1989, Music

The Paris Symphonies (1989) by Joseph Haydn, performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Sigiswald Kuijken

This is a collection of all six of Haydn’s “Paris” symphonies and is probably as close as one can get to a definitive collection of Haydn’s music on two discs, as he wrote so many damn symphonies (104 I believe).

The first symphony, No. 82 (aka “The Bear”), was apparently written last. And that seems relatively apparent. The opening movement is rather striking . But it’s the finale where Haydn really goes crazy: there’s a drone, a drone! A DRONNNNNNNNNE!!! It’s not much of one compared to, say, what you would find in Indian music of the time, but then Haydn had no idea about Indian music. The drone apparently came from listening to bagpipes or something like them that would be played by street performers. I can’t get over this, I really can’t. This is the craziest thing I think I have ever heard in the Classical era outside of maybe some of CPE Bach’s stuff. Just bonkers.

The second symphony, No. 83 (aka “The Hen”) has some neat rhythmic ideas in its opening that separate it from a lot of other music at the time. It is a little less inventive in the later movements, but I gotta say that I love that opening. And the rhythmic invention comes back (a little) in the finale.

The third, No. 84 (aka “In nomine domine”) contains a few neat tricks and is generally pretty compelling. It’s a lot more conventional to may ears than the “first” two, but only because those (especially the “first”) are so out there. Still, I like it a lot and you can sort of hear Haydn lightly playing around with conventions in a couple of the movements.

The fourth, No. 85 (aka “The Queen”), begins with one of Haydn’s patented borderline Romantic, dark openings, before moving into more of what we wold expect from a High Classical symphony. It’s apparently kind of post modern, as it references Symphony No. 45 – though I must say I missed that myself – and one of the movements is stolen from a folk tune which is, once again, very Romantic of him.

The fifth, No. 86, is probably the least interesting to my ears, though the first movement changes time, so that’s something cool. Apparently he avoids being properly tonal in the very traditional sense, but as someone who grew up in the late 20th century, that’s kind of hard for me to hear.
The final symphony, No. 87, is usually thought to be the weakest of the batch but I actually like it more than No. 86. It has a pastoral quality to it that I guess I find lacking from much of Haydn’s work (huge qualifier: that I have heard).

This is an excellent collection. And, aside from the fact that he wrote over 100 symphonies, and was one of the earliest to write symphonies, it’s a solid group of works like this – all written within a year or two of each other! – that makes it obvious to me why the man is known as the Father of the Symphony.

I always thought I would be a Romantic and post-Romantic symphony kind of guy, bust listening to Haydn, especially to these Paris symphonies, has made me rethink my stance on Classical.


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