Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 in D Major begins with a majestic musical sunrise. A single, wispy line in the first violins emerges, just above silence, to signify the first hint of dawn. Soon, we are bathed sonically in the warm, radiant sunlight of a new day.
It was with this symphony that, in the spring of 1761, the 29-year-old Haydn began his employment as Kapellmeister at the aristocratic court of the Ezterházy family. We can only imagine the excitement and expectation which must have greeted this bold music. The first movement’s dramatic opening introduction earned the Symphony the nickname, Le Matin (“The Morning”). (Haydn did not provide the subtitle). Together with the two symphonies which follow (No. 7, Le midi and No. 8, Le soir), the work initiates a dramatic symphonic trilogy which outlines the progress of the sun through the day.
In this youthful music, we hear symphonic form in its infancy. The enduring influence of the Baroque concerto grosso is apparent amid an array of conversing solo instrumental voices. Teeming with unlimited possibilities, this music is filled with a thrilling sense of freedom and discovery. Haydn may have relished the opportunity to show off the supreme virtuosity of the Ezterházy musicians.
The first movement’s Allegro section, is filled with witty interjections involving the flutes, oboes, and bassoons. The principal motif contains seeds out of which the first movement of Beethoven’s groundbreaking Eroica would develop some forty years later. As with the opening movement of the Eroica, this music is set in 3/4 time. A “false” horn entrance at the end of the development anticipates a similar moment in Beethoven’s Third Symphony. As with Beethoven’s music, this is a wild ride which keeps us on the edge of our seats with sudden, jarring dynamic contrasts and other surprises.
Moving to G major, the Adagio takes the form of a double concerto between the solo violin and cello. The musicologist, Richard Wigmore, described this as a “comic sendup of a music lesson, the solo violin showing his incompetent ‘pupils’ how to play a simple rising scale, continues with a galant duet for violin and cello, and ends with a solemn peroration that could have come straight from a Corelli concerto grosso.”
The woodwinds take center stage in the Minuet. The third movement’s Trio section features a wacky duet between the bassoon and double bass. A moment later, these two unlikely voices are joined by the solo viola.
The Finale is a spirited, virtuosic tour de force. In a nod to the concerto grosso, solo instruments leap into the spotlight amid ferocious interjections by the full ensemble. In this fresh, vibrant music, old archaic forms receive a celebratory “sendoff” as the symphony is born.
- Haydn: Symphony No. 6 in D major “Le Matin”, Hob. I:6, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini Amazon
Featured Image: “Sunrise,” Albert Bierstadt