Haydn: Symphony no 85 La Reine

Although Haydn’s duties as Kappelmeister kept him busy in the employ of the Prince Nikalaus Esterhazy, this did not prevent his reputation spreading beyond the borders of Austria/Hungary. It was probably in 1784 that he received a commission from the newly-formed Concert de la Loge Olympique Paris, an offshoot of the masonic lodge of the same name. The outcome was that he submitted six symphonies, Nos. 82-87, and they were duly performed to great acclaim at “La Loge Olympique” during 1787-8. The Hapsburg-born Queen of France Marie Antoinette attended the Concerts, and it was reported that she particularly liked No.85. Hence it gained its nickname “La Reine”. The Symphonies were so well-received that before the year 1787 was out publishers – not only in Paris but also in London and Vienna – were eager to get their hands on them.

Although the orchestral forces available to him in Paris were greater than Prince Nikolaus provided, Haydn’s orchestration for his 85th Symphony remained quite modest, viz. flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 french horns and strings.

1st movement Adagio – Vivace

The slow introduction occupies 11 bars, and then, with a change of time signature from 4/2 to 3/4, the Vivace commences quite gently. The first theme of the exposition, given to the strings, extends over a further 11 bars. The second theme then enters quite robustly, employing the full orchestra, and is of 8 bars duration. The opening of the exposition is now reprised with added woodwind. This leads directly to a lengthy transition based on the second theme, which modulates. Following a 2-beat caesura (gap) the second subject of the exposition arrives, in F Minor. It is bolder than the earlier themes, quite short – only 8 bars – and is heard in the flutes and 1st violins. This leads in turn to a reprise of the exposition’s second theme, but now in the Minor. Having run its 8-bar course, the early first theme reappears with a chromatic 10 bar extension, re-scored as an oboe solo in F Major.

Before the expected repeat (usually to be found in a classical Sonata form first movement) Haydn introduces two further short themes to engage the listener’s attention. The first is a chirpy quaver/semi quaver formation, given to the flutes and 1st violins. The second, following and rising in crochet steps is heard in the flutes, bassoons and lower strings. These lead to a second caesura, following which the whole of the exposition is marked to be repeated.

Following the repeat, a harmonic twist occupying two transitional bars leads into the Development in Eb. This is quite extended and Haydn reviews all his previous material with harmonic enrichment. Syncopated accompaniment from the 2nd violins adds to the rhythmic variety.

The recapitulation is heralded by a restatement of the movement’s very first Vivace theme, heard legato as a bassoon solo. Out of this the 1st violins, with a repetitive 3-bar motif, lead the whole orchestra back into the tonic of Bb major. With a restatement of the movement’s opening themes, and the second subject now harmonically enriched, the movement ends without any loss of momentum.

2nd movement. Romanza Allegretto

There is no truly slow movement in this Symphony. This refined movement is based on an old French folk tune. Following its statement, Haydn weaves four variations around it, the second being in the minor key. The theme is first stated by the violins, the wind being silent for the most part, and is set out in two repeated sections.

The first variation is the most intricate of the four variations, being tricked out with rhythmic skips, and it engages the whole orchestra. The “minore” second variation is given to the strings, with the flute joining in later. This variation has its own delights, opening as it does with a viola counter-melody to the violins in parallel sixths. The major key returns for the third variation, and the flute is prominent with its bird trill “appogiatura” in the second part. The fourth variation is entrusted to the solo bassoon, with oboes and violins. The second part of this variation employs the full panoply of Haydn’s orchestral sound. Without a specific marked repeat, it leads directly into the movement’s coda. Here Haydn reminds his listeners of the earlier minor variation in parallel sixths, now heard in major thirds.

3rd movement. Menuetto Allegretto

Haydn has laid out this movement in the conventional way. The minuet consists of two sections, each repeated. The first, of 8 bars’ duration, is for full orchestra. The second opens with strings alone, after which the full orchestra joins in, and is of 25 bars’ duration with an added 5-bar coda.

If the minuet can be considered a dance of the ballroom, Haydn imbues the trio section which now follows with the earthly character of a pastoral Ländler. Like the minuet it consists of two repeated sections of unequal length, with prominent solo passages for bassoon and oboe. The movement is completed with a restatement of the minuet, but without its repeats

4th movement. Finale Presto

This is the shortest of the four movements, but one in which Haydn displays all his skills with – as in the previous movements – an economy of musical material. It is laid out in sonata/rondo form in 2/4 time, but Haydn chooses not to repeat the exposition in its entirety.

The exposition is in Binary Form: A.B.A. Section A is sub-divided into two repeated sections, with the solo bassoon responsible for the first theme – the Rondo theme. Section B is centred on the dominant of Bb, namely F Major. It opens with a seemingly more vigorous rendering of the bassoons’ opening theme with the full orchestra engaged and the flutes, oboes and 1st violins. A sustained flute note, acting as a inverted pedal note, holds the music “suspended” for ten bars, while under the high note the violins hint at the Rondo theme. With the full orchestra joining in with a flurry of quaver/semiquavers, preparation is made for a restatement of the Rondo theme. This all leads directly into the “Development” where violas, celli and basses make their presence felt, with the rest of the orchestra contributing its full weight until a quaver caesura. With the restart, Haydn, with great ingenuity, treats his listener to 30 bars or so of a playful dissemination of the Rondo theme, touching on G Minor. This all dwindles down to an almost valedictory note for the 1st violins. Then, after a pause, the bassoon and strings restate the opening Rondo. Following a further single-quaver caesura, the Coda gently unfolds into a fragmented yet spirited version of the Rondo theme. And so ends what must be Haydn’s most mellifluous symphony!