No Hidin’ from Haydn!

March 31, 2010 at 6:33 pm | Posted in Classical Composers | Leave a comment
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Ha – ha – ha – Haydn!! I love classical music of many kinds, but I know many people who think it’s old fashioned, dry, and boring. Perhaps they have not heard the music of Franz Joesph Haydn or learned about the stories behind the music. Haydn’s unique sense of humor may be heard in delicate, subtle ways throughout his music. At the least, he certainly knew how to bring a point across to people!


Happy 278th Birthday Mr. Haydn! (March 31, 1732)

For example, what would you do if your Princely employer had you composing dozens of symphonies and chamber music for the estate’s private orchestra (which, of course, you were expected to train, rehearse, and manage); entertaining the Prince’s guests with operas (again, a multi-task job – composing, rehearsing performers, training singers, staging, directing, and so forth); composing and leading all the music for mass; organizing and caring for the instruments and music library; and performing on numerous instruments at the Prince’s command? What if this same employer, the Prince of Esterhazy, expected perfection at a moment’s notice 24 /7 without any days off? What if the musicians under your management complained to you about having no vacation? How would you approach the boss to allow all the musicians to take a needed rest?

Wanting to please his orchestra but not upset the Prince, Haydn came up with a clever way to gently hint and persuade his employer. Haydn simply did what he did best ~ compose music! But this piece was a little different. He easily created three movements common to symphonic form, but, instead of using a fast movement, slow movement, and ending with another fast movement as expected, Haydn decided that the orchestra should demonstrate how tired they were near the end by slowing down for the Prince’s audience. As the piece progressed, a few musicians would blow out their candle, take their music and instrument, and depart from the stage as written in the music. A few minutes later another group of musicians would do the same until the end where only Herr Haydn was left. The Prince took the hint and allowed them to take leave and join their families. This 45th Symphony, better known as the “Farewell Symphony” or “Candle Symphony”, has become one of Haydn’s most famous displays of musical humor!

Symphony #45 ~ The “Farewell Symphony” ~ 3rd and 4th Movements

Another extremely popular piece by Haydn is his Symphony #94 or “Surprise Symphony”. Surprise? What’s the surprise? As you know, many classical pieces are fairly long (especially in comparison to the couple minute songs we are used to on the radio)! Apparently some members of his audiences would become relaxed during the performance, so relaxed, in fact, that listeners would nod off for a wee nap in the middle! (You wouldn’t fall asleep sitting still during a 20 minute slow movement, would you?) Wanting his audiences not to miss a note of his music, Haydn decided to help them stay more alert by issuing a few surprises along the way. Imagine Haydn’s distinguished guests in their best gowns and suits; their newly powdered wigs placed just right upon their heads as they sit to enjoy an afternoon of beautiful music. The string instruments begin the main motif of the piece ever so gently and quietly. On it continues as other instruments join them softly. Just as the guests feel their eyelids starting to droop at the pretty pianissimo (very soft), ha – ha – ha – Haydn issues the first surprise with a fortissimo (very loud) chord by the entire orchestra! I can just imagine the jumps and surprised looks on the faces of the listeners as they woke up abruptly! Haydn and the orchestra stayed cool as a cucumber as they continued at pianissimo as if nothing unusual had happened. Softly and sweetly the melody flowed until the audience became relaxed again when Haydn issued the second surprise!! LOL! I would think that his audiences paid much better attention at subsequent performances!

Symphony #94 ~ The “Surprise Symphony” ~ 2nd Movement

It must have been quite a bit of fun to play in Haydn’s orchestra! I’m not sure I could have kept a straight face for very long!

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