Haydn Symphony No. 17 in F (H. I/17)

Adam Fischer/Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, or below with The Philharmonia Hungarica under Antal Dorati

I’ll be typing that a lot this week.

Symphony number 17. H. C. Robbins Landon’s The Symphonies of Joseph Haydn states that the work might have been written by 1757, but “possibly as late as c. 1762-63.” While it too is scored for 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns accompanying strings and continuo, the winds do little more than just accompany. Not once in my copy of the score (that I borrowed) were any winds but horns ever notated separately. Everything else, I guess, just doubled.

This symphony, not unlike yesterdays, is essentially… a very filled out, meaty string quartet, with horns. A horn quintet. With more than five instruments, but not much more, which makes it similar to yesterday’s (more lively) piece.

It’s in three movements, the first and last of which are in triple meter.

You’ll notice Wikipedia doesn’t have much on these earliest of works.


But that’s okay. We’ll talk about them briefly, as we have been doing. I promise I’ll be giving him more and more attention as we get to the later stuff.

This symphony is as long as no. 20, but with only three movements. The first and second come in at a whopping five and six minutes, respectively. Something I’ve noticed about Haydn’s early works are his regular use of syncopated notes in violins above the other strings’ eighth note rhythms at the culmination of phrases. It builds a nice tension before everyone settles back in together. He also likes using sixteenth note-dotted eighth, with the short note on the beat, although that doesn’t appear in the above image. I don’t see this first movement as anything terribly removed from yesterday’s work. Perhaps it’s a touch less festive, or maybe less uninhibitedly melodic? I hate to overuse the word ‘nice,’ but it is. It’s doesn’t move me to tears, or take my breath away (actually maybe a little breath), but it’s terribly warm, delightful to the ear.

What we do have in this work is what strikes me as one of the most engaging development sections of the early symphonies. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention, but it felt for the first time like there was something new in the development, more than just a transposition of a theme or a few tweaks here and there, which was nice.

The andante is in F minor. It’s a movement that, to me, plays with light and shadow. It’s slow-ish, ma non troppo, and despite being in a minor key, is rather bright, relatively speaking. It moves towards A-flat major, and has a few noticeable themes or ideas, subtly interesting and thought-provoking. Is this early pensive Haydn?

The third and final movement is laughing music, not music to laugh at, but to laugh to or with. It’s playful, brings a smile to the face, but that’s not to say that’s all it is. There’s detail to relish in, as with most of these works, but as it relates more to musical ideas rather than emotional ones, it perhaps isn’t as noticeable to the casual listener. Passing through minor-key passages brings a nice change, like a cool breeze that rushes in when clouds cover the sun for a spell.

It might seem simple, but there’s lots of simple stuff to enjoy. Is it strange to say he does lots with simplicity? Placement of a triplet somewhere or a crisp accent on offbeats might not rock your world (and it doesn’t mine) but one can find joy in simple things, no?

Will I ever be able to identify these works from one another like people do with the symphonies of Beethoven, Schubert, or even Mozart? He wrote a bunch too. Maybe I will, but for now, they’re short little (enjoyable, but still) asides. I’m looking forward to the later ones.

Stay tuned. Three more this week.



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