Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Haydn: Symphony #40, #50

Today we will cover listener notes to Haydn's Symphony #40 and Symphony #50, the final two works on this exceptional CD of four Haydn symphonies.

Haydn was a giant of the classical era of classical music, and if you're interested in getting a representative sample of his music, you should seriously consider buying today's recording, as well as a recording of either his "London" Symphonies, or his "Paris" Symphonies.

Let me just repeat for emphasis from last post that the four symphonies on this CD are performed brilliantly, and nearly flawlessly, by the Heidelberger Sinfoniker.
Thomas Fey and the Heidelberger Sinfoniker
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 39, 34, 40, 50
Hanssler Classic, 2001/2003

Listener Notes for Haydn's Symphony Nos. #40 and #50:

Symphony #40:

1) 30 seconds into the first movement of #40 (and it happens again at 1:38 when the initial theme is repeated) there's a an interesting musical feature Haydn puts in here: while the oboe and the first violins are playing long high notes, the second violins and violas play a repeated pattern of three eighth notes beneath them. It sounds almost like a needle skipping on a record--except that's impossible with a CD. That's another thing I love about Haydn: music in his era was supposed to be highly structured, and on casual listen, Haydn's music sounds like it plays by the rules. Yet if you listen closely, you can't help but notice all the little subversive musical things he sneaks into his works.

2) Do the four movements of Symphony #40 sound like they belong together? They don't to me at all, particularly the second movement. In fact, I'd argue you could substitute the slow movement from any other Haydn symphony in here and only a few classical music geeks would ever know the difference.

3) The fourth movement is a fugue! That's a first for me: I've never heard Haydn trying his hand at composing a fugue before. It's beautiful. And just like Bach, only happier.

Symphony #50:
1) For the first movement of this symphony, Haydn recycled music he had written for a one act opera called Philemon und Baucis. I can see why he did it: not only was it a great way to save time (how else was he going to write 104 symphonies?), but this movement is excellent--a truly triumphant piece of music.

2) Triumphant or not, though, the strings and woodwinds get all the good parts here. The brass are stuck counting rests and playing oom-pah parts.

3) The second movement has an interesting feature: the violas play the same melody along with the violins, except the violas play it one octave lower. It gives the string section an added dimension of depth and body.

4) Tell me you can listen to the fourth movement of this symphony and not get an ear-to-ear grin on your face. This movement was so captivating on the first listen that I had to listen to it again right away. And it's one of the key reasons this symphony is my runaway favorite of the four works on this CD.

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