Monday, December 9, 2019

Haydn's Symphonies


This month, we are exploring the development of the symphony throughout history. Entering the latter half of the 18th-century, we have prominent composers such as Haydn and Mozart who added their own individual marks to this ever-evolving orchestral genre.

Known as the “father of the symphony,” Joseph Haydn spent the greater portion of his life working for the royal Hungarian Esterházy family. This explains Haydn’s extensive output as he was expected to compose a variety of works at any given moment for court entertainment.

Following Stamitz’s model, Haydn typically employed the four-movement structure in his symphonies. He was known to create various themes that he would then develop and vary throughout the rest of the work. He also sought to create tuneful, expressive compositions. His orchestra, though perhaps a bit larger than those earlier in the century, still had no more than twenty-five to thirty-five members compared to up to one hundred found on stages today.

Haydn was known as a jokester, this quality exhibiting itself throughout many of his works. His Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” was written as a hint to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy to allow his orchestra members to return home to see their families after an extended stay at the prince’s summer home. During the final part of the symphony, members of the orchestra gradually begin to put their instrument down and walk off the stage, leaving only two violins at the end!

Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 is known as the “Surprise” symphony. Do you know why? Listen here and let me know what you think!

Friday, December 6, 2019

Stamitz and his Mannheim Orchestra

We cannot discuss the early development of the symphony without mentioning Mannheim. The Mannheim court was known to have an excellent music scene, the orchestra led by composer Johann Stamitz. The orchestra at Mannheim was known for its excellent dynamic control, particularly the sudden crescendos (growth from soft to loud). As a composer, Stamitz was known to use this “Mannheim Crescendo” in his work.

Significant to the development of the symphony, Stamitz was the first composer to consistently use a four-movement structure when composing rather than the three-movement plan that was standard at the time. Adding a minuet and trio movement between the slow movement and the final fast movement became standard with many prominent composers to follow later in the era.

Another significant change to the symphony within the Mannheim court was the addition of wind instruments including oboe, horn, and even an occasional clarinet!

Listen to Stamitz’s Sinfonia in E-flat major here.

What new features do you notice about this symphony in comparison with the Sammartini symphony we looked at last time? 

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Early Symphony


Giovanni Battista Sammartini was one of the early classical composers who worked on writing symphonies. As mentioned last time, I often find it easy to mistake an early symphony score for a string quartet.

Scored for four-part strings with a possible harpsichord, Sammartini’s Symphony No. 32 in F major has the standard three-movement structure of that time. Unlike standard symphonies of today, this work takes less than ten minutes to perform with a much smaller orchestra than what we’re used to seeing on stages today.

Here is a recording of Sammartini’s symphony. 

What are your initial impressions based on your modern-day experience with symphonies?