Haydn Symphony no. 18 in G, H. I/18

performed (as always) by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra under Adam Fischer (from whence comes the cover image for this article), or below by the Academy of Ancient Music under Christopher Hogwood


So we’re going to get back around to Haydn for a while. A short while, but there’s plenty of early Haydn to go around.

Symphony number 18 doesn’t have a really well-confirmed composition date. Wikipedia says “the composition date is uncertain,” with dates between 1757 and 1766 being suggested or accepted by various people.

But Here’s the Thing:

Haydn’s catalogue is a much bigger mess than you might think. On this wonderfully useful website, we have a chronology of the earliest symphonies, the “pre-Esterhazy” or “the Morzin symphonies,” as they are apparently called. The website, written by one Gurn Blanston (which I believe I read on there somewhere is a pseudonym) also has parts 2-6 of the chronology, all the symphonies in order. Incredibly useful and elucidating.

What you’ll see if you look at that part 1 I linked above is that there are four systems of counting or labeling the symphonies (names aside, which mean nothing for chronology). My understanding of this chart is that the Hoboken numbers are the ones by which the symphonies are most often labeled. See symphony number 37 as an example. It has a higher symphony number, suggesting it would have been written with the other 30-something symphonies in the mid 1760s or so, but no. It was written at least as early as 1758, and therefore comes before no.s 2 and 18 in the list. All of that is to say that I’m going to try, after having done some reading, to address the subsequent Haydn symphonies in as close to chronological order as possible, regardless of the Hob. number. We did no. 37 (linked above) along with the first five, but looking at the fjhaydn.com table linked earlier, there are some others I missed, so I’m going to try to fix that.

But Here’s the Other Thing:

Can you tell the difference? Can I? Listening to #37 compared with the single-digit symphonies or against the dozen that came a few years later, could I pick out how different they were? Probably not. But maybe I could. But as “Blanston” says, it’s so much easier to begin addressing Haydn’s oeuvre in chunks, like dividing an enormous book into chapters or sections so you can tackle them one at a time than trying to get a whole huge overview of his entire output. (This is a problem we shall, as you will soon see, also have with his string quartet output.)

The reason I’ve added all of this long preface is because I don’t really have much to say about this symphony at hand and I didn’t want to make a separate article just for this statement. So here we go.

It’s in three movements and scored for two oboes, bassoon, two horns, strings, and continuo. While it’s in three movements, the order and/or structure might seem odd. Have a look:

  1. Andante moderato, 2/4
  2. Allegro molto, 4/4
  3. Tempo di Minuetto, 3/4, G major – G minor – G major

The first thing that might jump out at you is that the minuet comes last, with nothing to follow it. In Haydn’s third and fifth symphonies, both in four movements, the minuet was placed third, but in the three-movement early works (like 1, 2, and 4), the final movement was in triple meter. In no. 37, it was placed second, not third. So maybe it isn’t that odd. What Wikipedia does point out is that the symphony may be laid out in a ‘church sonata‘ structure, due to the slow first movement, but I’m not really sure what all that means.

All I know is that the first movement is slow, like… really slow… It has a wonderful ever-so-polite melodic quality to it, with a few great splashes of a minor key here and there, with its sections repeated cleanly and straightforwardly. Bassoons double the continuo throughout, and overwhelming feeling I get from this movement is one of polite chamber music, so the sudden contrast in key is charming. It might not go very far, but where it does go is nice.

The arrival at the second movement is what brings what actually feels like the beginning of a symphony! It’s lively, full of texture, trills, horns, all sorts of stuff to make the movement feel more full-bodied. There are some fun moments of what sound to me like humor.

The third and final movement of this brief symphony is “in the tempo of a minuet”, and it indeed is in triple meter, but… Are we not accustomed to something coming after our minuets and scherzi? The movement is not unsubstantial though, with a few repeats of various sections, passing through a very baroque-sounding minor key section (Bach’s Am concerto comes to mind!) While one might almost hope for something more concluding, more final… the end of the final movement is quite a satisfying one. It’s nice.

If a Mahler symphony is, as he described to Sibelius, an entire world, then this Haydn symphony (and I guess many others of his or of this era) is a very beautiful, clean, pleasantly decorated room, with a piano in the corner, hardwood floors, ironed draped, a couch with pillows primly placed, maybe some tea and crackers on a side table. Or perhaps a manicured lawn, with the sun shining outside, a light breeze with the potential for a rain cloud in the distance, playing croquet or something with the playful sounds of children in the background, but not much more expansive than that.

Anyway, We’ll take care of two more Haydn symphonies this week before jumping into his string quartets (sort of; it’s complicated) this weekend. Stay tuned.

 

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