Haydn Symphony no. 37

again, and as always, for Haydn’s symphonies, we’ll be using the performances by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra under Adam Fischer (older brother of the also fantastic Iván Fischer)

It’s older than that.
As I said in yesterday’s article, there are some cataloguing and numbering issues in Haydn’s works, at least the symphonies. But then again, how could there not be when trying to order and organize works from two and a half centuries ago?
Symphony no. 37 is one of the earliest of Haydn’s symphonies, dated 1758, but you might not know it immediately.

We’re going to start our more serious discussion and comparison of the first actual five (by number) symphonies tomorrow, but this one is a bit of an odd man out. Wikipedia says nothing about why this one got the numbering that it did, but perhaps it was written much earlier, never published, and rediscovered by the composer and polished up for publication later. Or something. But the (extremely brief) article does suggest that the trumpet and timpani parts were possibly added later. I think this almost must be the case, as those two instruments don’t show up in any of the other symphonies we’ll be talking about. It is scored for two oboes, bassoon, two horns, trumpets, timpani and strings with continuo. While this piece may sound very early, it doesn’t sound nearly as early as tomorrow’s symphony no. 1. Wait and see.
The work is in four movements, as follows:

  • Presto
  • Menuet e trio
  • Andante
  • Presto
This is also rare, as of the first five numbered symphonies, 1, 2 and 4 are all in three movements, the more typical layout of the time. This piece also puts the Minuet in second place instead of
third, which was rare. Some other symphonies did this, but it wasn’t common. These things make me think that this work likely had its inception as early as the others, but was either left behind or forgotten, and given a face-lift or some redesign before publication. But then again, it’s not that it was published as the thirty-seventh of his symphonies, just that it happens to have gotten that number in the catalogue. I haven’t done any other research on this, but it feels, at least to me, like there is something more modern (as in… later) about this piece than the other five we’ll be talking about.
I’ve also started it today because there isn’t a month with 37 days. 31 is as close as we’ll get, and the other five symphonies will be published on the date that corresponds to their respective number. Isn’t that nifty?
That’s about the most there is to say about this piece. Let’s talk about some of its music.
After having begun to prepare for this series and listened to the first few symphonies a number of times, the opening of this piece seemed… jarring! How could that be the case? Put it next to Mahler or Bruckner or even Brahms and this little ditty pales in comparison. However, go back and listen to those first five symphonies on repeat a few times, and then jump over to this piece. What will shock and surprise is the presence of percussion. While it’s nothing like Mahler’s infamous hammer crash in his sixth symphony, in the context of a very small, Classical-sized early orchestra, it thunders. The trumpets are also noticeable.
What is also quite obvious here is something I feel is so typically strong and ever-present in Haydn’s work: not just a crisp, clean liveliness, but an energy that borders on humor and happiness. That first movement is a strong, powerful one, (again, relative to the other five we’ll be addressing), but the second movement minuet is also lilty and brings a smile to the face. Timpani are also quite evident in this movement. The contrasting middle section is, therefore, quite dark. It also seems to be a true trio.
The third movement feels like it comes out of the trio of the second since both are in Cm. Interestingly, listeners might want to note that a composition in a minor key doesn’t always have to be sorrowful or gloomy or sad. There are some quite delightful passages in this third movement that aren’t doom’n’gloom. It’s also the only movement of the symphony without timpani. The quiet one.
Timpani return for the (second) presto, though. It’s the shortest movement of the symphony, and is full of contrasts, with some passages (the main theme, for example) that mimic the first movement, but with some quiet, almost dead, pauses that make it a lively piece.
That’s it. Not a whole lot to say. It’s a thirteen minute symphony. I will say two things, though, taking this piece as the introduction to our series.
First, there won’t be a ton to say (rare for me) about these pieces. They’re pretty simple and straightforward. Secondly, something else.
While some people may listen to this music and have an emotional response that causes them to think of the music as being highbrow, upper-class, or ‘fancy’ in some way, it isn’t. Remember the majority of yesterday’s (relatively amateur) article about Haydn. What stood out to me is his very humble beginnings. He apparently was quite literally quite hungry in his childhood and teen years, and ended up as a freelancer trying to get work. The man made opportunities for himself, he worked his way up and made something of himself. He was self-employed, and wrote these early works as part of his job. He was not some fancy powdered-wigged elite pompous aristocrat (at least not at this time, but it seems no matter his success, he never became the stuffy arrogant type). It was the purist, stylistic idiom of the time, a pared down, clean, dainty orchestration relative to today (today as in the past century), far more like chamber music than a symphony orchestra. But let’s talk a bit about simplicity.
Contrast this piece with Webern’s Five Pieces of a few weeks ago. They’re both very small-scale (Webern’s obviously is, as a quartet), but they feel different. I had a thought about these two very different pieces sharing some qualities, like the stark simplicity of their structure and straightforwardness of their emotions, but it goes away when I try to put it into words. It’s just an interesting mental exercise to put these two Austrians on equal footing, to think of them as distant musical relatives, to view them through the same lens and try to see how they’re not as different as you may think. At the very least, Webern owes his structure and form to Haydn’s establishment of the string quartet. But none of that has to do with symphony no. 37.
That’s it for now; the remaining five articles for this week (one a day!) will likely be much shorter, but they’re a start. Enjoy.
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