Subscription Concert No.836 A Series

Haydn:Symphony No.102 in B-flat major, Hob.I:102

Ⅰ Largo - Vivace

Ⅱ Adagio

Ⅲ Menuet: Allegro

Ⅳ Finale: Presto

Franz Joseph Haydn: Born in Rohrau, Austria, March 31, 1732; died in Vienna,May 31, 1809

During Haydn’s second and final extended visit to London during 1794-95, this city’s music lovers had the opportunity to hear innumerable compositions by this most esteemed musician, including the premieres of his last six symphonies, Nos. 99-104. With these works Haydn reached the summit of the classical symphony, for in quality, breadth and fertility of imagination, they collectively represent, in the words of Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon, “a magnificent summing-up, the great harvest of nearly half a century, while ... they open endless new vistas for other and later composers to explore.” Haydn led the first performance of No. 102 at the King’s Theatre on February 2, 1795.

The symphony opens with a broadly-spaced line that later engenders both the principal and subordinate themes of the Vivace section. The second theme is marked by pauses which unexpectedly interrupt the momentum to startling effect. The development section features many striking dissonances, and pulls all the movement’s themes and figurations into an extended passage of enormous energy. Haydn’s love of a good musical joke surfaces when the solo flute announces the principal theme with all the right notes, but in the wrong key - a classic example of a “false recapitulation.” The real recapitulation arrives later with unmistakable force and impact.

The Adagio movement too represents Haydn at the very peak of symphonic mastery. Not only is the gracious theme lovingly ornamented, but it is differently scored each time with uncommon beauty of tone and subtlety of textural effects. Haydn asks the trumpets and timpani to play con sordino (with mutes) throughout. Connoisseurs of Haydn’s copious chamber music output will recognize the movement as a re-scoring of a movement from the composer’s own Piano Trio in F-sharp minor, written about the same time as the symphony and transposed down a half-step.

The Menuet is rhythmically incisive and marked by harmonic boldness and well-defined textural and dynamic contrasts. The contrasting Trio section is pastoral and reposed.

The music historian Donald Francis Tovey calls attention to the “kittenish”nature of the finale’s principal theme, noting that “young tigers are also very charming as kittens, and this finale has powerful muscles with which to make its spring.” There is energy and exuberance galore, but also much humor. Near the end the first three notes of the theme keep getting “stuck” until the orchestra finally leaps out of the groove and races to an exhilarating conclusion.

Bruckner:Symphony No.3 in D minor, WAB103, “Wagner” (Nowak:1873 version)

Anton Bruckner: Born in Ansfelden, Austria, September 4, 1824; died in Vienna, October 11, 1896

The shadow of Beethoven and his canon of symphonies, especially the Ninth, loomed large over the nineteenth century. Two of Dvořák's nine symphonies are in the key of D minor (the key of Beethoven’s Ninth), and no fewer than three of Bruckner’s symphonies are in this key. The references to Beethoven in the symphony we hear at this TMSO concert are too obvious to overlook: the mysterious opening based on the D minor chord, which slowly takes shape as out of the void; the vast scale and scope of the symphony (its first movement may well be the longest first movement written up to that point); the awe-inspiring climaxes; and other points of reference.

But this is not the “Beethoven Symphony”; it is the “Wagner Symphony,” and the name comes from Bruckner himself. The story of how this came about is both touching and true. Bruckner had been a passionate devotee of Wagner since 1863 when he had heard Tannhäuser. In 1873, with his Second Symphony and the nearly-completed Third under his arm, Bruckner presented himself before the Master in Bayreuth, begging permission to dedicate one or the other symphony to Him. Wagner demurred over the Second, but he found much to admire (especially the opening trumpet call) in the Third. The fact that the Third incorporated several quotations from Die Walküre, Die Meistersinger and Tristan und Isolde surely helped to dispose Wagner toward this symphony (all but one of these quotations were later expunged).

Bruckner was 48 when he produced his Third Symphony (actually the fifth – there also exist a “study symphony” in F minor from 1863 and a Symphony “No. 0” in D minor). After completing the Third in 1873, he revised it the following year, then again more substantially in 1876-77, and still again in 1888-1889. Most frequently performed and recorded today is the 1888-1889 version, but Marc Minkowski is conducting the rarely-heard original 1873 score, which is considerably longer (it lasts about seventy minutes). The first performance of the original score was given by the Dresden Staatskapelle only on December 1, 1946 in the Kurhaus Bühlau, conducted by Joseph Keilberth, and the first recording waited until Eliahu Inbal conducted it in 1982.

For a work that impresses with its colossal power and cathedral-like blocks of sound, Bruckner’s Third Symphony is scored for surprisingly modest forces. There is no piccolo, no English horn, no harp, not even a tuba. The only percussion is timpani. Except for an extra pair of horns and a third trumpet (and of course a larger string section), it might be the orchestra for Mozart’s Magic Flute or Don Giovanni. But no one before 1873 had drawn such monumental, awesome sounds from an orchestra in a purely symphonic work – not Mozart, not Beethoven, not Berlioz, not even Bruckner himself. (Wagner certainly had in his operas, but not in symphonies.)

Like all Bruckner symphonies, the Third opens quietly in a mood of hushed mystery and expectancy. Over an ostinato pattern in the strings, the solo trumpet presents the initial idea of the first theme group. The music grows steadily, inexorably to a series of mighty outbursts for full orchestra interspersed with tenderly lyrical responses and pregnant pauses. The sense of breadth is astonishing. Eventually we hear the second subject, a radiant, flowing double theme for second violins and violas, each section playing a separate strand of the composite whole. The music seems to expand into space. Bruckner’s favorite rhythmic motif - the interplay of duplets and triplets - comes to the fore here. There is a third subject consisting of varied repetitions of a four-note motif for unison brass.

In the Adagio movement there are again three subjects. The movement rises through successive episodes to its highest peak, though Bruckner has obviously not yet mastered the art of how to descend from the empyrean heights to which he brings his listeners. Biographer Gabriel Engel captures the mood of this movement when he observes that the music “reflects the decades which Bruckner spent in the baroque splendor of ancient cathedral surroundings. More overwhelming with each symphony grows this air of grandeur, suggestive of the mighty, domelike structures of the Houses of God which nurtured and mirrored Bruckner’s lofty spiritual aspiration.”

The third movement is the typical Brucknerian scherzo derived from powerful rhythmic impulses and hurtling grimly towards its final cadence. Along the way, Bruckner does find room for music in a lighter vein, and the central Trio is a positively sunny episode in the spirit of a Ländler (an easy-flowing Austrian country dance, similar to the waltz) or folksong.

The complex finale is not without its structural problems, yet one cannot but be impressed by the colossal musical building blocks Bruckner assembles. At several points in the movement we hear episodes featuring an almost obsessive preoccupation with syncopation, which causes half the orchestra to sound like it is slightly behind. An apotheosis based on the symphony’s opening trumpet theme brings the symphony to a splendiferous conclusion.

Program notes by Robert Markow

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