The Classical Symphony: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven

CD 5 of 24

We now arrive at three titans of the Classical Age; Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791) and Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827), aka the Viennese School. For sure, no one has ever claimed that they invented the symphony; strides towards a symphonic structure had been taken to move music from the Baroque era to a new style. Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739) and Georg Christoph Wagenseil (1715-1777) were writing sinfonias, pleasant music in three movements, but really, comparing it to the titanic three, there music was lightweight and pleasant to the ear akin – nothing earth-shattering.

The symphonies we are now dealing with are works that are predominantly of four movements, with a tonal palette much expanded. The string section has grown considerably and the harpsichord, chirping along in the music on CD 3, has been dispensed with. Haydn expanded the instrumentation, Mozart added in woodwinds to not only add colour but to carry the main melody, while Beethoven’s brass added punch. And one thing which you won’t notice, because it is not audible, is that there is now the need for a conductor. With an orchestra reaching larger proportions, many in the band could no longer see the concertmaster, otherwise known as the lead violinist, from where they were sitting. One was needed to lead.

And without a doubt, this was music that was much more melodic and profound. Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 “The Surprise” opens with a slow, smooth introduction, leading to a stirring in the strings which breaks into a fast section featuring the main melody, or theme. The second movement is where the Surprise lies in ambush. Just as Haydn lulls us into a dreamland with a very quiet, little ditty – an ear-worm if you will; just try not humming this after you leave the concert hall! – we are jolted by one mighty WHACK! – our socks being knocked off when the entire orchestra crashes in.  In German, The Surprise Symphony is known as Mit dem Paukenschlag; a loosetranslation might be “knock the heck out of the drums when I give you the signal”.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 35 opens with a big bold statement stated in a large string section. Taking you by the collar, this music holds you rapt until the final notes have faded. Known as the “Haffner” Symphony , it was written for a childhood friend who was soon to be ennobled, one Sigmund Haffner of Imbachausen. Mozart had many fights with his father over the expected delivery time of this piece. This was argued about through their voluminous correspondence – and this long before the days of text messaging. Mozart, whom his father deemed a procrastinator, was requested to deliver the music in time for Haffner’s ceremony. Little Mo’ complained he needed time to set a wind-band arrangement of his opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seragalio), lest someone else beat him to it and reap the profits. So here we have our hero battling with his father in adulthood over not being good enough, fending off the eighteenth-century equivalent of digital pirates after his royalties, and, oh yes, putting up with his parents complaints about the girl he wanted to marry. The more things change….

Now, to arguably the most famous piece of music ever written, that of Beethoven and his Fifth Symphony. Sometimes called the “Fate Symphony” (more of which shortly), just think about it: what four notes are better known than da-da-da-dahhhh? I am positive that you are imagining this music already and all I have done is written down a few syllables.

What an opening! From there, Beethoven takes those notes, or motif, employing it throughout the symphony, elongating it, elaborating it, using it to provide unity across its four movements. Listen for at 40 seconds into the second movement. And like Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony, listen for the horn entrance in the third movement at 23 seconds – such drama after the lurking lower strings. At the outset of the Fourth, the motif returns outlining  a C-major chord – the light at the end of the tunnel after the fated C minot we started out in.
So what of all this “Fate”? Beethoven reportedly said of the opening``Fate is knocking at the door”. Fate of what kind? Well, he was having girl problems at the time - was Fate intervening in his relationship with the Countess Theresa von Brunswick? Unlike Mozart, Beethoven never did get the girl.  Or was it the sound of this profound opening that had one imagining that if Fate ever did come knocking, it would sound just like this? Well if this is Fate knocking, I hope that it will be sympathetic enough to give me another 30 minutes so I can hear this music one last time.

And when I do, I will be PLAYING IT LOUD! You should to. 


Recommended Tracks

Recommended Tracks

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809):
Symphony No.94 in G Major, Hob.I:94 - "Surprise" | 3. Menuet (Allegro molto)
Bernstein · Wiener Philharmoniker
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791):
Symphony No.35 in D, K.385 "Haffner" | 1. Allegro con spirito
Bernstein · Wiener Philharmoniker
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827):
Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67 | 1. Allegro con brio
Bernstein · Wiener Philharmoniker


(Please find our recommended audio excerpts for this CD on the bottom of the "Overview" page.)

      1. Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
        Symphony No.94 in G Major, Hob.I:94 - "Surprise"
        1. 1.
          1. Adagio - Vivace assai
        2. 2.
          2. Andante
        3. 3.
          3. Menuet (Allegro molto)
        4. 4.
          4. Finale (Allegro di molto)
      2. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791)
        Symphony No.35 in D, K.385 "Haffner"
        1. 5.
          1. Allegro con spirito
        2. 6.
          2. Andante
        3. 7.
          3. Menuetto
        4. 8.
          4. Finale (Presto)
      3. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827)
        Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67
        1. 9.
          1. Allegro con brio
        2. 10.
          2. Andante con moto
        3. 11.
          3. Allegro
        4. 12.
          4. Allegro
          Wiener Philharmoniker, Leonard Bernstein
    Playing Time 01:20:21