Sturm und Drang: Three Haydn Symphonies

Joseph Haydn – Symphony 26 in d minor “Lamentatione”
Joseph Haydn – Symphony 30 in C major “Alleluia”
Joseph Haydn – Symphony 49 in f minor “la Passione”

Rebecca Huber concert master
Annegret Hoffmann violin
Rachel Stroud violin
Agnieszka Świątkowska violin
Zdeňka Procházková viola
Anton Baba violoncello
Carina Cosgrave double bass
Joanna Marsden flute
Robert de Bree oboe
Dorota Gorłow oboe
Renske Wijma horn
Rogier Hendrikx horn
Takako Kunigi bassoon

‘I was cut off from the world, there was nobody in my vicinity to make me unsure of myself or interfere with me in my course; and so I was forced to become original’. 

Such were the alleged words of Joseph Haydn, father of the classical style, and one of the most important composers of the 18th Century. During his period at the castle of Eszterháza, to which the famous quotation above refers, Haydn transformed the direction of the classical symphony. Indeed, he pioneered and consolidated the form as we now know it. In its earliest incarnations, the classical symphony was little more than background, incidental music for the aristocratic elite; by Haydn’s death, the symphony had become the pretext of regular social gatherings attended by a large, paying public. In tonight’s programme we will explore three of his earlier symphonies, Nos. 26, 30 and 49. Composed during his experimental Esterhazy years, each symphony represents part of Haydn’s path to ‘becom[ing] original’.

The nickname of Symphony No. 26 in D minor, Lamentatione, refers to its use of a Gregorian chant melody as a quasi cantus firmus in the second movement. Such use of pre-existing material, not to mention liturgical material, is unusual enough in a symphony, but the first movement is even more extraordinary: it could be viewed as a musical depiction of the Passion of Christ, in a one-movement format. It features chant material from a Passion setting which was popular in Austria at the time, and is apparently still sung today: we can presume that the audience would have recognised the reference! Remarkably, the discovery of a version of this Passion manuscript at the Augustian Monastery of Herzogenburg means that we can pinpoint whose voice each section of the chant represents. After a stormy introduction, we hear the voices of the Evangelist, Christ and the crowd of Jews in sequence, cleverly characterised musically.

Symphony No. 30 also features a Gregorian chant melody in the first movement, the ‘Alleluia’ from the liturgy for Easter Sunday. In contrast to the first movement of Symphony No. 26, the pre-existing material in this case does not dictate the form of the movement, and serves rather as a source of motivic inspiration. In fact, the movement is monothematic: much of the material, whether functioning as accompaniment, transition or melody, is derived from the chant melody in the first bar. Monothematicism was to become a favourite trick of Haydn’s in his later years, as a subversion of the predictable sonata-form employment of two contrasting themes. The second movement of Symphony No. 30 is a beautiful movement for solo flute. Many of Haydn’s early symphonies from his Eszterhazy years feature virtuosic, obbligato movements for solo instruments, which presumably exploit the individual talents of his orchestral musicians at the castle.

The four-movement plan of Symphony No. 49, La Passione, may seem more normal to us than the 3-movement layout of No. 26 and No. 30. However, whilst it was indeed Haydn who standardised the familiar four-movement paradigm which traditionally features an Allegro, a slow movement, a minuet and a fast finale, La Passione in fact represents his last essay in the Sonata da chiesa format. The use of this archaic form in the latter part of the century demonstrates how far from settled the form of the symphony was. The Sonata da chiesa form was popular in the early 18th century; Arcangelo Corelli was one of its most famous exponents. It features a slow introduction, followed by a fast fugal Allegro, with the third and fourth movement taking the form of binary, and often dance, forms.  Haydn’s use of this archaic framework to contain music in a proto-romantic Sturm und Drang character is an interesting juxtaposition.

The three symphonies of tonight’s programme represent only a small cross section of Haydn’s vast symphonic output, and yet the sheer variety and resourcefulness contained within the Minuets alone is astonishing. Haydn not only enlarged the physical dimensions of the symphony, but he also expanded the scope of its musical, cultural and social dimensions, imbuing it with wit, life and meaning. And therein lies the legacy of Joseph Haydn’s isolation at Esterhaza and his consequent quest for originality.

Programme notes by Rachel Stroud