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Haydn: Symphony No. 45 “Farewell”

The wives were left behind in Eisenstadt when Haydn and his band of musicians -lusty and vigorous fellows in their prime -annually went to summer from May through October at the Eszterhaza
estate. Prince Nikolaus was right to take pleasure in his fabulous (and still new) castle of 126 rooms, with adjoining opera house, outbuilding for the musicians, an inn, a coffee house, and gardens with Chinese pavilion. But when, at the beginning of November 1772, he announced his intention to remain there for another two months, the musicians made known to their Kapellmeister that further to delay their domestic pleasure was to risk a work stoppage. Haydn’s solution (“I was young and lusty in those days, too,” he is said to have remarked) was to compose this symphony -with-a-message: at the end, one by one, the players blow out the candles on their music racks and leave the room. The Prince took the hint: “If they all leave, we must leave too,” he said with topically aristocratic understatement , then went to the antechamber to tell his musicians they could expect the necessary carriages the next morning. Thus the appellation Abshiedssymphonie, “Farewell” Symphony.

The work would be noteworthy even without the wittiness at the end, for it is one of the spate of instrumental compositions from 1771-72 that demonstrates the dawn of Haydn’s mature style, perhaps best summarized as an inexhaustible fertility and ongoing novelty of sonata design in all its particulars. The choice of the key (F# minor) is unusual (Haydn would not compose another symphony in the minor mode until the Symphony in C minor, no. 78, a decade later) and the key scheme of the movements correspondingly striking: F# minor, A major, F# major F# minor moving at the end to major.

The plunging minor triads that constitute the principal material of the first movement and the almost angry syncopations that lie beneath them are indicative of that affect called Strum and Drang (storm and stress). These qualities are, I think, made especially compelling by the choice and relatively sparse deployment of wind instruments, which seem to reinforce the urgency of the matter. The sonata  form is also uneasy: the arrival in the dominant, the customary position for a second theme, seems instead just another step in the working through of the main theme; the true second theme appears in the development, and the recapitulation recasts altogether what had been in the exposition. The effect is something like a through-composed rumination on the first eight bars, governed by the spirit but not the specifics of the typical sonata.

The Adagio is a sonata of gracious sentiment and, likewise, some adventurous harmonic and formal twists. Muted violins state the theme: listen for the manner in which the grace notes are transformed into on-the-beat, short-long rhythms that come to figure prominently in both melody and accompaniment. In the minuet, where metric and dynamic contrast is at issue, the oboes and horns are given more than an articulative function: the horns state the theme of the trio, which I understand to be related to a Gregorian chant of which Haydn was fond. The finale, also a sonata, is in the hurried, almost skittish fashion common to the Sturm und Drang.

Suddenly, when the recapitulation has run its course, Haydn thrusts the well-established F# minor into F# major: a charming triple-meter and triplet-dominated Adagio ensues, like something from a chamber divertissement or Nachtmusik. Oboes and horns emerge with a prominent turn, then oboe I and horn II snuff their candles and go: “No more,” says Haydn’s manuscript. This leaves, of the winds, oboe II, horn I, and bassoon, the last of whom has for the first time (having theretofore doubled the cello part) his own line notated in the score. The basoonist exits after four bars; a few bars later the oboe II finishes and leaves; a bar after that the horn I is done. Now there are only the strings, and their departures commence after the double-bass player has his long and comic solo. The violinists and assisting violinists soon are done as well, and the symphony would have ended with Haydn and his devoted concertmaster Luigi Tomasini playing the remainder, alone and very nearly in the dark.

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