Haydn Symphony no. 3

The third in G major was written (it is believed) between 1760 and 1762. It shares its orchestration with its predecessors, (two oboes, bassoon, two horns, strings, continuo) but is Haydn’s first symphony to be written in four movements, and one of the earliest in general to do so.
The winds in this symphony are also absent from the slow movement, as in the previous symphony. This symphony is more ‘complex’ no only for its four-movement structure, but also for the structure of two of the movements: the minuet is a canon between high and low voices, and the finale is a fugue that hints at a sonata form.
Before reading about this work online, listening to it after the first two (and no. 37) accented this (slight but noticeable) increase in complexity. The first movement is longer than any in the previous symphony, and there’s a lot of movement and intricacy in it. This symphony is markedly more… individual. It feels more mature and cohesive and unique than the previous ones. We’re not talking about any great artistic evolution, but there’s more here to observe. It’s obvious from the first movement that there’s more depth in voices, contrapuntal motion, contrasts in dynamics.
The second movement feels like what a funeral march from this time period might feel like. It’s in the parallel minor (Gm) and is by far the longest movement of the symphony. This is the first real standout movement of any of the symphonies we’ve listened to so far. I quite like the middle movement of the second, but this one seems to be the most expressive, the most emotional. It sounds less like homework, less like a compositional exercise. Relatively speaking, the earliest of the works, while pleasant, felt like trying to get to know somebody by listening to that person read famous lines of poetry. This movement finally feels like you’re listening to that person express themselves. It’s a long(ish), slow, minor-key movement, and it’s kind of exciting to finally see some contrast and personality that starts to hint at the symphony as a cohesive work of expression, a journey of interconnected movements rather than just pretty musical ideas tied together.
The final two movements are noticeably more compact. The canon becomes noticeable a few bars in, and it’s quite nice writing, but definitely of the slower, more stately variety. It’s pretty and all, but doesn’t capture my interest like the second movement did. The trio is kind of same-same-ish, but at least the entire movement is sweetly pleasant compared with the prior one.
The final movement is a fugue, with lots of counterpoint going on. It’s rich, and feels busy and exciting. I don’t know if there are more voices or something here, but it feels ‘better’ than the previous movements of similar style. It, too, is short and sweet.
Again, we’re not talking about any kind of artistic evolution or development, since all of these were written in the same chunk of time, but as the (give or take) fourth of the symphonies that the man had written, there’s bound to be some change among the similarities, and while very few people would call these slight differences daring, after having the very earliest of those few on repeat, this one does offer something more to sink one’s teeth into. I like.
See you tomorrow for number four. And then Five. And then a wrap-up.


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