L’Estro Armonico, dir. Derek Solomons (1982)
“This dark-hued, somber — even tragic — Symphony, in the unusual key of F minor, stands in the center of the ‘Sturm und Drang‘ movement.
It is also Haydn’s last symphony in the sonata da chiesa form, and unquestionably the greatest.
With this work, he obviously thought he had exhausted the sonata da chiesa as a symphonic operation (though we must not forget that much later, he wrote a Quartet [Op. 55, No. 2] in F minor with an opening slow movement — coincidence?). There is no doubt that the form of the sonata da chiesa suggested to Haydn a serious project: all the earlier works, especially Nos. 21 and 22, have weighty opening slow movements. In the Adagio of No. 49, we seem to sense the winding line of penitents before the Cross. As in all the orchestral works of this period, Haydn takes great pains to lift the music out of its blackness by means of contrasting dynamic marks: but in ‘La passione’ the questioning spirit prevails almost throughout the four movements.
The wide leaps in the opening theme of the Allegro di molto are fiercely typical of Haydn in these years, as are the lean two-part writing and the syncopations that follow. One notes how carefully Haydn contrasts this heroic opening with the gliding quavers he introduces as soon as the music reaches the relative minor (A flat). Yet it is just with this flowing music that Haydn provides his most brilliant touch — the transformation of this relatively serene music in the development back to the original key, in the process of which the sinuous quavers acquire an ominous, almost sinister color.
The Minuet & Trio are a kind of oasis between the quick movements, and the Trio, with the gunmetal gleam of its high horn notes, is a peaceful and brief interlude before the monothematic concentration of the final Presto. It will be noticed that Haydn has welded this Symphony together not only by its single emotional character but by less apparent means: the opening notes of the Symphony, its basic line (c — d flat — b flat — c), serve for the thematic material of all its four movements. In the Allegro di molto, the top notes of the violin, i.e. those at the beginning of each bar, are c — d flat — b flat; and the second subject is also related to the basic progression — perhaps more clearly felt when it returns in the tonic minor at bars 126ff. The Menuet’s beginning is again the c — d flat — b flat line, while the Trio has more or less the same thing in major; and in the Finale the ‘Urlinie‘ has a different rhythm and the intervals are juggled differently. It is an astonishing tour-de-force of thematic, or perhaps better, motivic unity in a symphony of this date. The abbots and princes with whom this work was so popular in Central Europe — dozens of old copies have survived — may not have analyzed why they thought this a great work, but that, after all, would not have been Haydn’s intention; the technical means which unify any work of art — Giotto fresco or Haydn symphony — need not be known to the layman.” – H. Robbins Landon
Painting: View of Antwerp with the Frozen Schelde [detail], Lucas van Valkenborch
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