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Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off
Richard Taruskin
Addressing Throngs

fig. 10-9 Anonymous portrait of Haydn painted in 1795, showing the score of the “Surprise” Symphony open on the piano.

Every point made in the foregoing paragraph applies fully to the Symphony in G major (no. 94in the standard numbering), the one first given in London on 23 March 1792. Everything about it exemplifies the trend toward big public utterance. Most conspicuously, the London symphonies augment the sheer performing forces so that the normal Haydn orchestra now includes, as standard operating equipment, pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpets, and horns, as well as kettledrums. A close look at the first movement of No. 94, moreover, will reveal another aspect of “Grand Overture” style—the rhetorical techniques by which Haydn now addressed large crowds. Again, having the score at hand is highly recommended.

The slow introduction (Ex. 10-7a) begins on a pastoral note, unmistakably sounded by the horn with its bagpiper drones on the tonic pitch. “Characteristic” or “topical” gestures like this were practically de rigueur in big public symphonies. The biggest success Haydn ever enjoyed with a London audience came with another G-major symphony (no. 100 in the standard numbering), first performed on 31 March 1794, during Haydn’s second London visit. Its slow movement featured unexpected solos for bass drum, triangle, and cymbal—marching-band percussion—for which reason the work became immediately famous as the “Military” Symphony. Like all symphonic slow introductions, the one in Symphony no. 94 proceeds through a FOP to a “half cadence” on the dominant: its essential function is to enable a running harmonic jump on the fast music to enhance the all-important rhythmic/tonal momentum that is the virtual raison d’être of a “subscription symphony’s” first movement.

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ex. 10-7a Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 94 in G (“Surprise”), I, slow introduction

Notice a trick already familiar from the “Joke” Quartet: Haydn leaves the slow introduction hanging on the seventh of the dominant-seventh chord, so as to “point” all the more urgently at the main body of the movement and produce a moment of “electric” silence, the silence of intense expectation. There will be a lot of electric silence in this movement, as in all of the “London” symphonies. Another thing that breaking off on the seventh of the chord mandates, of course, is that the first note of the main theme is going to have to be the third degree of the scale, the note to which the seventh has to resolve. This happens so often with Haydn that a theme beginning on the third degree is virtually his stylistic fingerprint.

The amazingly pliant theme that now begins in this way is novel in our experience: everything about it is geared toward momentum, with the result that it almost doesn’t register as a melody the way previous Haydn themes have done. It never has a chance. It is only four bars long—or not even that long, really, since (and this is the real point) it does not come to a proper end. Its interrupted cadence is the most significant and calculated thing about it (Ex. 10-7b).

Taking an even closer look, we see that the whole structure of this tiny theme is pointed ineluctably toward the cadence that never happens. The tune begins on the second half of the bar and unfolds sequentially, which means that every measure points rhythmically to the next—and harmonically, too, since the initial pickup is unexpectedly harmonized with a chromatic tone—G♯, the leading tone of the “V of ii”—initiating a miniature tonal trajectory that proceeds by half measures through the circle of fifths, putting off the tonic demanded by the slow introduction for another couple of measures. And when it comes, on the downbeat of the second full measure, that long-awaited tonic is immediately weakened by the use of contrapuntal sleight-of-hand: an accented passing tone in the first violin, followed by an inversion of the whole texture, the second violin entering in the second half of the bar with a rhythmically compressed imitation at the lower octave of the first violin’s opening phrase, while the first violin immediately cancels the G with the second violin’s old G♯, thus initiating a replay of the whole circle-of-fifths trajectory.

Thus the downbeat of the fourth full measure has taken on a huge significance in advance: it has been multiply marked (by rhythm and harmony) as the defining cadence of the opening theme. What every musically sensitive ear now expects is a cadence note, a caesura (little rest to denote a phrase end), and then probably a repetition of the four bars (as in Ex. 10-7c), to form a “parallel period,” presumably to be followed by some contrasting material and possibly a return to the opening to round things off.

And that is precisely what does not happen. Instead, the whole orchestra suddenly pounces on the moment that had been, so to speak, reserved for the thematic cadence, preempting it and (what is most startling) eliding the caesura, the expected moment of demarcative silence. This “elided cadence,” as we may call it, introduced by an unanticipated loud tutti, is one of Haydn’s trustiest devices to get the rhythmic and harmonic ball rolling at the beginning of a “subscription symphony.” By the time one has heard a number of them, one anticipates the “unanticipated” tutti. But even if one has learned to expect it, its function as a disruptive event remains clear and potent.

Addressing Throngs

ex. 10-7b Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 94 in G (“Surprise”), I, Vivace assai, mm. 1–5

The present case is an extreme one. Usually Haydn allows the equivalent of what is shown in Ex. 10-7c to take place before lopping off the ending with an elision and a tutti. Compare, for example, the analogous spot in Symphony no. 96, premiered during the 1791 season, where two phrases sound as antecedent and consequence before the Big Bang (Ex. 10-7d). The quicker progress toward the interrupted cadence in Symphony No. 94 only intensifies momentum, because the function of the passage the Big Bang introduces is to modulate to the secondary key. Thus the tonic is being abandoned here almost before it has had a chance to assert itself. The ratio between theme and transition in this movement is skewed heavily in favor of the latter. The emphasis, even more than usually, will be on process, not presentation. Tonally speaking, we are in for a roller-coaster ride.

Addressing Throngs

ex. 10-7c Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 94 in G (“Surprise”), hypothetical “symmetrical” version of Ex. 10–7b

Addressing Throngs

ex. 10-7d Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 96, I, mm. 18–26

And in this particular movement, as befits the truncated thematic presentation, the ride is going to be an exceptionally twisty and angular one, fuller than ever of characteristically Haydnesque feints. The telltale moment in any tonal transition is the moment when the leading tone to the new tonic appears. This happens in m. 30, with the introduction (typically, smuggled in on the weaker beat of the bar) of the C♯, prefiguring a cadence on D, the dominant. But a scant three bars later the C♯ is neutralized by a C-natural, and the harmony veers back unexpectedly to the starting point, the C-natural (the “seventh” of the dominant) getting its usual heavy emphasis (mm. 35–38) to heighten the expectation of the tonic’s return (Ex. 10-7e).

We seem to be back at the starting point; but this time the elided cadence (m. 43) does produce the inevitable modulation to the dominant. (And that is the purpose of the initial avoidance: to stave off the inevitable is the essence of suspense, as any dramatist knows.) Even this time, though, there is a feint: in m. 54 the opening themelet comes back in D minor, from which D major, the dominant, must be reapproached. Both the return of the theme and the key in which it is couched come off like impromptu diversionary tactics, an essential part of the movement’s highly calculated strategy.

The arrival of the dominant (m. 66) is marked by a slyly flatfooted vamp—an accompaniment in search of a tune. (The term “vamp,” while often used in connection with twentieth-century popular music, is not in fact an anachronism; its use can been traced as far back as the early eighteenth century, and it is found in Dr. Burney’s History.) What seems to be the awaited tune (m. 70) only prolongs the vamp with an aimless scale. But all at once the scale veers into a cadence (m. 77–79) that at last introduces what might be called a “second theme” (mm. 80–94) in the dominant, hardly less laconic than its predecessor in the tonic. It is quickly superseded by closing fanfares.

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ex. 10-7e Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 94 in G (“Surprise”), I, mm. 30–38

The exposition’s final eccentricity is the way it ends (Ex. 10-7f), not on the expected D but on another suspenseful “vamp,” a repeated B in the first violins. This is the note with which the first theme began, of course, and it makes possible, first, a delightfully unpredictable lurch into the repeat and, second, an immediate point of departure into the tonal vagaries of the development.

As in the case of the “Joke” Quartet, it would be best to leave off the detailed descriptive commentary at this point, before the inevitable tedium of blow-by-blow description sets in. By now, in any case, the point has been made: the important matter in this symphonic “argument” is not the thematic content but the tonal trajectory, to which the themes are accessories. And yet Haydn remains sensitive enough to the need for thematic integrity that he builds the movement’s coda—unexpectedly, but very satisfyingly—into the originally expected “full statement” of the first theme as a balanced pair of cadenced phrases (compare Ex. 10-7g with Ex. 10-7c).

Addressing Throngs

ex. 10-7f Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 94 in G (“Surprise”), I, mm. 101–107

There is a hint of a moral here, a gratifying sense that unfinished business has at last been attended to, giving the whole movement a sense of achieved and unified design in which the thematic content and the tonal trajectory have cooperated. And yet in a “subscription symphony,” there can be no doubt about priorities. The tonal trajectory is what finally counts. It has been turned into a very dramatic—that is, a highly “dramatized”—affair, in which harmonic and (especially) dynamic feints are the active ingredients, and in which the dual rhetorical strategy is that of building suspense, only to take the listener by surprise.

And that is why Symphony no. 94 is in its way the quintessential Haydn “subscription symphony”: it is the one that is actually called the “Surprise” Symphony, a nickname that might have been applied to any or all of its counterparts. The reason why this particular symphony was so singled out has to do with the second movement, the Andante, which is cast as a set of variations on a theme in C major.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2022. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10012.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 4 Dec. 2022, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10012.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 4 Dec. 2022, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10012.xml