i. Allegro assai ii. Adagio iii. Menuet and Trio iv. Finale: Presto – Adagio
The life of a professional composer to this day very often remains precarious, necessitating canvassing for commissions or sending scores to potential performers, unless there is reliable patronage available in the form of employment or retained artistic connections. For composers such as Mozart, Schubert and Beethoven the challenges were still greater, and penury was a spectre which haunted them for much of the time; Mozart for example, after a childhood during which his father touted him round Europe as an infant prodigy, found it hard to find congenial patronage, even getting sacked by the Archbishop of Salzburg, while Schubert constantly fell victim to his own inability to ‘market’ himself.
Haydn, however, spent his career in enviable security, having found and continued to satisfy a family of enlightened patrons, namely the Esterházys, one of the richer aristocratic families of the Austro-Hungarian empire, whose court was near Eisenstadt, south of Vienna in Lower Austria. Haydn was appointed deputy to the Kapellmeister in 1761 by Prince Paul Esterházy, responsible for everything musical except the religious music, and was retained the following year when Prince Paul died childless and was succeeded by his brother Prince Nikolaus, who would become one of the great musical patrons. Haydn became Kapellmeister in his own right in 1766, and would remain in the Prince’s employ until the succession of Nikolaus’s son Prince Anton in 1790 set in place a looser employment regime. Prince Nikolaus was known as ‘The Magnificent’ on account of his tremendous wealth and generosity, and it is an indication of the value he placed on music in his court and the esteem in which he held Haydn that the composer was the third highest-paid member of his court, after the property manager and the Prince’s personal doctor. How times change!!
Despite his full-time employment Haydn was occasionally free to travel to Vienna where from about 1784 he numbered Mozart as one of his friends and string quartet colleagues, and later taught an up-and-coming composer called Ludwig van Beethoven. It is also well-known that in the early 1790s he visited London for several years in two extended and very popular visits, having had his last twelve symphonies, Nos 93-104, commissioned by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon.
Of course this means that, whilst in the Esterházy Court, amidst all Haydn’s many secular and religious compositions he wrote dozens of symphonies for his resident, hand-picked Court Orchestra, developing the genre to the extent that he became known as The Father of the Symphony. His symphonies are full of vitality, beauty and wit, and it is clear that he must have been a genial and popular figure.
In the late 1760s and early 1770s Haydn’s symphonies numbers 41 to 49 achieved a new maturity as well as exploring a darker energy, and this has become known as his as Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period. It coincided with a similar driving force in literature, in which emotions were heightened and starker motivations such as greed and power were explored, a prime example being Goethe’s reworking of the legend of Prometheus. Two of Haydn’s symphonies from this period were given characteristic nicknames – No 44 is known as Trauer (‘Mourning’) and No 49, possibly the finest of this period, La Passione.
Parts of No 45, Farewell, also fit into this style; in this context the symphony’s first movement and the first half of the last movement could be descriptive of the discomfiture of the players in his Court Orchestra at the time. Their work at Esterházy required them to be away from their families for extended periods and on one occasion in 1772 they became extremely restless, whereupon Haydn, ever the diplomat and wit, decided on a musical means of gently nudging the Prince into allowing them to go home.
Imagine the scene: the final Adagio of the last movement was underway, and the Prince realised that the work had suddenly turned into something resembling a serenade. Suddenly 1st oboe and 2nd horn closed their music, blew out their candles and quietly left the stage. Moments later the bassoon, then 2nd oboe, then 1st horn did the same, leaving the strings, who then proceeded, desk by desk, to depart too. With the stage becoming ever darker, even Haydn himself walked away, leaving only the concertmaster and principal second violin, muted, to play out a final, poised duet before snuffing out their own candles. The Prince only took a moment to realise that Haydn had created a wonderful means of expressing his players’ needs without any confrontation.
Apart from its highly original structure, another unique feature of the Farewell is that it was the only symphony until the 20th century to be written in the key of F sharp. The first movement is in F sharp minor – only three sharps and not too tricky for most – but the MInuet and the final ‘serenade’ are in F sharp major, which has six. The work is scored for strings plus two oboes, two horns and a bassoon.
The opening Allegro assai (‘very fast’) is in true sturm und drang style – the 1st violins’ descending arpeggios are driven by lower strings and syncopated 2nd violins, with sustained block harmony in oboes and horns, the tensions exacerbated by rapid changes between extreme dynamics. Another complete contrast comes in the development where a new, elegant theme appears after a pause, before the recap restores the anguish.
The Adagio is in A, the relative major to F sharp minor, and despite the first theme’s disjointed nature, the overall impression is comfortable but with a suggestion of longing. The Minuet is in F sharp minor and forthright, with vitality being added by persistent syncopation. The Trio, led off by the horns, is more reflective.
The Finale begins dynamically, once again redolent of sturm und drang with mercurial changes of dynamic, and fights its way towards what appears to be a completed sonata-form movement, except that the halt is inconclusive. What follows is the further, final slow movement, which begins to sound valedictory, especially as the players gradually leave. It’s a uniquely imaginative conclusion not only to a marvellous symphony but also to a ticklish public relations challenge!