Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Classics: Finally we hear the Haydn slow movement we've been gearing up for, from Symphony No. 88

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UPDATE: Sorry about the misplaced tuba clip in last night's preview, which I finally discovered. For what it's worth, it's fixed now, and explained (more or less) onsite.


Leonard Bernstein conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in the finale of Haydn's Symphony No. 88, presumably from the same concerts, in November 1983, at which LB made his DG audio recording.

"Brahms is reported to have said of the rapturous slow movement in variation form, 'I want my Ninth Symphony to sound like that.'"
-- musicologist H. C. Robbins Landon,
on the Largo of Haydn's Symphony No. 88

by Ken

As I wrote in last night's preview, which featured the famous slow movement of Haydn's Surprise Symphony (after Friday night's hearing of the beautiful slow movement of his Emperor String Quartet, the slow movement of the Symphony No. 88 is unlike any piece of music I know. It's not surprising that it has attracted the attention of pretty much all the great conductors -- back to Toscanini and Furtwängler and Fritz Busch. (I've got the Furtwängler recording on CD, but damned if I can figure out where.)

No. 88 is the first symphony Haydn wrote after the stupendous set of six he wrote for Paris (Nos. 82-87), and it's a grand piece. The Boston-born musicologist H. C. Robbins Landon, who died just last November (at 83), and whose many Haydn projects included editing a modern critical edition of the 10-plus Haydn symphonies and the monumental five-volume Haydn: Chronicle and Works, stresses this symphony's combination of "popular-sounding melodies with supreme contrapuntal skill."

Robbins Landon had provided liner notes for Decca's complete recording of the Haydn symphonies by Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica, and then did it again when he served as "musicological and artistic consultant" for the Sony Vivarte series of Haydn symphonies with Bruno Weil and the period-instrument ensemble Tafelmusik, from which we're going to hear the Largo of No. 88 below. He writes of this movement:
Brahms is reported to have said of the rapturous slow movement in variation form, "I want my Ninth Symphony to sound like that." The orchestration of this highly original Largo includes an extended obbligato violoncello part, and the announcement of the hymn-like theme (a great specialty in these late Haydn symphonies) is with solo oboe, solo bassoon, second horn (using "stopped" notes, i.e., those produced by putting the hand into the bell of the instrument and lowering the tone), viola, solo cello and double bass.

Did you get that? Solo oboe, bassoon, horn, and cello plus violas and basses. What kind of combination is this? Who thinks of such a thing? I think we need to hear it.

The "hymn-like theme"


Then this "hymn-like theme" is, well, anointed. All Haydn does is shift to the quite normal choir of strings, but -- especially after the distinctive ensemble we've heard singing our hymn -- it really does sound like a choir. It sounds to me like a halo, and it will continue to hover over the hymn-like theme.

The "halo"


Now Haydn, much the way we heard him do Friday night in the theme-and-variations slow movement of the Emperor Quartet, more or less repeats the theme but with the addition of adding off-the-beat pizzicatos from the violins, when then join in, with bows, for the distinctly varied restatement of the last phrase-bit.

The "hymn-like theme" with surprising additions


Of course this is crowned with the string halo, which dissolves -- via the now-paired horns -- into a variation of . . . the halo (!), for the first time almost surreptitiously bringing in the full ensemble (with a couple of exceptions, about which Professor Robbins Landon will have more to say below).

The "halo" again -- and (surprise!) again


Now Haydn continues with his varying, until we encounter the outburst that so excites Professor Robbins Landon, when we hear the truly full orchestra with the addition of trumpets and timpani. But what interests me more is the seemingly casual bit of punctuation provided first by the two oboes and then by the single flute, which you'll note heretofore hasn't had a solo voice, but now watch out! The flute soars upward, leading an ethereal trio with the two oboes.

Whap! All hell breaks loose, and then . . .


What would you expect Haydn to do at this point? If you guessed "turn this material over to the strings," you got it, and even if not, you've learned a singularly Haydnesque lesson: He like to surprise us, and sometimes surprises us by not surprising us.

The performance we've been hearing chopped up is from a sweetheart of a recording that Eugen Jochum made with the Berlin Philharmonic In October 1961. At this point I think we need to hear the whole thing.

HAYDN: Symphony No. 88 in G: ii. Largo
Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded October 1961

Now we're going to hear two very different performances. First is a more leisurely, very Viennese, and very lovely one by Karl Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic:
Vienna Philharmonic, Karl Böhm, cond. DG, recorded c1972

Now we hear the performance using period instruments, in more "authentic" period style, from the Sony Vivarte series I mentioned above. (You'll notice that this and the other period-instrument performances we're going to hear are pitched lower than the modern-orchestra ones. Pitch really was lower in pre-A=440 olden times.)
Tafelmusik (on period instruments), Bruno Weil, cond. Sony, recorded May 16-18, 1994


THE COMPLETE SYMPHONY NO. 88

Of course you want to hear the complete symphony. Here's some of what Professor Robbins Landon has to say about each of the movements of the symphony in the Sony Vivarte liner note from which I've already quoted, accompanied by a period-instrument performance and a modern-orchestra one.

i. Adagio; Allegro
"The slow introduction to No. 88 serves a specific purpose: the opening theme of the Allegro proper is so wispy and unsubstantial that it could not have begun such a grand symphony "unprotected," as it were. This Allegro has a number of themes and they were socomplosed that they can be used with each other in double counterpoint at the octave. As a whole this movement is one of Haydn's most towering intellectual achievements and might be taken as a classical case for combining popular tunes with a formidable contrapuntal development."

La Petite Bande (on period instruments), Sigiswald Kuijken, cond. Virgin Veritas, recorded February 1991
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded March 1961
ii. Largo
We've already seen H.C.R.L. 's basic note on this movement, but before that he makes an issue of the doubly unexpected use of trumpets and timpani here.

"One of [the symphony's] extraordinary features is the fact that the trumpets and timpani enter only in the course of the slow movement. Added to the fact that G-major symphonies at this period almost never had trumpets and timpani at all, their sudden appearance in the D-major Largo must have created a real sensation. The sensation was doubly effective because it was also not the custom for trumpets and timpani to be used in slow movements. . . . "

La Petite Bande (on period instruments), Sigiswald Kuijken, cond. Virgin Veritas, recorded February 1991
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS.Sony, recorded March 1961
iii. Menuetto: Allegro
"The Minuet is like some great peasant harvest scene, and the Trio has weird syncopated accents and a bagpipes drone, all of which underline the genuine folk-like character of this astoundingly original music."

La Petite Bande (on period instruments), Sigiswald Kuijken, cond. Virgin Veritas, recorded February 1991
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded March 1961
iv. Finale: Allegro con spirito
"The finale is perhaps the culmination of this successful attempt to wed a popular tune to contrapuntal feats -- at one point there is a long canon on the subject between upper and lower strings, all fortissimo, which leads us in sly fashion to the recapitulation."

La Petite Bande (on period instruments), Sigiswald Kuijken, cond. Virgin Veritas, recorded February 1991
Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Bruno Walter, cond. Columbia/CBS/Sony, recorded March 1961


NOW LET'S HEAR IT ALL TOGETHER

Again, we're going to hear both period- and modern-orchestra performances.

As I believe I've mentioned, I have a lot of skepticism about the "authentic performance" movement. However, among musicians drawn to it, the Dutch conductor Frans Brüggen -- who first made his reputation as a flute and recorder player -- has always struck me as one of the most musical, getting that the point is producing music, not "authenticity." I quite like his No. 88.

HAYDN: Symphony No. 88 in G:
i. Adagio; Allegro
ii. Largo
iii. Menuetto: Allegro
iv. Finale: Allegro con spirito


Orchestra of the 18th Century (on period instruments), Frans Brüggen, cond. Philips, recorded November 1988

For a standard "symphonic" performance, we're going to hear a more streamlined one than the Böhm and Walter, from a set of Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88-92 plus the virtually symphonic Sinfonia Concertante for oboe, bassoon, violin, and cello by Simon Rattle, one of the nicer things I've heard from him. (Let's just say I'm not normally a big fan.) These are the symphonies that fall between the great "Paris" and "London" symphonies (a set of six, Nos. 82-87, and two sets of six, Nos. 93-104). We know how strongly attached Haydn was to the old baroque idea of writing sets of six works. I suppose it's just a coincidence that if we add the wonderful Sinfonia Concertante -- and doesn't the curious concertante quartet remind us of the "hymn" ensemble of our Largo from No. 88? -- to the "Between Paris and London" group, the total is . . . six!

Berlin Philharmonic, Sir Simon Rattle, cond. EMI, recorded live, February 2007


A HAYDN SYMPHONIC BONUS

Remember that October 1961 Jochum recording of the Largo of Symphony No. 88 we started out with today? The following May Jochum and the Berlin Philharmonic recorded the Symphony No. 98 (the final symphony in the first "London" set) for the other side of a lovely DG LP, no doubt one of the springboards to a project DG entrusted to him in 1972: recording all 12 "London" symphonies with the London Philharmonic (yes, including a remake of No. 98).

I'm not sure there's a movement in any of Haydn's symphonies that doesn't bear some uniquely personal touch, but among those I treasure particularly is the finale of No. 98, which most of the way is a characteristically ebullient Haydn rondo. And then it scales down to an envoi of ineffable wistfulness and charm.

The sudden appearance of the harpsichord provides a delicious jolt to modern ears, and would have been to Haydn's audiences too, even though performances in his time would have continued the baroque tradition of employing a "continuo" keyboard player. But by Haydn's time there was no need for the continuo, which in the baroque era had had the important function of filling in missing harmonies. In writing of the classical era, however, composers filled those harmonies in in the designated instrumental parts, leaving nothing for the continuo player to add, until Haydn provided this little solo, which can hardly help but draw a smile of delight from the listener.

What we're hearing is the finale from the 1962 Jochum-Berlin recording.

HAYDN: Symphony No. 98 in B-flat: iv. Finale: Presto
Wolfgang Meyer, harpsichord; Berlin Philharmonic, Eugen Jochum, cond. DG, recorded May 1962
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