a collector of early editions of classical music, over 5,000 items of which 1,000 were of Haydn's music. His catalogue was published in 1957 and 1971, and his numbering system is still being used, although there have been additions and corrections made by later musicologists.

Haydn's symphonies had already been catalogued by Eusebius Mandyczewski in 1908. There were 104  symphonies numbered in the chronological order that was known at the time.  Further scholarship by Hoboken and other musicologists discovered that some of the symphonies were actually numbered out of chronological sequence, but the earlier numbering system was so widely used that Hoboken retained it, and he also discovered 4 more symphonies that brought the total to 108.

Symphony No. 59 In A Major is one of the symphonies that was numbered out of sequence and given a higher number than works written around the same time. Musicologists have determined that it was written ca. 1768, about the same time that Symphony No. 48 in C major, Maria Theresa was written,

Anthony van Hoboken
Fortunately the work has a nickname, Fire or The Fire Symphony, which makes it more identifiable among the other 107 symphonies, but the history behind the nickname is another example of tradition confusing the real story. For many years the work was thought to have been specifically written to accompany a theatrical work. Indeed, some of the movements were used for a dramatic stage work, Der Feuersbrunst by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Großmann, which was given at the Eszterháza palace where Haydn was employed. The drama was given sometime between 1774 and 1778, thus the symphony had already been written before the play was performed. The symphony is in four movements:

I. Presto -  A tempo indication of presto is unusual for the first movement of a symphony at the time, but Haydn was ever flexible and original in his compositions. The violins create spirited restlessness as they repeat the tonic note of A, and the entire orchestra plays forte.  The spirit of this opening movement may have been the original inspiration for the nickname fire. The exposition is repeated. The exposition has two other quite short and secondary snatches of themes, but it is the crackling first theme that stands out. The development section begins with a short working out of the first theme, and a brief expansion of a secondary theme. The recapitulation follows the general plan of the exposition with the obligatory modulations of secondary themes. As is the case with Haydn's early symphonies, he directs the development and recapitulation to be repeated. Some conductors do, some don't but as short as the movement is, it makes sense if it is repeated. In contrast to the loudness of the fire at the beginning of the movement, the fire dies away at the end.

II. Andante o piu tosto - Allegretto -  Written in A minor, the first theme is a minor key minuet while the second theme is in C major and also has the feeling of a minuet. The development section expands the second theme and briefly returns to the opening theme. The key changes to A major as the oboes and horns (which have been silent) join with the strings as the second theme is played in the new key. It is briefly interrupted by the first theme, but quickly returns and finishes out the movement.

III. Menuet e Trio -  This movement not only retians the time signature of 3/4 of the previous one, but its main theme is an A major variant of the A minor theme of the second movement. The theme of the A minor trio flows through the violins while the lower strings play a pizaccato accompaniment.

IV. Finale: Allegro - The movement begins with a dialogue for horns and oboes. The strings join in in music that returns to the spirit of the first movement.  A secondary theme is more lyrical, but it doesn't last long as the music for the most part maintains the fast pace Haydn preferred for many of his last movements.