Symphony Study No. 60 | Haydn: No. 86 in D Major

by Glenn on April 19, 2017

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)

Symphony No. 86 in D Major

Adagio—Allegro spiritoso
Capriccio: Largo
Menuet: Allegretto
Finale: Allegro con spirito

First performed: 1787 by Joseph Boulogne, for the Concert de la Loge Olympique (Paris) series.

This is one of Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies, a group of six  (Nos. 82–87) he wrote on commission for the Masonic Loge Olympique in Paris, which had an unusually large orchestra for its time (40 violins and ten double basses).

One of the ways Michael Steinberg is helping me as a listener is the way he treats Haydn’s symphonies individualistically. I am tempted to refer to these Haydn symphonies as mere palate cleansers that are basically the same in form (cookie cutter symphonies). For Steinberg, though, each Haydn symphony has its own charms. He included 17 different symphonies of Haydn in his book and he takes pains to differentiate them, showing the differences that make a difference (which is a real thing even if the last time I thought about it was when I saw it in a fortune cookie).

I listened to this symphony as performed by Tafelmusik, conducted by Bruno Weil. The symphony epitomizes elegance, refinement, and proportion and the players match the music with their playing.

This is a perfectly lovely-sounding ensemble. Their intonation and sense of ensemble are incredible. Sometimes when I listen to practitioners of Historically Informed Performance Practice (HIPP), I am all too aware that the players are using period instruments or cat gut strings. Tafelmusik just plays, with precision and without affectation. I’ve heard some orchestras where HIPP is imposed on them, for example where the strings are not allowed to use vibrato and don’t seem to be quite in tune. I don’t sense that issue here.

The recorded sound has a nice balance between the extremes of close-miking, where the microphones are on top of the instruments and room miking, where a couple of microphones are set up in the back of the room and you get a wash of sound. For me the former is too dry, while the latter, which has the virtue of being most like what a listener is hearing (with the caveat that if the recording is made in a concert hall, the presence/absence of people affects the acoustics and the noise level), is often too mushy.

By way of digression, I listened to a recording of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, featuring Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli with the Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.

The one thing that strikes you as you listen is that it sounds like there are two recordings going on.

There is the recording of the orchestra, which sounds like it was made with two microphones at the back of a vast hall. Then there is the recording of the piano, which is quite dry, and sounds like the microphones are inside the instrument in a small room.

You really notice (are distracted by? are confused by?) the difference between the two recordings, for example in the transition from the cadenza into the coda at the end of the first movement. You think you are in a confined space listening to the piano and then suddenly you are aware of the fact that you are in a large room as the orchestra joins in. And when the movement ends, you are aware of the presence of people in the room with the typical between-movement coughing and shifting about.

This is a fascinating recording as a study of recording.

*  *  *

Haydn must certainly have surprised his listeners at times. There are some chords that have a shocking quality to them, if you can hear them without the influence of the history that came after Haydn.

i

The symphony opens with a slow introduction. To begin the symphony this way, Steinberg concludes, “Haydn obviously had confidence in the good manners of the Loge Olympique audience.” The introduction ends with a kind of a fanfare. What follows is a delightful, uptempo contrast—nimble and elegant.

ii

The opening of the second movement features “Three notes, quiet and staccato [which] define a chord of G major.” This three-note figure returns seven times and provides structure for the movement. Technically, it’s a slow movement, but there is plenty of motion on top of the slowly arpeggiated chords. Steinberg calls this second movement “An amazing, amazing movement.” There is a beautiful little gesture that comes across as a mild and comforting sigh.

iii

The A section has great feel. It moves from a dance with a clear impulse on 1 to a beautifully syncopated feel with a counter tune. Wonderful counterpoint. And then the trio comes in with a simple ländler. Steinberg remarks, “The trio, as irresistible a ländler as Haydn—or anyone—ever wrote, is genuinely and delectably naive.” The juxtaposition in this movement between the A and B (trio) themes is magnificent.

The “B” section of this movement is my favorite part of the symphony. I can’t get enough of the lilt of it all. This moment begs for dancers. It’s hard not to think of the scene in The Sound of Music where the Captain and Maria dance the ländler out on the patio.

iv

Steinberg says this movement “is in every way brilliant, and it also feels ‘big,'” because of Haydn’s use of 4/4 meter, which was “exceedingly rare in a Haydn finale.” As Steinberg discusses this movement, he mentions the influence of Mozart:

“The six Loge Olympique symphonies are not, as a whole, notably Mozartian, but here it is as though Haydn, deeply acquainted with and lovingly in awe of his younger contemporary’s work, were mindful of what Mozart had done with his Paris Symphony of 1778 to expand Parisian notions of ‘symphony.'”

*   *   *

Listening to this symphony on the heels of Easter, this music seems so removed from modern anything in terms of musical practice. I know there were churches on Sunday where strings, winds, and brass accented the worship, but the idea of twenty or so minutes of carefully orchestrated music isn’t something I experience very often anymore.

There are churches that vary the instrumentation from song to song or vary the use of instruments throughout a song. This brings a special delight for my ears because of the changing timbre of the music. It requires (and I admire) the level of leadership and craftsmanship it evidences.

 

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