Haydn Symphony no. 2

Gonna try to keep this one shorter.

The second symphony is believed to have been written between 1757 and 1761. It has the same orchestration as number one from yesterday, and is also in three movements.
There’s also something kind of… comforting at the possibility that something this brief (a nine minute symphony!) may have taken him four years to write. Not that he devoted every waking hour (or any regular attention) to the piece, but for any aspiring composer, it’s nice to know that speed isn’t necessarily important.
The second is also unique in Haydn’s symphonic repertoire in that it’s one of the shortest (if not the shortest?) of all of his symphonies, at least in part because it is the only symphony of Haydn’s with no repeat signs.
The symphony is in C major, and the first movement is made up of a lively first theme and a much quieter second subject. As stated above, there’s no repeat of an exposition or anything, so the first movement is quite straightforward. There’s an interesting little development section, and then we move back to the opening subjects. This movement has some quite nice contrasts of dynamics.

The winds are absent from the second movement, a much quieter, less lively but very quaint andante. This is the kind of writing that, again, makes these ultra-early symphonies feel like big string quartets. The movements are of about-equal length, but this one (by mere seconds) is the shortest. The center part of the movement seems to modulate to a minor key and spend some time (very briefly) in a darker place. It very quickly returns. There’s something about this movement that’s really crisply, simply, unadorned-ly pleasant. If the two outer movements had been really long, I’d have thought of this movement as more of an intermezzo.
The third movement is really catchy. It’s in a triple meter, lively, upbeat, and reminiscent more of the volume of the first movement. It also has a contrasting second subject. With the two subjects presented at the beginning, there was a thought that this movement is also in some kind of sonata form; maybe it is and there was a modulation I missed somewhere. In any case, the third movement hovers around two charming little themes, and then that’s it.
It’s amazing that both this work and something like Mahler’s third or something from Shostakovich are both symphonies… how different in form and content they are. It reminds me of a picture similar to this one of a great Dane towering over a chihuahua. They’re both dogs… but they’re quite different beasts.


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