Conducted by Frans Brüggen, Orchestra of the 18th Century plays Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G major (Hoboken 1/88), occasionally referred to as The Letter V referring to an older method of cataloguing Haydn’s symphonic output.
Haydn wrote five symphonies between his celebrated Paris (82-87) and London (93-104) symphony collections. The Symphony No. 88 was written in 1787, after Haydn returned to Hungary from Paris and is one of his most popular works.
In September 1788 Haydn wrote to his Viennese publisher “I was told that you… purchased from Herr Tost my very newest 6 quartets (op. 54 and 55) and 2 new Symphonies (Nos. 88 and 89). … I would like to know if this is true or not…” The 88th and 89th symphonies, were dedicated to Johann Tost, a violinist in the orchestra of Haydn’s patron Prince Esterházy. He had left Esterházy to go to Paris taking with him several of Haydn’s works including these symphonies. Haydn did give Tost the right to seek publication for these works. But it turned out that Tost was an unprincipled scoundrel. Haydn’s letters to the Paris publisher Sieber reveals that not only was Haydn not paid for the publication of these works but that Tost had sold not only other Haydn’s works to which he did not have rights but passed off works by other composers as works of Haydn. What is remarkable is that by 1790 this affair seems be have been settled since Haydn dedicated his op 64 string quartets to Tost who was by then no longer a violinist but a wealthy merchant.
The work is in standard four movement form and scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, two trumpets, timpani, continuo (harpsichord) and strings.
- Adagio – Allegro The first movement begins with a brief introduction which quickly settles to the dominant chord to prepare for the main body of the movement. The strings open the Allegro stating the main theme and the rest of the movement develops from there, with almost every statement deriving from a previous idea. The exposition is monothematic and the development continues to make use of that single melodic idea. In the recapitulation, the initial statement of the theme is embellished by a solo flute.
- Largo The slow movement in D major consists mainly of embellishments of the legato oboe and solo cello theme which opens it, though every so often is punctuated by chords played by the whole orchestra. After hearing this slow movement, Johannes Brahms is said to have remarked, ‘I want my Ninth Symphony to sound like this’. It is the first of Haydn’s symphonies to use trumpets and timpani in the slow movement. Mozart had previously used trumpets and timpani in the slow movement of his Linz Symphony.
- Menuetto: Allegretto The minuet is in G major. The trio has an unusual feature to it: after stating a rather simple theme, the fifths held in the bassoons and violas shift down a fourth in parallel, an effect typically avoided by the classical composers.
- Finale. Allegro con spirito The finale is a sonata-rondo, with the rondo theme first presented in binary form. The first section of this is noteworthy for ending on unusual cadence on the mediant. A “perpetual-motion finale,” it is considered one of the most cheerful Haydn ever wrote.