Skip to page content

Composed: 1761
Length: c. 23 minutes
Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, harpsichord, and strings

First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: October 11, 1984, Christopher Hogwood conducting

That Haydn wrote over 100 symphonies is hardly a secret. That he didn’t set out on this gigantic course until he was almost 30 years old is less frequently broadcast. The earliest years of his career had seen the creation of numerous keyboard sonatas, divertimentos for all conceivable instrumental combinations, concertos, church music (some of it of great distinction), a German opera (since lost), as well as – in 1756 – the first string quartets worthy of the designation.

The quartets were written while Haydn was serving his first employer, Carl Joseph von Fürnberg, who had only a small musical establishment as his disposal. The larger forces employed by his subsequent patron, Count Morzin, whose music director Haydn became, facilitated experimentation in all forms, including the symphony, of which five examples exist. By 1761, however, Morzin’s free-spending ways brought him to the brink of financial ruin and he had to disband his orchestra.

Haydn hardly felt the blow. His reputation was already sufficiently lofty to gain him a new post immediately, this time with the powerful, phenomenally wealthy Esterházy family. Haydn became their Vice-Kapellmeister – the aging Joseph Gregor Werner was Kapellmeister and after his death was replaced by Haydn, beginning a relationship with the Esterházys that would last for a half-century.

Among the first scores Haydn would write in 1761 for his new master, Prince Paul Anton, are the symphonic triptych the composer called “Le matin” (Morning), “Le midi” (Afternoon), and “Le soir” (Evening), premiered in a single evening in the great hall of the Esterházy Palace in Vienna.

Programmatic works of this sort were all the rage during the Baroque, and Haydn takes over many of the procedures of the age then coming to a close, most notably in his adaptation of concerto grosso form, that is, a small group of solo instruments pitted against and interwoven with a larger ensemble.

The D-major Symphony’s first movement is introduced by a brief Adagio crescendo (ascending, of course), an inescapable portrayal, launched by unaccompanied first violins, of the rising sun. The bird-like flute (imitated by the pair of oboes) launches the Allegro proper. At the end of the development the celebrated-to-be Haydn wit is exemplified by the solo horn that, as if in error, repeats the opening of the flute tune. The slow movement has been described by the British musicologist Richard Wigmore (in his excellent Faber Pocket Guide to Haydn) as a “comic sendup of a music lesson, the solo violin showing his incompetent ‘pupils’ how to play a simple rising scale, continues with a galant duet for violin and cello, and ends with a solemn peroration that could have come straight from a Corelli concerto grosso.” There is obvious parody as well in the D-minor trio of the minuet, with its curlicue-ing bassoon solo and grumbling cello. The finale is a dashing affair, with each of the wind instruments – and the flashy violin of Haydn’s orchestra leader, Luigi Tomasini – having its moment in the solo spotlight.

- Herbert Glass