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The word ‘symphony’ is used to describe an extended orchestral composition in Western classical music. By the eighteenth century the Italianate opera sinfonia—musical interludes between operas or concertos—had assumed the structure of three contrasting movements, and it is this form that is often considered as the direct forerunner of the orchestral symphony. With the rise of established professional orchestras, the symphony assumed a more prominent place in concert life between 1790 and 1820 until it eventually came to be regarded by many as the yardstick by which one would measure a composer’s achievement.
Without doubt, the most important symphonists of the latter part of the eighteenth century are Haydn and Mozart. Often credited with expanding the symphonic form to the four movements we are familiar with today, these two composers are together responsible for over 160 symphonies including those commonly regarded as the apex of the Classical symphonic form—Haydn’s London symphonies and Mozart’s Jupiter and Linz. A few years later, Beethoven dramatically expanded the symphony, in so doing forming the bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras. His Eroica symphony has a scale and emotional range that sets it apart from earlier works, while his Symphony No 5 is arguably the most famous symphony ever written.
GREAT CLASSICAL SYMPHONIES
Haydn • Mozart • Beethoven
The Classical symphony reached a height of popularity in the second half of the eighteenth century, transformed by Haydn and Mozart and expanded to bursting point by Beethoven in the first decades of the new century. The word ‘symphony’ is derived from the Greek συμφωνία, by way of the Latin symphonia and Italian sinfonia, its original meaning ‘sounding together’. The Italian word is generally used to signify ‘concerted music’, music played together, in earlier periods. By the 1720s the sinfonia had begun to assume its modern meaning of ‘symphony’.
The early form of the symphony owes much to Alessandro Scarlatti and his contemporaries in Naples and the Italian overture, the Sinfonia before the opera. This developed into a sequence of three movements, fast—slow—fast, replacing, as time went on, the obsolescent instrumental form of the church sonata, slow—fast—slow—fast, and appearing as a concert form independent of any opera. The last of the three movements of the Italian symphony was sometimes in the form of a dance. Vienna is usually credited with the inclusion of a fourth movement in the symphony, a dance movement, a minuet framing a contrasting trio, immediately preceding the final movement.
The four-movement Classical symphony, the basis of much that was to follow, in text books, at least, made use of newly developed forms. The first movement generally took the form of a sonata-allegro or sonata form, sometimes preceded by a slow introduction and in three sections. The first section, the exposition, presents a theme in the tonic or home key of the work, followed by a transition, a bridge passage, leading to a second or subsidiary theme in the dominant, that is in a key based on the fifth note of the tonic key, or another related key. The exposition is often repeated and ends in the dominant or other related key, not in the home key, which makes it clear that there is still more to come. The second section, the development, makes free use of themes or fragments of themes already heard. The third section is a recapitulation, a return of the first theme of the exposition, leading to the secondary theme, now in the home key. The movement usually placed second is a slow movement, often using an outer main theme to frame a central passage in another key. This movement is usually in a different key from that of the first movement. In a four-movement symphony the third movement generally takes the form of a Minuet, a dance in triple time, repeated to frame a central Trio, often in a contrasting key. The final movement is often in the form of a rondo, a lively movement in which a main theme is used to frame a series of episodes in other keys, sometimes following a similar key-pattern to the sonata-allegro.
Composers handle these basic structures with considerable freedom. Joseph Haydn was associated with the symphony over some forty years, writing principally for the forces available to him as director and leader of the musicians employed by the Esterházy family, and finally for the larger orchestra assembled in London by the violinist and impresario Salomon. Mozart too had a long involvement with the symphony from his days with the court orchestra in Salzburg to his final years working with musicians he assembled for his subscription concerts in Vienna. Beethoven, with only nine numbered symphonies, treated the existing forms with innovative genius, establishing, in his final Choral Symphony a challenge to future generations of composers.
The symphony drew the attention of many composers, some of them as prolific in the form as Haydn. Its development owed much to the famous orchestra at Mannheim, visited by Mozart in 1777/78, with its discipline and dynamic possibilities, and to other musical centres, to Vienna, with its multiplicity of musical activities, and, to a lesser degree, to Paris. Orchestras varied greatly in size and ability. The basic ensemble of strings, pairs of oboes and French horns, bassoon, and a possible keyboard instrument, might suit a smaller musical establishment. Haydn’s orchestra at Eszterháza, which he often led from the violin, had ten violins, pairs of violas, cellos and double basses, two oboes, two horns and two bassoons, with the possibility of two trumpets and drums. The orchestra led by Salomon in London, for which Haydn wrote his final London Symphonies, had up to sixteen violinists, four violas, three cellos and four double basses, pairs of oboes and clarinets, and of bassoons, trumpets and drums. The size and balance of the orchestras available is reflected in the compositions. While Beethoven in Vienna may not always have had large numbers of string players, he was able to include in his scoring clarinets, which had only been used in the later symphonies of Haydn and Mozart, and at times instruments, including trombones, the piccolo and the double bassoon, that had chiefly been used orchestrally for special effects in the opera-house. In 1814 he was able to assemble a much larger body of string players, professional and amateur, with 36 violinists, but this was for an unusual occasion. Over the years instrumental techniques had changed and were changing. In his expansion of existing forms Beethoven made use of these new possibilities, as Haydn and Mozart had done in their later works, and in his last symphony, the Choral Symphony, he experimented with a novel form, new not so much in the inclusion of voices, but in the actual use he made of them in this final moral statement and challenge.
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
Various musical paternity charges have been levelled at the composer Joseph Haydn. His career coincided with the development of Classical style and forms (the symphony, sonata, string quartet and other instrumental forms), in the moulding of which he played an important part. Born in Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright, he was trained as a chorister at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he made his early living, before appointment to the small musical establishment of Count Morzin in 1759. In 1760 he entered the service of the Esterházy Princes, and succeeded to the position of Kapellmeister on the death of his predecessor and immediate superior Gregor Werner in 1766. Much of Haydn’s life now centred on the magnificent palace and estate at Eszterháza, where his employer Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had moved his entourage for most of the year. The death of the Prince in 1790 released Haydn and allowed travel to London. There followed further service of the successors to Prince Nikolaus, now at the former residence at Eisenstadt, and concluding retirement in Vienna, where he died in 1809, as the soldiers of Napoleon again entered the city.
Haydn’s 108 symphonies, written between 1759 and 1795, range from works written for the relatively modest local court orchestra of two oboes, two horns and strings, to the greater complexity of his larger scale ‘London’ Symphonies (the twelve written for performance in London under the direction of the German-born violinist and impresario Salomon during the composer’s two London visits). The ‘London’ Symphonies include a number of works with nicknames: No 94 ‘The Surprise’, No 96 ‘The Miracle’, No 100 ‘Military’, No 101 ‘The Clock’, No 103 ‘Drumroll’, and No 104 ‘London’ or ‘Salomon’. Other named symphonies that remain in regular concert repertoire include No 92 ‘Oxford’ and Nos 82 ‘The Bear’, 83 ‘The Hen’ and 84 ‘The Queen’ (of France). Earlier named symphonies include the interesting Symphony No 22 ‘The Philosopher’, which includes two cor anglais or English horns (tenor oboes in place of the normal higher-pitched instrument), which was written in 1764, three years after ‘Le Matin’, ‘Le Midi’ and ‘Le Soir’ (Nos 6, 7 and 8). The ‘Farewell’ Symphony, No 45, allows players, impatient for a return from Eszterháza to their families at home, to leave the platform one by one. Its immediate predecessor is the ‘Trauersinfonie’ (‘Mourning Symphony’), while No 49, ‘La Passione’, reflects elements of Sturm und Drang (‘Storm and Stress’)—the movement in German literature and art of the period.
Symphony No 45 ‘Farewell’ was written in 1772, occasioned by the prolonged stay of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy at his Hungarian palace. Some of the musicians had been compelled to leave their wives behind in Eisenstadt when the Prince took up his summer residence. The symphony, in the final Adagio of which the musicians leave one by one, was intended as a delicate hint that the time had come to return to Eisenstadt, although some contemporary sources suggest that the subject of complaint was the possible reduction of the musical establishment. In the key of F sharp minor, the symphony is scored for the usual Eszterháza forces of pairs of oboes and horns, bassoon and strings. The first movement opens with the principal theme, descending arpeggios played by the first violins against sustained wind chords and the urgent syncopation of the second violins. Sonata form is treated with considerable freedom, the second subject making its D major appearance in the development and the following recapitulation inviting an unusual further development of the principal theme. The A major second movement allows muted violins to announce the main theme, the wind having very little to add during the course of the movement. An F sharp major Minuet follows, with a Trio that allows the French horns momentary prominence. This leads to a finale that modulates to introduce the unexpected slow conclusion, in which player after player leaves the platform, until only two muted violins are left.
Symphony No 88 in G major was one of a pair of symphonies that the violinist Johann Tost took to Paris from Eszterháza. Tost had led the second violins in Haydn’s orchestra for five years and was later to be the recipient of the set of string quartets known as the Tost Quartets. From Haydn’s correspondence we gather that he may not have been entirely trustworthy, a conclusion that could be drawn from his later suggestion of setting up a business for pirating the musical manuscripts at Eszterháza, and, indeed, from his arrangement with Spohr for the exclusive right to his compositions. Tost, in fact, became a business-man, when he left the Eszterháza orchestra, marrying a former housekeeper to Prince Esterházy and winning a degree of prosperity that a mere violinist, even of his obvious proficiency, could hardly hope to attain.
During his first visit to England Haydn was given the degree of doctor of music by the University of Oxford, an honour that Dr Burney induced him to accept. The ceremony took place in July 1791 in Sir Christopher Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre.
Symphony No 92 in G major, later to be known as the Oxford Symphony, was played at the second of the concerts arranged, since the score had not been available for earlier rehearsal. The Oxford Symphony had been written in 1789, with the Eszterháza orchestra in mind rather than the Paris forces of Comte d’Ogny, to whom it is dedicated, or, indeed, those under Cramer at the Oxford performance. The symphony opens with a slow introduction, played at first only by the strings, who also open the ensuing Allegro with a theme derived from the first section. The slow movement unusually includes in its scoring the trumpets and drums and in its concluding section a passage for wind instruments. The Minuet and Trio that constitute the third movement are followed by a characteristic final movement, its main theme announced by the first violin over a repeated cello obligato octave. The symphony marks the end of a period in Haydn’s career as a composer, his last symphony for Eszterháza and at the same time his last symphony for the ancien régime in Paris.
In 1791 Haydn had visited England for the first time, responding to the invitation and commission offered by the German-born violinist Salomon. Six new symphonies were to be provided for the subscription concerts organised by Salomon at the Hanover Square Rooms. Symphony No 94 was to be performed at a concert on 23 March 1792, the sixth of the new series, and proved to have an enduring popularity. The first movement opens with a slow introduction, followed by a gentle enough first subject and a double second subject. The well-known C major slow movement provides the surprise of a sudden burst of sound, interrupting the steady progress of the melody, which is then varied. The Minuet is much quicker than is usually the case, its Trio opening with first violins and bassoon in octaves. The finale is launched, as usual, by the strings, with a cheerful first subject, succeeded by a contrasting second subject in sonata form.
In 1794 Haydn set out on his second visit to London and in February Salomon’s subscription season began in the Hanover Square Rooms. Six new symphonies had been commissioned, and of these Symphony No 100 in G major was played at the eighth concert, on 31 March, in a programme that included the performance of a new Haydn quartet and a concerto composed and played by the violinist Viotti. The Grand Military Overture, as the new work was described, starts with a slow introduction, thematically connected with what follows. The Allegro is opened by the flutes and oboes, followed by the strings, a procedure that also marks the second subject, later to be imitated in military style by Johann Strauss. The C major second movement, marked Allegretto, includes a military battery of kettledrums, triangle, cymbals and bass drum in its scoring, as well as allowing the wind band a proper share of the music. The Minuet is relatively slow, with a touch of the ominous in the G minor bars of the Trio. The symphony ends with a rondo, the main theme of which quickly became widely popular in England, where it was to serve its purpose in the ball-room. Towards the end of the finale the military percussion is again used, to the disapproval of one contemporary critic, but nevertheless providing an additional unity to the work.
Symphony No 101 also belongs to the group of six symphonies written for Haydn’s second visit to London in 1794. It was played at a concert on 3 March, followed by operatic songs, a performance by Viotti of a violin concerto and by Fiorillo of a Chaconne. Again, as with most of the London symphonies, there is a slow introduction, this time in D minor, an eerie preface to a bright D major movement from which the symphony derives its nickname, The Clock, its source the accompanying figure with which the movement opens. The Minuet returns from G major to the key of D major, its Trio providing a lopsided clock accompaniment to the initial flute melody. The symphony ends with a finale in which the second subject is a clear variant of the first. There is a D minor section, replaced by the major key to bring the work to a dramatic conclusion.
Haydn’s Symphony No 95 in C minor was written in London in 1791 and was performed at some time during Haydn’s first season there, apparently proving less popular than some of his other new symphonies. The strong opening figure of the first movement is announced by woodwind and strings, followed by a gentler answer from the strings. The second subject, in E flat major, is derived from the descending arpeggio. The opening figure starts the central development, now used in transposition and contrapuntally. The gentle first subject appears in recapitulation, followed by the second theme, now in C major, with brief additions. The E flat major Andante cantabile, without trumpets or drums, is introduced by the strings. The first variation uses a solo cello, followed by semiquaver triplets from the first violins, echoed by the solo cello. The next variation is in E flat minor, the melody offered by the first violins, and leads to a further version of the theme that allows the violins rapid demi-semiquavers, before a final moving re-appearance of the theme. The Minuet welcomes back the trumpets and drums, in a sinister C minor. The Trio, however, is in C major, with a solo cello accompanied by plucked strings in cheerful contrast. C major is the key of the Finale, opened by the strings, later joined by horns and woodwind, with a particularly delightful accompanying figure for the bassoons. A fugal passage follows, after which the principal theme returns in recapitulation, with a touch more counterpoint to come before the firm conclusion.
Haydn wrote Symphony No 103 in E flat major, the so-called ‘Drumroll’, in 1795 during the course of his second visit to London. Here he could include clarinets in the scoring, as well as a second flute, instruments not available to him at Eszterháza. The symphony was first performed at the King’s Theatre on 2 March at an Opera Concert, part of a series that had replaced the earlier London concerts organized by Salomon. According to custom the symphony opened the second half of the evening in a remarkably mixed programme. The slow introduction of the first movement starts with a drum-roll, followed by a long-drawn theme from cellos, double basses and bassoons, hinting at the Dies irae of the Requiem Mass, its final dynamic contrasts leading to a lively Allegro, towards the close of which the drum-roll and mysterious Adagio re-appear. The second movement is a set of double variations, its first C minor theme announced by the strings, joined by oboes, bassoons and horns for the second theme, in C major, both of which are apparently of Balkan folk provenance and are then varied in turn with all the subtlety of which Haydn was a master. The Minuet has a companion Trio that allows the London clarinettists a dangerous prominence. French horns introduce the Finale, remarkably based on one theme and as original as anything Haydn wrote.
Symphony No 104 in D major is the last of Haydn’s symphonies and the last of the dozen such works commissioned by the violinist Salomon for his London seasons. It was probably performed for the first time at the Opera Concert given at the King’s Theatre on 13 April 1795. In 1791 Haydn had visited London for the first time, and this highly successful and lucrative visit was followed by a second in 1794. The Opera Concerts replaced the former series under Salomon’s sole management at the Hanover Square Rooms, and were given in collaboration with the violinist Viotti. This final symphony is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, with the usual strings, and, at its first performance, Haydn at the pianoforte. There is a slow introduction, which, as so often, has a motivic connection with what follows, a lively Allegro in the customary tripartite form, its central development a masterpiece of craftsmanship. The slow movement allows the strings to otter a theme of simple beauty, G major answered by a central section in G minor. The well-known Minuet and Trio, in this, one of the best known of Haydn’s symphonies, is followed by a final movement for the themes of which Croatian and London patriots have staked their various claims. The themes certainly have all the contours of folk-song, from whatever region, and are treated with consummate skill and imagination.
Haydn’s first visit to England began on New Year’s Day, 1791. Salomon had arranged a series of twelve subscription concerts, to be held in the Hanover Square Rooms, the first of which took place, after various postponements, on 11 March, and included a new Grand Overture by Haydn, probably the Symphony No 96, which was certainly played during the earlier part of the season. Its nickname, The Miracle, came about because of the miraculous escape of a number of members of the audience who moved forward to see Haydn when he appeared, thus avoiding being crushed by a falling chandelier. The first movement opens, as do most of the London symphonies, with a slow introduction, the solo oboe leading to the Allegro, in which the first violin proposes the principal theme, followed by a subsidiary theme in which the woodwind instruments at first answer the first violin. The development seems to end with a sudden pause, but what follows is in another key, leading eventually to the recapitulation proper. The G major slow movement allows the wind instruments a gradually increasing share, after the announcement of the principal theme by the first violin. There is a middle section in a minor key, before the return of the main theme, with scoring for two solo violins. The Minuet calls for the full orchestra, with its flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, while the companion Trio is dominated by the solo oboe. The finale is opened by the strings with the principal theme, a lively and delicate rondo that includes an excursion into the minor, with the same theme, and a contrapuntal development of the material.
Symphony No 98 in B flat major was introduced to the London public in 1792 at the third Salomon concert of the season, given at the Hanover Square Rooms on 2 March. Following the general practice in these concerts, the new symphony opened the second part of the programme, which was as varied as ever, including songs, symphonies, concertos for cello and for violin, as well as a clarinet quartet. The symphony differs in scoring from its predecessor, Symphony No 97, by the omission of one of the two flutes used in that work and in its unusual requirement of B flat trumpets. Again there is a slow introduction, beginning in B flat minor, its slowly ascending triad recalled in the opening of the Allegro. The same theme is heard in the dominant before the second subject proper, entrusted to the oboe, its long, sustained notes accompanied by repeated quavers in violins and violas. The opening figure of the Allegro provides material for the start of the central development, duly to re-appear to start the recapitulation and to dominate the final coda. The Adagio is in F major, its principal theme a hymn that suggests the anthem “God save the King”. The material is movingly developed and the recapitulation opens with the accompaniment of a solo cello. Trumpets and drums, omitted from the slow movement, return in the forthright Minuet, remaining silent with the horns in the Trio, with its doubling of first violins and bassoon. The Finale allows the first violins to state the principal theme, echoed by a solo oboe. The development calls for a solo violin, in a contrast of texture, while the extended coda slows the main theme, only to rush onward in notes of shorter value, its final bars allowing Haydn, at the keyboard, to add further modest embellishments in a series of accompanying arpeggios.
In 1794 Haydn returned to England once more, again at the invitation of Salomon, who had commissioned a further set of six symphonies. The Symphony No102 in B flat major served to open the second half of the first of the Opera Concerts, held in the King’s Theatre in 1795. The first movement opens with a slow introduction, followed by a lively theme played by the first violins, echoed by the flute, and a second subject of marked contrast, material that is used in the opening of the central development section, where the first subject is to return in the key of C, before the music moves forward to the B flat recapitulation. The F major Adagio includes muted trumpets and drums in its scoring and is in the form of variations that have all the feeling of improvisation. The familiar Minuet, its Trio opened by oboe and bassoon in octaves, is followed by a final rondo dominated by the theme announced in the first bars by the violins, a further testimony to the composer’s humour and imagination.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791)
Born in Salzburg in 1756, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart showed prodigious gifts as a child. These abilities were carefully nurtured by his father, whose own interests were sacrificed to his son’s advancement. Young Mozart spent his precocious childhood in a series of concert tours that took him to the cities of Austria and Germany, to Paris and to London, greeted wherever he stayed with curiosity and wonder. In 1777 Mozart left his position in Salzburg, where he had been appointed Konzertmeister, to seek his fortune elsewhere. His father Leopold Mozart, Vice-Kapellmeister in Salzburg, was not given leave of absence, so Mozart set out with his mother for Mannheim and then for Paris. The latter proved a disappointment. As a child Mozart had caused a sensation: as a man he proved less of an attraction, although he endeavoured to prove as best he could that he was not just “a stupid German”, to be treated with haughty disdain by the French nobility. In the summer of 1778 his mother died and in the autumn Mozart began his slow and reluctant return to Salzburg, where he was given another position in the court musical establishment, a place from which he was to secure final dismissal only in 1781.
The last ten years of Mozart’s life were spent in initially successful but precarious independence in Vienna. Here he was able to realise more fully his greatest ambition, as a composer of opera, a skill that he had hitherto exercised only in occasional commissions outside Salzburg. He excelled as a keyboard-player and pleased his audiences, until the novelty of his playing began to wane, while attracting amateur and professional pupils. An imprudent marriage in 1782 increased the expenses of living, in spite of his own optimistic forecasts, and his final years were rendered uneasy through the uncertainty of his income, coupled with the expectations that he and his father had long entertained. Mozart died after a short illness in December 1791, at a time when his new German opera, The Magic Flute, was drawing good audiences, and when it seemed that the tide might once again be turning in his favour. In his lifetime there were always contemporaries who had a proper estimate of his worth, including the composers Haydn and Beethoven. It has been left to posterity, however, to accord him something of his due as “the miracle that God let be born in Salzburg”.
Mozart wrote his first symphony in London in 1764–5, and his last in Vienna in August 1788. The last three symphonies, Nos 39, 40 and 41, were all written during the summer of 1788, each of them with its own highly individual character. No 39, in E flat major, using clarinets instead of the usual pair of oboes, has a timbre all of its own, while No 40 in G minor, with its ominous and dramatic opening, is now very familiar. The last symphony, nicknamed in later years the Jupiter Symphony, has a fugal last movement, a contrapuntal development of what was becoming standard symphonic practice. All the symphonies, of course, replay listening. Of particular beauty is No 29, scored for the then usual pairs of oboes and French horns and strings, written in 1774, the more grandiose Paris Symphony, No 31, written in 1778 with a French audience in mind, the Haffner, the Linz and the Prague, Nos 35, 36 and 38. The symphonies are not numbered absolutely in chronological order of composition, but Nos 35 to 41 were written in Vienna in the 1780s and Nos 14 to 34 mainly in Salzburg in the 1770s.
The first movement of the ‘little’ Symphony No 25 in G minor, so called to distinguish it from the greater work in the same key that was to be one of the last three symphonies Mozart wrote, is in the usual form, its dramatic first subject contrasted with a second theme in B flat major, marked by the repetition of a short rhythmic figure. An E flat major slow movement follows with all the simple yet subtle clarity of Haydn, in its close imitation of a figure played by the violins, followed by the bassoons, which in the first movement merely doubled the bass line and were consequently omitted from the surviving autograph score. The Minuet returns to the key of G minor, with a G major Trio scored for wind only, allowing the bassoons once more to enjoy brief independence. The last movement offers its first theme in bold outline and a gentler contrasting second subject, which is to return in the final section of the movement in the dramatic rather than triumphant key of G minor.
Symphony No 35 in D major, ‘Haffner’ was written in Vienna in July 1782 and is scored for pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, drums, and strings, to which Mozart later added flutes and clarinets in the outer movements. The work was commissioned for the elevation to the nobility of Sigmund Haffner in Salzburg and was in the form of a serenade, with two Minuet movements and a March. The additional instruments and the four movement form were designed for later use in Vienna. The whole composition was hurried, the commission coming at a time when Mozart was enjoying the success of his first Vienna opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and arranging the work for wind band before anyone else could profit from such an arrangement. It was in late July that he sought his father’s permission to marry Constanze Weber. The marriage took place on 4 August, presenting Leopold Mozart with a fait accompli.
Symphony No 41 in C major ‘Jupiter’ is the last of the final group of three symphonies that Mozart wrote down in the space of a few weeks during the summer of 1788. The same period found him writing a series of letters of increasing desperation to his fellow freemason, Michael Puchberg, asking for loans, the more substantial the better. Puchberg, who possibly was aware of an element of Mr Micawber in Mozart’s management of his domestic economy, sensibly refused to give him all he asked, but was generous enough in his help. The Symphony in C major, K 551, bears the date 10 August 1788, and is scored for flute, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, and strings. It was presumably intended to form part of the programme for a series of public concerts that Mozart had envisaged but that were never to take place. The first movement opens with an immediate and striking call to our attention, followed by a gentler addition from the strings, elements of great importance in what is to come. The strings introduce a second theme and a third, towards to close of the exposition. It is this last that opens the central development section of the movement, contrapuntal activity leading to the premature re-appearance of the opening figure and ultimately to the recapitulation proper. The slow movement, in the key of F major, makes use of a richness of harmony that sets off the characteristic pathos of the melodic material. It is followed by a Minuet and Trio that lead to the final movement, the contrapuntal features of which persuaded later commentators to describe the work as “the symphony with a closing fugue”. Some element of counterpoint is not altogether unusual in the last movement of a symphony, but Mozart here provides an inspired example of the technique, with a remarkable series of canonic imitations in the coda, as the instruments imitate in turn a series of thematic fragments from earlier in the movement.
Symphony No 38 in D major ‘Prague’ belongs to the last decade of Mozart’s life and was completed in Vienna on 6 December 1786, to be given its first performance at the Prague National Theatre on 19 January in the following year. The Bohemian capital had always held Mozart in special regard and during the composer’s visit the concert at which the symphony was played included Mozart’s keyboard improvisations, one on a theme from The Marriage of Figaro, a performance of which he directed two days later. It was for Prague that he was to compose the opera Don Giovanni in 1787, the year of the first performance of the symphony, which seems to have formed part of the memorial programme in the presence of Mozart’s widow and son Karl in 1794. Known sometimes as the symphony without a Minuet, containing only three movements, Symphony No 38 calls for an orchestra that includes pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings.
Symphony No 39 in E flat major, K 543, is the first of the last three that Mozart wrote and was completed on 26 June 1788, the day before a letter to his fellow freemason Michael Puchberg thanking him for money lent and asking for patience over its repayment. With all the confidence and optimism of a Mr Micawber he asks, at the same time, for a larger sum for a longer period, a request that Puchberg had the sense to reject. The E flat Symphony is scored for one flute, pairs of clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, and strings, the clarinets giving a particular colour and poignancy to the work. The first movement starts with a slow introduction, followed by an Allegro. The A flat major slow movement, marked Andante con moto and without trumpets and drums is followed by a Minuet and a Trio in which the two clarinets, in contrasting registers, come into their own. The Finale is of a brilliance to match what has gone before.
Symphony No 40 in G minor, K 550, is Mozart’s penultimate symphony, completed on 25 July 1788. The symphony, originally scored without clarinets, had these instruments added in a later revision. Unlike its companions it makes no use of trumpets and drums. It probably formed part of a concert conducted by Antonio Salieri, the Court Kapellmeister, with an orchestra of 180 players in April 1791. The symphony opens with an intensely dramatic theme, presented by the strings, leading to a gentler second theme, shared with the wind. The central development traces the opening figure through various keys, introducing a strongly contrapuntal element. The recapitulation, reached through a descending woodwind sequence, completes the movement, with the second theme now assuming particular poignancy in the minor key. The E flat major Andante suggests not only by its key something of the mood of the preceding Symphony No 39 in E flat major. It is followed by a Minuet with a contrasting G major Trio. The finale remains in the minor key, contrary to the more usual practice that preferred to dispel tragedy by optimistic triumph at the end of a symphony. The second subject, in the key of B flat major, still retains an air of melancholy, a characteristic properly maintained when it makes its re-appearance in the final section of the movement.
The splendid Symphony No 29 in A major, K 201, was completed in Salzburg on 6 April 1774, its composition falling between Mozart’s return from a brief visit to Vienna in the autumn of 1773 and a journey to Munich at the end of 1774 for the staging of his new opera La finta giardiniera. The symphony is scored for the traditional orchestra of strings, with pairs of oboes and French horns, and is in the usual four movements.
Symphony No 34 in C major, K 338, was completed in Salzburg on 29 August 1780. There is no certain evidence of its performance in Mozart’s life-time, but it was probably the symphony played at the first of the composer’s concerts at the Augarten in Vienna in May 1782. It is in three movements, although a Minuet had originally been intended, to be abandoned after a few bars. Scoring is for pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, with the usual strings. The triumphant opening movement leads to a slow movement scored for strings only, followed by a lively finale.
Symphony No 36 in C major, K 425, was written in the space of a few days at the castle in Linz of Count Johann Joseph Anton von Thun-Hohenstein at the end of October and beginning of November 1783. Mozart and his wife Konstanze had spent three months in Salzburg, their first visit since their marriage and the latter’s introduction to her father-in-law. On the way back to Vienna at the end of October they took advantage of the hospitality of Count Thun, who showed them great kindness. Having no symphony with him, Mozart wrote a new work, which was performed on 4 November. Further recorded performances during the composer’s lifetime took place in Vienna and in Salzburg the following year and in Prague in 1787, when he and his wife stayed with the Count in that city. The so-called ‘Linz’ Symphony is scored for pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, with strings, and opens with a slow introduction, followed by an Allegro into which the strings lead the way. The slow movement, in which the trumpets and drums still have apart to play, is in a gently lilting rhythm, the mood broken by a bold Minuet and a contrasting Trio, with solo oboe and bassoon against a subdued string accompaniment. A brief concluding figure, in the first part of the final movement serves its turn in the central development section and the symphony ends in a suitably festive and cheerful mood, a reflection of Thun’s hospitality.
Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770–1827)
Born in Bonn in 1770, the eldest son of a singer in the Kapelle of the Archbishop-Elector of Cologne and grandson of the Archbishop’s Kapellmeister, Beethoven moved in 1792 to Vienna. There he had some lessons from Haydn and others, quickly establishing himself as a remarkable keyboard player and original composer. Over the years increasing deafness, of which Beethoven was first fully aware by the turn of the century, had made public performance impossible and accentuated existing eccentricities of character, patiently tolerated by a series of rich patrons and his royal pupil the Archduke Rudolph. Beethoven did much to enlarge the possibilities of music and widen the horizons of later generations of composers. To his contemporaries he was sometimes a controversial figure, making heavy demands on listeners by both the length and the complexity of his writing, as he explored new fields of music.
Beethoven completed nine symphonies, the first heralding the new century in 1800, and the last completed in 1824. Although he made few changes to the composition of the orchestra itself, adding, when occasion demanded, one or two instruments more normally found in the opera-house, he expanded vastly the traditional form, developed in the time of Haydn and Mozart, reflecting the personal and political struggles of a period of immense change and turbulence. To his contemporaries he seemed an inimitable original, but to a number of his successors he seemed to have expanded the symphony to an intimidating extent. The best known are Symphony No 3 ‘Eroica’, originally intended to celebrate the initially republican achievements of Napoleon, No 5, No 6 ‘Pastoral’, and No 9 ‘Choral’. The less satisfactory ‘Battle’ Symphony celebrates the earlier military victories of the Duke of Wellington.
The initial inspiration for Beethoven’s Symphony No 3 seems to have come from the French envoy, Count Bernadotte, who had been sent to Vienna in 1798, taking with him in his entourage the virtuoso violinist and composer Rodolphe Kreutzer, to whom Beethoven was later to dedicate his most famous violin sonata. Bernadotte spent some time in Beethoven’s company and seems to have given him the notion of composing a heroic symphony in honour of General Bonaparte. The French had, by force of arms, established a number of republics and had compelled Austria to unfavourable peace terms at the treaty of Campo Formio. As First Consul it seemed that Napoleon embodied the virtues of the republic of classical Rome, an ideal that had a strong attraction for Beethoven
The score of the completed symphony was seen by Beethoven’s friends early in 1804, bearing on its title page the name Buonaparte at the top and the subscription Ludwig van Beethoven. At the news that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, Beethoven tore the page up, leaving on his own copy the words Sinfonia grande, with the added note in pencil Geschrieben auf Bonaparte. The completed work was in the end dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz, who payed 400 ducats for the privilege. A recent biographer has pointed out that Beethoven had expressed disillusion with Napoleon before he wrote the Eroica Symphony, but that at the time of its composition he was considering moving to Paris. There was, at the very least, a certain ambivalence in Beethoven’s attitude to the greatness of Napoleon’s achievement and to his apparent betrayal of republican ideals.
The Symphony No 3 in E flat major, Op 55, has a number of original features, including the substitution of a funeral march for the slow movement, a Scherzo for the Minuet, as in his second symphony, and a set of variations based on a theme from the ballet Prometheus, which appears first in skeletal form, for the finale. It is, besides, on a heroic scale, scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and drums, with three French horns and the customary strings.
Beethoven made his first sketches for Symphony No 8 in 1811 and completed the work in October the following year, during the course of a visit to Linz. The summer had taken him to the spa town of Teplitz, where he was to meet the great German poet and polymath Goethe, to little effect, while the subsequent journey to Linz was undertaken for the officious purpose of forcing his younger brother Johann, an apothecary in the town, to break off his irregular liaison with Therese Obermeyer, a woman that Johann married in November of the same year. Whatever anxieties he may have entertained at the time about his health or about members of his family, he created in the Eighth Symphony a work of clear optimism.
The Symphony No 8 in F major, Op 93, is scored for the usual orchestra of strings, with pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani. Of its four movements three are in sonata form, with its tripartite division of exposition, development and recapitulation, while the third movement Minuet is in a form that had long been traditional. The Eighth Symphony was given its first performance, together with the Seventh Symphony and other works, at a concert on 27 February 1814. To Beethoven’s chagrin it was greeted relatively coolly, the audience favouring in particular the Allegretto to the Seventh Symphony. He himself set higher store by the Eighth.
Beethoven’s Symphony No 5 in C minor, Op 67, is a work that has enjoyed enormous popularity. For some the work has become known as ‘Fate’, as the result of an alleged remark of the composer, reported by the unreliable Schindler, on the opening of the first movement—‘Thus Fate knocks at the door’. It has been left for others to point out that there is plenty of evidence for similar knocking at doors in other compositions by Beethoven, the initial rhythmic figure being one that he found to his purpose on other occasions. The early sketches for the C minor Symphony are found in notebooks of 1804, the period of the Eroica Symphony. The work was completed in 1808 and dedicated to Count Razumovsky, Prince Lichnowsky’s brother-in-law, the Tsar’s representative in Vienna and a patron of great munificence, while his money lasted, and to Prince Lobkowitz. It received its first performance at a concert on 22 December 1808. It seems that the Fifth Symphony was at first intended, like the Fourth, for Count Franz von Oppersdorff, from whom the composer certainly received some payment. By September of the year of its completion, however, Beethoven had sold it to the publishers Breitkopf and Härtel. In orchestration the Fifth Symphony shows innovations in its inclusion of the piccolo, the double bassoon and three trombones in the final movement.
Symphony No 6, the Pastoral, was first performed at a concert in Vienna in December 1808. The occasion was an important one for the composer, since it was likely to prove the only significant source of income for him that year. In preparation for the event he had put aside work on his projected opera Macbeth and on the alternative text of Bradamante, both supplied by Heinrich von Collin, and assembled a programme of phenomenal length. The works played included the Fifth Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto, a piano fantasia, items for soloists and chorus and, in conclusion, a Fantasia for the Pianoforte which ends with the gradual entrance of the entire orchestra and the introduction of the choruses as a finale, the Choral Fantasia. The concert was under-rehearsed, and Beethoven had met considerable opposition from members of the orchestra. In the Choral Fantasia instructions about repeats had been misunderstood, so that the work had to be started again, and Beethoven intervened with audible comments on mistakes.
Nevertheless the Sixth Symphony, which happily opened the concert, was well enough received, in spite of its unusual length. The advertisement for Beethoven’s December concert billed the Pastoral Symphony as ‘A Recollection of Country Life’, to be described by the composer, in a careful attempt to dispel any suspicion that he had written a crude imitation of nature, as more an expression of feeling than tone-painting. In some ways the work may be seen as a conclusion and summary of a tradition of music inspired by the country, although the Wordsworthian suggestion of emotion recollected in tranquillity is very much of its period.
In March 1824, Beethoven completed his Symphony No 9, a work that summarises much of his achievement, but was, of course, not intended as a final symphonic statement. Plans for a tenth symphony had been sketched before the composer’s death in 1827 and the first movement of this projected symphony has recently been reconstructed. Throughout his life Beethoven had shown a deep interest in the work of Schiller, the former army doctor who had become one of the leading writers of the German classical period. In particular the Ode to Joy, with its message of universal brotherhood, had been set to music by him in the 1790s, although the setting is now lost. It was this poem that was to provide the text for the great finale of the last symphony. The idea of introducing voices into a symphony was one that had been in Beethoven’s mind for some time. He had written his Choral Fantasia, a kind of piano concerto with voices, in 1808, and had always shown a considerable interest, in any case, in the composition of songs, an element in his work that is often underestimated. By 1818 he was planning a choral symphony making use of what he described as a pious song in the ancient modes as an introduction to a fugue, a celebration of the feast of Bacchus. In the 1820s this was to become the recitative and the stirring setting of An die Freude in the last movement of the Choral Symphony.
The first performance of the Symphony in D minor, Op 125, took place at the Karntnertor Theatre on 7 May 1824, after a great deal of wrangling over the whole matter, and was a tremendous success with a public that Beethoven thought he had lost to Rossini. The composer, too deaf to direct the performance, indicated the tempi of each movement, the real conductor Umlauf having instructed singers and players to pay no attention to Beethoven, who could hear nothing of the proceedings. The work is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and drums, with four French horns and the usual strings, to which the composer added three trombones, a double bassoon, a piccolo, triangle, cymbals and bass drum. The symphony was commissioned and paid for by the Philharmonic Society of London, but was dedicated by Beethoven to the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III.
The last movement provides a necessary link between the purely instrumental world of the rest of the symphony and the great setting of Schiller’s words. There is an abrupt outburst from the orchestra, now joined by the double bassoon, followed at once by a baritone recitative, an abjuration of orchestral convention and an exhortation to sing a song of joy. This is followed by the famous theme, in fact structurally the principal theme of a rondo, that is to be varied in so many ways. The baritone is joined by the chorus and then by the other three soloists in its declaration of human brotherhood.
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