29 Mar 2012

Haydn – Symphony No. 2 in C Major

Written by Jeff Counts

THE COMPOSER – FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) – It was just prior to his 30-year service to the Esterházy family that Haydn began his epic courtship of the symphony form. From around 1758 he was employed by Count von Morzin of Bohemia and though it was to be rather short appointment (in 1761 Haydn would move on to the vice-Kapellmeistership at Eisenstadt), the Morzin period did yield the first 5 of Haydn’s staggering 104 symphonies.

THE MUSIC – Haydn is rightly credited as the “father” of the symphony but music with similar formal DNA was being written well before he began to build his catalogue. The “Classical” symphony would eventually develop, thanks largely to Haydn and Mozart, into a more the intricate four-movement standard we now associate with the core history of the genre but the tripartite Symphony No. 2 is a work tied to the expectations of the late 1750s. While true that Haydn’s most celebrated achievements as a symphonist began during his Esterházy days (starting with No. 6), it would be wrong to relegate his first efforts to history’s dustier shelves. His earliest symphonies are notable for their ready mastery of several pre-existing ideas – the three part (fast-slow-fast) structure, dynamic contrasts, and shifting instrumental combinations that grew from the “Italian” overture model of the early 18th century – but they also contain hallmarks of his singular contributions to the art form. Symphony No. 2 is both traditional and “modern” in the sense that it blends the expected lightness of its time with some interesting (and, in a way, more serious) compositional innovations. From the start, Haydn displays the signature wit and creative spark that made his later works so instantly recognizable and legacy-worthy. Prince Esterházy certainly saw something important in the young composer’s Morzin-period symphonies, important enough that he offered Haydn the most significant job of his life in 1761.     

THE WORLD – 1761 was also the year of the third Pact de Famille between Bourbon rulers in France, Spain and Italy against Great Britain. John Harrison’s “Sea Watch” chronometer had its first transatlantic trial and the pencil company Faber-Castell was founded in Germany.  

THE CONNECTION – Haydn symphonies are performed fairly often on Utah Symphony Masterworks programs but these concerts represent a premiere of the Symphony No. 2.