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Symphony No. 88 in G major
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
composed circa 1787
At a Glance
Haydn probably wrote his Symphony No. 88 in 1787. The same year that he completed — and dated the manuscript for — a companion work (creating a pair of symphonies to be published together); that symphony, now known as No. 89, included two movements adapted from a concerto completed in 1786, giving us fair certainty of when he was writing each).
This symphony runs about 20 minutes in performance. Haydn scored it for flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
The Cleveland Orchestra first performed this symphony in March 1935, under the direction of Rudolph Ringwall. It has been presented on only a few occasions since then, most recently at Severance Hall during a weekend of concerts in October 1997 and at Blossom in August 2001.
About the Music
Between the year of Haydn’s first symphony, 1761, and the year he composed his last, 1795, the world of music changed quite substantially — not least as a direct result of the unparalleled craft and evolving creativity of Haydn’s own 100 and some symphonies. (The official catalog list of the composer’s numbered symphonies ends at 104, but some of those are now considered either not to be by Haydn or arrangements he made of other composers’ works as a method of study, while additional manuscripts suggest additional symphonic creations beyond the numbered set.)
In 1761, the influence of the Baroque was still manifest in many areas of music. Bach and Handel had died only a few years earlier, and Mozart was only 5 years old.
By 1795, however, Mozart had been dead for four years and the young Beethoven was introducing his first two piano concertos in Vienna. Mozart had given the world a vast range of concertos, symphonies, and other works, moving with — and helping to shape — changing audience expectations. The Baroque was done and over. The Classical era was at its height.
Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 was probably written in 1787, at the behest of violinist-turned-businessman Johann Tost, a friend of the composer’s who intended to sell it to a publisher in Paris. Haydn was already quite popular in France, having recently completed his six “Paris” symphonies (Nos. 82-87) for a concert series there. In the end, however, No. 88 and a similarly-styled companion work, Symphony No. 89, were printed not in Paris but in Vienna by Haydn’s regular publisher, Artaria.
The hallmarks of Haydn’s mature symphonic style are all present in No. 88. It is built within a four-movement framework (the “symphony” form had evolved from dance suites of a varying number of movements). This structure is then outfitted with a customary sequence: a slow introduction, a songful slow movement, a folk-inspired minuet, and a spirited finale.
Yet in this work Haydn treated the conventions of form (codified, to a large extent, through his dozens of symphonies) with the freedom of a genius, investing each work with an individual personality. Writing for the sophisticated audience of Paris — and, a few years later, that of London — he could be confident that his subtle jokes and surprising gestures would be readily recognized, understood, and appreciated.
There are many such jokes and surprises in Symphony No. 88. The main rhythmic idea of the opening movement Allegro appears in a great variety of melodic shapes, in different keys, instrumentations, and degrees of loudness; as you listen, it is very difficult to predict what form it will take next.
The second movement is in a slow Largo tempo, as opposed to the more moderately-paced “Andante” movements that Haydn often employed in his \symphonies. Aside from its beautiful melody, the orchestration deserves special attention. The opening duet of a solo oboe and a solo cello (playing in octaves) is a unique touch, as is the sudden eruption of the trumpets and kettledrums (timpani) in the massive statement for full orchestra that follows the opening melody. Trumpets and kettledrums were almost never used in slow movements at the time; this was the first Haydn symphony to depart from that norm. (To emphasize this novelty, he omitted these instruments from the first movement, saving their first entrance for this unexpected spot.)
The minuet third movement has the rustic character of the Austrian Ländler dance that Haydn loved so much (Gustav Mahler, a century later, also utilized this dance form regularly). In the movement’s Trio section (more or less the “middle section” of the movement), the bassoons and lower strings imitate bagpipes, for a fun and novel kind of sound.
The main theme of the finale fourth movement resembles an Austrian contradance. Its highly ingenious development section culminates in a passage where the theme is played in canon (like “Row, Row, Row your boat” sung in overlapping sequence), but with higher and lower strings just a beat apart. The resulting sense of unbounded and limitless energy — and careful ensemblework required — is a unique and fun-filled touch. —Peter Laki © 2017
Copyright © Musical Arts Association
Peter Laki is a visiting associate professor at Bard College and a frequent lecturer and writer on music.