A trio of symphonies
Symphony No. 80 in D minor is the 2nd of a trio of symphonies that also included symphonies 79 and 81.These three symphonies were specially written for performance in March 1785. And this one, in my view, is one of Haydn’s best.
- flute, two oboes, two bassoons
- two horns
- Allegro spiritoso, D minor
- Adagio, Bb minor
- Menuetto, D minor
- Finale: Presto, D minor
First of all, it’s in minor, and that’s unusual. It doesn’t stay that way, or more correctly it does not end there. it ends in D major, and that’s a surprise. The total mood change from minor to major is unusual for Haydn. There is a total stop after the expo which stopped me in my tracks, leading to a really fine development section. All of a sudden there is another stop, then something else unexpected. This movement is full of surprises.
He starts in Bb major, and that may not sound different or unusual, but it’s a double morph, which is not at all common for a key change at that time. Something about this whole thing is a surprise, so I want to come back to this. I’ll probably tag it with “minor”. Although it is not the only symphony to be set pretty obviously in minor, at least at first, it’s one of a very few. This is surprisingly long slow movement – as well as unexpectedly complex – and I assume from what I’m hearing that he was fully engaged. For me much of it has a very “pastoral” feeling, very different from Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony”, but I hear similarities, and always connections to the best writing of Mozart. I’m sure he was very inspired when writing this.
Back to D minor. It’s not a strong minor feeling, because it’s ambiguous about whether it wants to be in D minor of F major, but by the end of the A section, before the trio, it settles strongly into D minor. The trio moves to D major, then the A section – the minuet section – returns to D minor. But even in the trio there is a bit of moodiness, and by the time this was written he knew Mozart’s Haydn Quartets. So there is something very much like Mozart in parts of this. The cross pollination between these two composers was in effect, to the benefit of both them.
Back to D minor, and it starts lightly, almost in a sneaky way, then heats up. There is more of Mozart here in way that is hard to describe. And instead of being a rondo, or something lighter, the form here is true sonata form, including a really fine development section with lots of totally unexpected touches. He definitely did not phone this one in.