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 Recording of the Week, Haydn - 'The Father of the Symphony'

Franz Joseph Haydn wrote his first symphony in 1759 (the same year that last week's featured composer - Handel - died). He is often referred to as the ‘Father of the Symphony’ and, although he didn’t strictly speaking invent the form, he was the composer who took it from a fairly insignificant part of musical life to one of the major forms into which composers of the next hundred years would pour many of their best musical ideas.

In total he produced no fewer than 104 symphonies, but he was only able to do this because of the more general changes taking place in how many musicians made a living. Previously, many composers (Bach being an obvious example) had been employed by the church and the majority of their compositions were therefore written for specific liturgical use within it. However, as the eighteenth century wore on, it was the nobility that became the principal employer, and composers therefore had much more freedom to experiment and write what they wanted to. Haydn landed the dream role of Kapellmeister to Prince Esterhazy while still in his late 20s, and this began a long period of financial stability with huge opportunities to refine his craft.

Franz Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn

With the Esterhazy orchestra Haydn was able to experiment with symphonic writing in a way that no composer had previously been able, and it was during his early years there that he produced his first great symphonies, Nos. 6 (Le Matin), 7 (Le Midi), and 8 (Le Soir). His style went through a number of phases as different facets of his musical growth came to the fore. In the late 1760s and early 1770s for example he entered a stylistic period known as "Sturm und Drang" (a term borrowed from the literary movement of the time). Here, his musical language became much more intensively expressive, and he wrote a greater number of works in minor keys. Symphonies like No. 26 (the Lamentatione) and No. 45 (the Farewell) are obvious examples.

After that his symphonies generally returned to a lighter, more overtly entertaining style, but still developing with many new features such as slow introductions to some of the first movements and often including parts for trumpets and timpani. By the end of his life his music had become hugely popular, and his style very sophisticated. In his late Paris and London Symphonies no two movements are alike, there are extensive transition sections and codas, and each instrument shares in the melodic development.

We’ve recently started a Haydn Special offer where you can enjoy discounts of up to 50%. There are some great recordings included, and of particular reference to the above is a very special limited edition box set of the complete Haydn symphonies performed by the Philharmonia Hungarica under Antal Dorati. These recordings, made in the early 1970s, are still regarded as some of the finest in the catalogue and are well worth considering while at such a great price. As mentioned above though this is a limited edition and won’t be around for long so it is worth moving quickly if you are interested.

Browse Haydn Special Offer:

Philharmonia Hungarica, Antal Dorati

Available Formats: MP3, CD Quality FLAC