Haydn — Symphony No. 45, “Farewell”
Haydn — Symphony No. 45, “Farewell”

His given name was Franz Joseph; but to generations of classical music devotees, he is known as Papa. It was a nickname that came into favor during Franz Joseph Haydn’s lifetime in the late 1700s, in the long period when he served as Kapellmeister for the Hungarian Court of Eszterházy. At the time, ‘Papa’ was simply a term of endearment for the composer and orchestra leader, who often served as a kind of father-figure to his younger musicians. Yet the name stuck for centuries, for a symbolic reason: When it comes to the core musical form of the orchestral canon, all roads lead back to Haydn and his brilliant innovation known as the symphony.

Actually, the origins of the symphony dated back far prior to Haydn’s birth in 1732. Derived from an ancient Greek word that referred to harmonious or concordant sound, ‘symphony’ was originally a term that referenced various instruments, particularly those that could produce more than one tone at the same time. As a term referencing a musical form, ‘symphony’ began appearing widely among the works of 16th and 17th century composers, who seemed to use it loosely and interchangeably with other words; most often it referenced collections of sacred vocal works.

By the time Haydn appeared on the musical landscape of Austria, the word ‘symphony’ most often applied to a three-movement instrumental work in which two fast movements sandwiched a central, slow movement. In 1759, Haydn himself penned his First Symphony in this form; his Second Symphony, written sometime within the following three years, also plays out in three movements.

But with his Third Symphony, Haydn introduced what probably seemed, at the time, a minor innovation: the inclusion of an additional middle movement in the form of a Minuet. Then highly popular as a courtly social dance form, the minuet had already made its way into the music of other classical composers such as Bach and Handel. But in adding a bit of dance music to his symphonies (and also, later, his innovations in what would become known as sonata form), Haydn established what would eventually become the primary long-form structure of orchestral music for more than two centuries.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that he left behind plenty of examples. In his lifetime, Haydn penned 104 “numbered” symphonies and an actual total of 108 symphonies – a far cry from Beethoven’s nine or Brahms’ four.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a relatively small handful of those many symphonies have endured as staples of the orchestral repertoire. Among those, one of the earliest is the 45th, written in 1772.

Haydn spent much of his career working as the court composer for Nikolaus Esterházy, a Hungarian prince who allowed the composer considerable creative freedom, demanding only that he produce new music regularly. Nonetheless, the relationship wasn’t always entirely carefree.

Haydn and his orchestra had spent that summer at the prince’s remote countryside castle, and as the weeks dragged on, the musicians began to grumble about getting home to their families. Haydn dealt with the issue by writing this symphony.

In the first three movements, the composer employs his signature techniques to exquisite form. But it is the final movement that provides the work’s clever raison d’être. After a vigorous opening typical of Haydn’s finales, the music suddenly shifts to a slow adagio. One by one, the musicians stop playing and exit the stage quietly, leaving just two violinists.

If the legends are true, the prince got the message: It is written that the very next day, the entire court returned to civilization.

Program notes provided by Joe Nickell

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