Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy (1791)
Royal College of Music Museum of Instruments
The “father of the symphony“, as Haydn is nicknamed, completed this particular work in 1787: it’s not a symphony with a title – like the “Drumroll” or the “Clock” – and it does not belong to a bigger series like the London symphonies.
It did become, however, incredibly popular and well-rooted in the repertoire. It holds, in fact, the wittiness, the humour, the elegance of the classical period perfectly nested into an almost mathematical construct.
Joseph Haydn – An analysis of the 1st movement of his symphony n.88
In case you don’t have it at hand, here’s a quick link to the score.
The first movement begins with a short introduction, quickly settling on the dominant to prepare for the Allegro. The strings open the Allegro, with the main theme, and the rest of the movement develops from here. The form is a monothematic sonata form like we’ve seen in Haydn’s symphony n.104; both the exposition and the development make use of a single melodic idea.
Haydn opens the Adagio with a 4 bars phrase split in 2: a forte question
Naturally, we land on the dominant. The question is reiterated, shortened, while the answer is expanded. All in all, in perfect classical era balance, we end up with 8 bars.
Haydn proceeds to a repeat of the first phrase, or so it seems initially.
The chords model is instead repeated three times. The answer is, once more, a model based on the first answer repeated 3 times.
We have a total of 6 bars now. But the phrase needs to finish: hence the last 2 bars, on a pure dominant chord, bring the number of bars back to 8.
The first musical choice you have to make lies in the tempo: is it in 3 or in 3 subdivided? The choice you make will inform your technique. There is one common denominator between the two: the pulse before the 16th notes is essential in both cases.
For a full technical analysis, look up the video in the repertoire section
This content is available for free with all memberships.
Already a member? Login here.
Not a member yet? Subscribe today and get access to more than 80 videos, scores analysis, technical episodes, and exercises.
As much as it is not easy to write a symphony with 2 or 3 themes, it is even more difficult to keep the attention of the listener when there is only one of them. As we’ve seen here, Haydn is a master in putting the same material through different transformations.
The tough part is now left for the interpreters: finding a balance in bringing out the details without sounding pedantic or losing the overall picture is no small task.