Joseph Haydn: Symphony No.8

Le Soir


Often known as the ‘Father of the Symphony’, Joseph Hadyn’s legacy as a symphonist stays strong today. Haydn composed 104 symphonies over the course of his long and fruitful life, and we at Classicalexburns want to help you discover the stories and music behind all of them. In numerical order we will cover each symphony in the new #Haydn104 project, so look out for new ones by checking the ‘Projects’ page on our website, or by engaging with us on social media. 


The Music

Grouped together with the other symphonies (6&7)  in ‘The Day’ trilogy, Haydn’s Eighth Symphony is nicknamed Le Soir (‘The Evening’). Composed in the summer of 1761 under the patronage of Prince Paull II Anton Esterházy, the Eighth Symphony is set up like a Baroque concerto grosso, with a smaller group and a larger group playing at the same time. 


Movement I – Allegro Molto

The opening movement begins with an eight-bar phrase that is then carried throughout the entirety of the movement. Haydn directly quotes a melody from Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Le diable à quatre. The bouncy theme is passed between the strings, harpsichord and woodwind, which creates anticipation as to where the melody will be played next. The fast and virtuosic passages are full of energy which propels the music to finish with a burst of excitement and resolution.


Movement II – Andante

Two violins and a cello breakaway from the orchestra to create the concerto grosso set up for the slow second movement. This smaller group leads on the melodic development, with the bounce of the first movement’s melody rearing its head once more. The long drawn out development of this movement puts it at the centre of the whole symphony. As the two groups grow together, the textures become richer, before slowly fading away again. After a final reprise of the main theme, the movement concludes quietly.


Movement III – Menuetto & Trio

The third movement is set as a standard minuet and trio. Set in a dance-like 3/4 time signature, the minuet is bold and clear cut with the melody presented. The violins and bassoon take a particularly large role in the development of this theme. The trio is led by the lower strings and takes the music in a different direction from the opening peppy minuet. The darker undertones in this section is borne from Haydn’s darker orchestration. This is soon dispelled as the opening minuet theme returns to close this short movement.


Movement IV – La tempesta

Subtitled ‘La tempesta’ (‘The Storm’), the quick finale movement opens with a set of descending figures led by the strings. Big intervallic leaps between the strings and woodwind creates tension and excitement within the first minute of the finale. A solo violin plays a number of interludes that cut the texture off before quickly resuming. The flute also takes a chief role in this movement, with fast phrases and virtuosic scalic runs that make some corners of this movement intricate. With a reprise of the main theme, the finale concludes with the whole orchestra playing the theme together before dropping off and letting the celli and flute conclude the symphony poignantly.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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