Music reviews for music published during the decade of the 1780s.
1. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 82 in C major ‘The Bear’ (10/10)
The first “Paris” 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 DRONNNNNNE!!! 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.
1. Joseph Haydn: Die Sieben letzen Worte [String Quartet version] (10/10)
This is supposedly an “instrumental” oratorio. Haydn first wrote it for orchestra (with no vocals!). Then he adapted it for String Quartet. Then he adapted it for Choir (as if it was an actual oratorio). Then he “approved” an adaptation for solo piano, but apparently didn’t write that one himself. This is the String Quartet version, obviously. It is considered the most popular version of the piece, which I guess makes me okay with listening to it over the orchestral original.
I am a sucker for String Quartets and Haydn is the Father of them. (He didn’t invent them, but he was the first composer to write a lot of them, and to establish the conventions of the genre.) Given the piece’s origins, it is not a conventional Quartet: it’s nine movements long, for example, instead of the usual three. The music is played every Holy Week in Cadiz, and has been for centuries apparently, so it makes sense to hear a Spanish ensemble’s version.
I have no idea what this is supposed to sound like but I absolutely love this recording. It strikes me as rather sophisticated for its era – it sort of sounds like a collection of separate pieces, like a cycle – and my ears would have a hard time dating it, if I didn’t know when it was written. The music itself is gorgeous and I can understand why it’s so popular.
It’s an absolute masterpiece, and I have trouble putting into words how much I like it.
1. Joseph Haydn: String Quartets Op. 33 ‘Russian’ (10/10)
Though these quartets were written after the great “Sun” quartets (perhaps because they were written after) I like them a lot better initially. They sound a lot more like my idea of what a High Classical quartet should sound like. Though their forebears were undoubtedly the more innovative and revolutionary set, these are the more appealing,perhaps because they don’t sound so old. Perhaps with these, more than any other set, you can hear why he is the Father of the String Quartet. The individual instruments are all distinguishable, they all their important parts to play and, of course, they are incredibly tuneful. And Haydn incorporates his sense of humour into more than one of them, something that sets him apart from other composers (to my ears).
4. Joseph Haydn: Keyboard Sonata No. 51 in E-flat Hob.XVI:38 (10/10)
The 51st appears to be the most famous here as it is the only one with a wikpedia entry. It constantly shifts tempos and seems to jump all over the place. Though a couple parts are hummable most of it shows off the player’s ability. You often think it’s about to head to cliche/convention, but then it does not. I can see why it’s famous.
5. Joesph Haydn: Symphony No. 83 in G minor ‘The Hen (9/10)
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.
6. Joseph Haydn: Cello Concerto No. 2 in D (9/10)
The second cello concerto was once thought to be the only surviving one. (At one point, five cello concerti were attributed to Haydn; it’s down to three and one is lost.)
This is a lot more laidback than the first, which gives it an entirely different aura than the earlier work. It is, at times, significantly different in tone than I would have expected from a work of its era. So, at least initially, I like it more than the first. For example, the first movement has a pretty crazy solo passage.
7. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 85 in B flat major ‘The Queen’ (8/10)
The fourth “Paris” symphony, 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 po-mo, 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.
8. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 84 in E-flat major ‘In nomine domine’ (8/10)
The third “Paris” symphony, 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.
9. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 87 in A major (8/10)
The final “Paris” 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).
10. Joseph Haydn: Keyboard Concerto No. 11 in D (8/10)
This is apparently the only keyboard concerto of Haydn’s that might have actually been written for piano (maybe, it might have been written for harpsichord). It is the most famous of these concertos and supposedly the most Mozartian (which explains why I am not absolutely loving it, har har har – Mozart was overrated. Ahem). The piano part is showy (in a good way) but the orchestra sort of feels like an afterthought a lot of the time – in the first movement particularly. It was early days for the genre (invented by Bach – maybe? – only half a century earlier) and so that’s entirely understandable. But the music often feels like it’s introducing the piano passages, as if our ears were not to be trusted to just the piano. But the slow movement brings to mind the “Moonlight” sonata, so that’s cool.
11. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 86 in D major (7/10)
The fifth “Paris” symphony, 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.
12. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 88 in G major (7/10)
The 88th symphony is exactly what I was expecting from a Classical era symphony. I guess that’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I’m sure it’s a fine exemplar of the style, but I can’t say I love the style.