Symphony No. 45, "Farewell"
Length: 25 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 29, 1933, Otto Klemperer conducting
Of the reasons for a composer to write a symphony (the most common are a fierce urge, a commission, or just part of the job), the one to solve a management-labor problem is singular. But it seems to be the explanation for the existence of Haydn's Symphony No. 45. In his position as Kapellmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn was both employee and, in a sense, employer of the fine musicians who comprised the resident house band. In 1772, in what was an especially long season at Nikolaus' grand country castle (built in Hungary, at enormous expense, to compete with Versailles), the musicians, understandably lonely for their families and wanting to return to Vienna, sought their boss' help. The crafty Haydn did what any red-blooded Austrian composer would do: he wrote a symphony. But he waited until the last movement to press his case. There, when the music's dynamic momentum could bring the movement to a close, there is a pause, and an unexpected Adagio begins. As this new section proceeded, player after player finished his part (no hers in that orchestra), blew out his candle, and left, until only two violins (Haydn himself and Luigi Tomasini) remained, and they too followed their colleagues. 'Tis said, mission accomplished: the good Prince gave his musicians their leave.
The "farewell" on this, the Los Angeles Philharmonic's final program in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, its residence since 1964, signifies a parting long anticipated. The musicians' leaving-taking during the last minutes of the symphony is symbolic of their move across First Street to their new home, Walt Disney Concert Hall, beginning in October of this year. In effect, Haydn provided a wonderfully touching way for the Philharmonic to say goodbye to the scene of a significant era in its history.
Symphony No. 45's appropriateness on this occasion is second only to its absolutely first-rate quality. The "Farewell" stands out, quite apart from its unique purposefulness, as a particularly original, affecting work. Long before the programmatic adieu, the Symphony makes innumerable vital points. The first movement plunges immediately into a main theme of disarming sinew, with the first violins striding down an F-sharp-minor chord while the low strings accompany in relentless single notes and second violins maintain an aura of agitation with a repeated, syncopated figure. The main theme, strengthened with sudden accents and dissonances, pervades the entire first part of the movement, and not until the development section is there a contrasting lyric idea. It makes an appearance and is never heard from again.
The second movement is one of the great Haydn Adagios, warmly colored both harmonically (the major-minor inflections are heralds of Schubert) and in its scoring with muted violins throughout. The Adagio's gentleness carries over into a Minuet that glides with an unaccustomed grace, considering Haydn's usual bumptious dance movements. An old Gregorian melody sets an ecclesiastical tone in the Trio, which is dominated by horns.
The finale is all whiplash energy until the raison d'être appears. As the orchestra thins out, the atmosphere grows ever more pensive until, at last, the violins' duet speaks of farewell in poignant, rather than happily expectant, tones. In subduing his Prince, Haydn summoned a deep well of emotion.
-- Orrin Howard annotated programs for the Los Angeles Philharmonic during his more than 20 years as Director of Publications and Archives. He continues to contribute regularly to the program book.