Symphony No.9 in C major Hob.I:9 (1762)
The general numbering of Haydn’s symphonies was developed by a Dutch musicologist, Anthony van Hoboken, over a period of 30 years. It must have been a painstaking exercise, sifting through manuscripts and fragments, trying to determine whether they were Haydn’s work and then giving them an accurate chronology. The final catalogue ran for 1936 pages (available in German as a pdf here). The Hoboken Catalogue became the standard very quickly and the numbering of the symphonies has stuck for many years. However, as time has moved on, the limitations of Hoboken’s work has been slowly acknowledged, particularly with respect to the early symphonies. If you want to have a better understanding of the order of composition, then you can find a complete, chronologically correct sequence of the symphonies at the haydn107.com website (http://www.haydn107.com/index.php?id=22&lng=2).
When I started out on this project I decided to follow the Hoboken numbering of the symphonies. Thus, one of the challenges for me is trying to work out where each symphony might fit in terms of the development of Haydn’s craft. The truth is that it adds a little understanding to my appreciation of Haydn’s genius, but I would not say it provides a pradigm shift in how I am coming to view this music. This is not a case like Beethoven or Mahler, where chronology seems so significant in the development of the composer. In the end the pleasure in Haydn’s music comes from the thing itself, which is as it should be.
Haydn’s 9th symphony is chronogically the 23rd he wrote and comes from 1762, at the time he was aready working at the Esterházy court. Written in C major, it is another three movement work, with the Minuet and Trio acting as the closing movement. Being in three movements, the symphony is shaped in the traditions of the operatic sinfonia and overture with three contrasting movements: fast, slow and dance-like. After listening to the magical group of three symphonies No.6 to No.8 this symphony feels like a little bit of a let down, although it is in fact written a year later than those three richly inventive works.
The opening Allegro molto and the following Andante are, for me, foursquare and polite without really giving any sense of the orginality that marks out Haydn’s finest works. The use of dynamics, with forte and piano alternating, add some colour to the opening movement, but the general level of invention seems less than previously. However, the closing Minuetto-Trio (Allegretto) offers something different. The Minuetto is again is plain, simply spun. The surprise is in the trio section, where Haydn thins out the orchestration to the most delicate of combinations, with first a solo oboe skipping over the simple ¾ accompaniment of the strings, followed by solo oboe and horn then creating thier own dance with the bassons taking on the bass line, before the oboe and strings returning again. For me the Trio is a good example of the uncomplicated pleasures to be found in Haydn’s music. Perhaps not as sophisticated as Mozart, but joyous none the less and a beautiful shaft of C major light.
I have been listening mainly to the recording of this symphony by Antal Doráti, from his wondeful complete set, first released in the 1970s. For the last movement Doráti drops the continuo harpsichord he has been using, making the textures even lighter and sweeter. Hogwood, from what I hear, does the same thing. In looking for a video on YouTube I found one from another source and thought it might be fun to include, but then I listened to the last movement, where the harpsichord continuo was still being used to support the bass line. Now I am no expert or whether the use of a harpsichord is authentic or not, but in this case I immediately felt it took away from the joy of the whole atmosphere that Haydn appears to have striven to create. Sometimes it is better to leave the score well alone. So, back to Doráti and his rather magical oboist (pity about the graphics!).