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.

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