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Haydn: Symphony No. 101 (“Clock”)

Haydn had expected to return to England in 1793 but the necessary agreements were not reached until the fall of that year, so he did not arrive in London until February 1794. During his interlude in Vienna he began to compose the six new symphonies that would be needed abroad, and also during those months he and Beethoven had their brief and not especially successful experiment at being master and disciple.For the new season Salomon’s concerts were moved to Monday evening, February to May 1794, and during these, Symphonies No.99, 100, and 101 were heard for the first time. Lacking suitable talent from the continent, he said, Salomon concluded his series at the end of the 1794 series. For the 1795 season, Haydn appeared in G. B. Viotti’s Opera Concerts at the King’s Theatre, which took the Monday evening slots vacated by Salomon. Here he presented his last three symphonies.

The history of music records few cases of composers who were as prolific in old age as Haydn. His powers continued to ripen; his energies were unflagging;his knack for tapping the enthusiasm of the public went unabated. The last six London symphonies operate on a more exalted intellectual plane still than the previous group and were yet even more popular. They are for a bigger orchestra, too, with pairs of flutes and clarinets and important work for the horns , trumpets, and timpani. (Until then, Haydn had not often used the clarinet.) And while he seems rather conscientiously to have brought his writing of symphonies to an end with this set, they are hardly his valedictory to composition: the two oratorios and six formidable masses were yet to come.

The Symphony No. 101 is, like the others in the set, formally inventive; something unusual happens in every movement. The nick-name, which describes the ostinato accompaniment of the second movement, apparently comes from a 1798 Vienna transcription of the movement for piano, where it was called “Rondo: The Clock.” The slow introduction to the first movement begins in D minor; the rising scalar figure in the first two bars, metrically inconclusive for a time, soon finds itself transformed into the lilting figure with which the Presto begins. The 6/8 meter here, which Haydn also uses for the first movement of the 103rd Symphony, is more commonly associated with rondo finales: its vivacity suggests a freedom from the customary first movement gravities. Yet the Presto is very broad of scale, a third longer, indeed, than most of his other first movements. There is, for example, an exceptionally long transition between the first and second themes, though the second is more a matter of continuing elaboration of the given material than studied contrast.

The imitative work in the development reappears in the recapitulation; note, too, how one purpose of the development is to reverse the upward-dashing eighth notes of the theme into downward scales. The “clock” movement seems to conflate rondo and variation procedures: you listen with growing delight as the simple rounded phrase structure gives way to a loud, busy passage in the minor mode, then turns just as suddenly to one of the most elegantly wrought moments in all Haydn: a return of the main theme in the first violins, with the tick-tock accompaniment split between solo flute and bassoon some two octaves apart. For an instant after the empty bar, you think a second minore is taking wing, but instead there is a developmental statement in a most foreign key area before the movement concludes with a lavishly decorated restatement of the opening phrases.

The minuet, too, is a protracted affair -Haydn’s longest. In the trio he offers a risible impression of the sleepy village band, with its hurdy-gurdy drones and piped solo. None of it quite works: the relentless drones from time to time imply the wrong harmony; the flute solo is altogether pointless; the violins go on too long; and the horns at the end of the trio hang on to their cadence point even when it manifestly clashes with the rest of the chord structure. On this sort of comedy Beethoven, too, was pleased to base the trio of the Sixth Symphony.

At first the strongly monothematic finale seems of ordinary sonata design, with the initial three notes achieving a strong motivic identity as it progresses. (The acute listener may note as early as the second phrase, however, some hints of contrapuntal delights to come.) An excited minor, reminiscent of harmonic turns in the first two movements, serves as a development; then, in lieu of an exact recapitulation, Haydn constructs a passage in high counterpoint from the main subject. Not until after a tutti restatement and a second, quieter one does Haydn consent to let the movement end.

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