1767: Haydn: Symphony No. 59 (FIRE) in A major

MONDAY, November 9, 2020 – 2:11 AM

(Great conductor, great horn playing. 1767 is just a guess. No one knows for sure when this was written, but it was somewhere in the late 1760s.)

Symphony No. 59 in A major, age 24

The Symphony No. 59 in A major is a relatively early work by Joseph Haydn that is known popularly as the Fire Symphony. Composed under the auspices of Nikolaus Esterházy, it was written in the middle or late 1760s. The date of its first performance is unknown, as is the true of most of Haydn’s symphonies.

Instrumentation:

  • two oboes, two horns
  • continuo (bassoon, harpsichord)
  • strings

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

1st movement

The opening movement starts off energetically on an upbeat followed by octave drop. A “Presto” marking for the 1st movement of a symphony is very unusual. The soft ending of the movement is a surprise.

2nd movement

You hear only strings, then suddenly in the recap all the winds come in after the music comes almost to a full stop. This is a surprise and also fun to hear. There is no key change, only a mode change as the movement switches to A minor.

3rd movement

Once again this is in 3/4 time, the same as in the last movement, and there are links between this movement and the last one. There is a really nice tempo change in the middle of this, and some delicate string work.

4th movement

This last movement contains some of the coolest natural horn parts I’ve ever heard in an early symphony, and there are absolutely wicked lip trills. There is a really nice interplay between the oboes and horns. This was a lot of fun to hear and watch.

Nickname

It comes from the use of several movements as accompanying music to a performance of the play Die Feuersbrunst by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Großmann, which was performed at Eszterháza in either (depending on the source) 1774 or 1778. An extant manuscript of the symphony dating from Haydn’s lifetime bears the title Feueur Sinfonia.

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