Friday, December 9, 2016

Die Tageszeiten

No. 236 of the ongoing  ITYWLTMT series series series of audio montages can be found in our archives at

This is our last montage for 2016, and one that “feeds” an upcoming chapter of Project 366 (planned for March 2017) discussing “threesomes” in music.

We can highlight many fortunate instances of “musical threesomes” or sets of three related pieces of music. I remember reading once that Mahler’s nine symphonies could be viewed as a threesome of threesomes, as each tranche of three symphonies address specific periods of his life, and I think that tis brings its share of “insight” into an important corpus of the symphonic repertoire. Another such threesome is the set of Mozart’s last three symphonies (39, 40 and 41) which often get discuss and analyzed together.

There are fewer examples of “symphonic triptychs”, or a set of three symphonies purposefully composed as a group, a lot like Vivaldi’s quartet of concertos “The Four Seasons”. One such example is this trio of early Haydn symphonies known as Die Tageszeiten (The Times of the Day) with their French subtitles “Matin, Midi et Soir” or morning, noon and evening. Here is a fine introduction and analysis, reproduced here from Early Music Vancouver’s program notes.

Count Morzin was an aristocrat of the Austrian Empire during the 18th century and he is remembered today as the first person to employ Joseph Haydn as his Kapellmeister, or music director. Haydn lived at a time when aristocratic patronage was a necessity for a composer to survive and it must have been devastating for him when the Count fell upon hard times financially; Haydn’s position was one of the casualties.

When life closes one door, a new one opens, and Haydn was at the right place at the right time when Prince Paul Anton Esterházy happened to attend one of Haydn’s performances at the Bohemian summer home of Count Morzin. Haydn must have made quite an impression because when the Prince heard of his situation, he quickly offered him the position of Deputy Kappelmeister for his own court orchestra. Haydn signed the contract with the Esterházy court in May of 1761 and thus began one of the most prolific situations of musical patronage in all of music history, lasting almost exactly 30 years.

As we have written in past posts, Haydn used his situation as an opportunity to run a veritable musical laboratory. He is oft-quoted as describing his working life as such:

As head of an orchestra I could experiment, observe what heightened the effect and what weakened it, and so could improve, expand, cut, take risks. I was cut off from the world, there was no one near me to torment me or make me doubt myself, and so I had to become original.

Prince Esterházy spent some time in Naples as a diplomat and developed an Italian taste in music. His collection of Italian music included Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. It has been suggested that the Prince mentioned to Haydn that he should compose a similar set of pieces inspired by the different times of the day, and thus this trio of works, first performed in May or June of 1761.

Symphony No. 6 ‘Le matin’ begins with a slow introduction representing the awakening of the sun, followed by entrances of the flute and oboe evoking the pleasant chirping of birds responding to the dawning of a new day. This develops into moments of virtuosity for the entire ensemble, undoubtedly written to highlight not only Haydn’s compositional creativity but also the exceptional orchestra hired for the court’s entertainment. The second movement is more of a Corelli-inspired Baroque concerto for violin and cello than merely a symphony movement. The bass and bassoon are featured during the trio of the Minuet, with a return to the ensemble virtuosity for the Finale.

The 7th Symphony, ‘Le midi’ begins with another slow introduction which soon becomes more feverish activity as two violins and cello take over with the energized sense of purpose of mid-day. The second movement begins as a song without words for the violin by using the operatic device recitativo accompagnato (or accompanied recitative), another Italianate styling which surely pleased the Prince. The lower voices are once again in the spotlight for the Minuet and Trio, followed by a return to the fierce activity of the opening movement to close out the symphony.

As musicologist Daniel Heartz discovered in 1981, the opening melody of Symphony No. 8, ‘Le soir’, is identical to a song from Gluck’s French comic opera Le diable à quatre, performed in Vienna in 1759. It is likely Prince Esterházy saw the opera in Vienna and requested for Haydn to use it in his new set of pieces. The words of this song are quite cheeky:

I don’t like tobacco very much, I don’t use it much, often not at all, but my husband objects.  Presently, I find it tempting, if I take a little when alone, because it relieves boredom, no matter what my husband says.

The second movement, like the others, is another moment for the soloists to shine, starting with the violins, then cello, followed by bassoon. The Minuet features the woodwinds, with another bass spotlight for the Trio. For the final movement, the rapid succession of repeated notes in the violin and cello suggests the rumble of thunder during an evening storm, while the flute can be seen as either delivering lightning strikes or falling arpeggiated raindrops as an evocative ending to the evening.
The performance I used for this week’s podcast involves a “period setting” provided by the Hanover Band in their quasi-complete set of Haydn symphonies issued under the Hyperion label. These were  recorded in February 1991.

I think you will love this music too.

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