Haydn Symphony no. 10 in D, H. I/10

performed by the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra under Adam Fischer, or below by L’Estro Armonico under Derek Solomons


This was originally intended to be the last post in the second installment of Haydn symphonies by fives. We did 1-5 sometime last year, and next should be 6-10 right?

Wrong. As stated in the other articles this week, Haydn’s catalogue is a bit messy, but this is perhaps to be expected when you write over 100 symphonies and more than a century goes by before people decide to start cataloguing them. In any case, after 18 and 27 earlier this week, here we are at back at 10.

Wikipedia tells us it was composed sometime between 1757 and 1761. It’s in D, contains three movements, and is scored for 2 oboes, 2 horns, bassoon, strings and continuo. The movements are as follows:

  1. Allegro, 4/4
  2. Andante, G major, 2/4
  3. Presto, 3/8

This is a heftier symphony than the others we discussed earlier in the week. It comes in at around 16 and a half minutes. The first movement is the kind of first movement I’m really coming to love from Haydn. It’s crisp, clean, energetic, melodic, bright. Obviously this can’t take us through all 100+ symphonies, but at least for these early works, they’re maybe the easy-listening contributions to the symphonic repertoire: short, straightforward (but not necessarily ‘simple’), approachable. There’s contrast, beauty, again with the light and shadow, a minor chord here and there to keep things interesting, wonderful textures, and we don’t have to work too hard for it. This first movement embodies that, much like the 27th yesterday. There’s a lot in this little five-minute movement, rich swells contrasted with solos from violin or double bass. It’s small but still feels full. Dazzling in the most petite way.

The middle movement makes up close to half of this symphony, marked andante, and is much quieter and more delicate than the opening movement. It’s what we might expect from any old slow movement in this time, but there are some nice passages with violins holding a sustained high note with the low strings moving below. To be honest, I couldn’t be bothered to check the score, but it seems that this movement is strings-only. The slower tempo, broader melodic lines, and length of this movement give it a much more expansive (no, not even late classical) kind of feeling, a wide-open space kind of atmosphere. It’s tender, but not saccharine, pleasant, but not dull. Well, maybe a little bit.

The finale brings us back to something faster, presto in 3/8 time. It has a wonderful spring in its step. There’s a wonderful, light humor in this movement, and at times it sounds as if the violins are laughing, with an accented, almost screechy upbeat. It’s incredibly optimistic. Different voices in the ensemble come to the fore, even if just for a split-second. And then suddenly… there’s this dark, almost mournful quartet-like passage with exposed string lines, and it ends abruptly with a sort of “just kidding!” to return to the bright optimistic main theme a few times before the piece ends crisply.

I suppose a legitimate analysis of the piece might allow us to suss out exactly what about this piece makes it interesting or unique or why it “works,” but I’m really not terribly interested in that. With another almost-1oo symphonies left to tackle, my purpose is not to identify each individual symphony from its brethren or come to know it intimately. To be honest, many of these very earliest symphonies are quite similar, but there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t (necessarily) devalue them; many of the ones I’ve listened to thus far are quite enjoyable as well, but they’re enjoyable in the same way. I am looking forward to getting chronologically to the 20-30s, past the mid 1760s with Haydn’s symphonies.

What is the ultimate purpose with this massive catalogue of works, then? To walk away with at least the smallest of impressions about each one, to be able to say “Oh, yeah, I kind of remember that one,” or conversely, to hear a Haydn symphony and know it must be in the teens or twenties, or one of the out-of-place oddballs, to be able to ‘place’ it, with some degree of accuracy. The purpose, then, I could say, is to identify, from a bird’s eye sort of view, the scenery in its large-ish sections rather than each branch of each tree. But one never knows. This catalogue presents the same challenge in a very different way than say, Mahler or Bruckner, namely to come to wrap one’s head around such a large catalogue of music, with the exception that Haydn’s isn’t tied up in nine or ten-ish symphonies but more than 100. Let’s work through them together!

Stay tuned. He wrote a ton of string quartets too.

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