Concert Notes

Haydn’s Symphony No. 48, Maria Theresa

Notes by TŌN cellist Pecos Singer

The Composer
Franz Joseph Haydn is perhaps best known for the influence he exerted on his younger and even more famous contemporaries, Mozart and Beethoven. Mozart dedicated a beautiful set of string quartets to Haydn out of deference to the master. And although Beethoven brashly claimed to have learned nothing from Haydn, even a cursory investigation reveals many similarities between their works. Most characteristic in Haydn’s music is his use of wit, humor, suspense, and surprise. These attributes made his music tremendously popular across Europe during his lifetime and continue to delight audiences today.

The Music
Haydn wrote over 100 symphonies, yet they are rarely performed by modern orchestras. His most famous symphonies were written later in his career during his time in London (1791–95), such as the SurpriseDrumroll, and the Clock (performed by The Orchestra Now last season at The Metropolitan Museum of Art).

The Symphony No. 48, Maria Theresa, was written in the middle of Haydn’s career while he served as Kapellmeister at the Hungarian Esterházy family estate. The piece was long believed to have been written and performed for the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa upon her visit in 1773, until an earlier manuscript was found dated 1769. The nickname survived however, and like many of the nicknames for Haydn’s works it presumably led to increased sales for the publisher, so it remains in use. Regardless, the trumpets in the first movement certainly evoke a regal quality.

The Maria Theresa symphony hails from Haydn’s so-called Sturm und Drang (“storm and stress”) period. The term originates somewhat anachronistically from the literary movement that emerged years later, but nonetheless appropriately describes the stormy quality just beneath the surface of the music. This can be heard best in the development of the first movement, certain episodes in the fourth movement, and the Trio section of the Minuet. In this regard, the symphony serves as a preview of Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, La passione, which I highly recommend for further listening.

A Note from the Cello Section
I derive no greater joy than from playing Haydn string quartets, and as this symphony is essentially a quartet with augmented forces colored by one basson, two horns, two trumpets, and two oboes, it is an equal if not greater pleasure to perform. As an aside, the best analogy for Haydn’s four movement, symphonic structure that I have heard comes from Jeoff Nuttal of the St. Lawrence String Quartet. He aptly describes the movements as follows: a story (I. Allegro), a song (II. Adagio), a dance (III. Minuet), and a party (IV. Allegro). I hope you agree and enjoy, especially the party in the last movement.