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Symphonists Supreme
Our old friend the clock has a Haydn symphony named after it.

Symphonists Supreme

It has been suggested that the Symphony, as played by an orchestra or a concert band, represents one of the pinnacles of human creative achievement. How familiar are you with how it works, its history and some of its greatest exponents?

Musical scholarship has once again come in to debunk this, but for a couple of centuries or so, people in general were quite happy to think of the Toy Symphony as being written by which famous musical father for his child or children?
Leopold Mozart, for Wolfgang
Johann Sebastian Bach, for his numerous sons including Johann Christoph and Carl Philip Emmanuel
William Boyce, for his son and daugher
'Papa' Haydn
This makes a cheerful story ~ but apparently, in the light of forensic scholarship, that's about all it still is!
There have been almost innumerable variations on the classic symphony structure, but a typical synopsis 'should' include which of these movements?
I : a slow introduction ; 2 : a rondo ; 3 : a minuet ; 4 : a slow majestic finale
I : a fast movement (probably in sonata form) ; 2 : a minuet or scherzo ; 3 : a slow movement ; 4 : an upbeat finale
I : a slow introduction ; 2 : a sonata in quick time ; 3 : another slow movement ; 4 : a march
I : a fast movement (allegro, or similar) ; 2 : a slow movement ; 3 : a minuet or scherzo ; a brisk finale (possibly in rondo form)
This is (usually) as much of a 'recipe' as the theatrical convention of a five-act tragedy, or indeed a traditional three-course meal
Probably by coincidence, several of the greatest symphonists (e.g. Beethoven, Schubert, Dvorak, Vaughan Williams) completed a 'cycle' of the same number of such works: what is the relevant number?
Plenty of other composers produced different totals (Haydn: 104, Mozart: 41, etc), but there does seem to be something quite coincidentally special about this number. Musicological scholarship (bless it) does its diligent best to disprove and diffuse such notions, but they linger in the popular imagination! (Schubert's last symphony was, of course, memorably and poignantly 'Unfinished'.)
This composer died sadly young, but not before completing a final trio of symphonies which brought his tally (in this medium alone) to 41; he had also written piano and chamber works, sacred music and opera. Many people's 'top 10' list of themes by this towering composer would probably include the opening movement, in a wistful G minor, of the 40th Symphony. Who was he?
Even within the canon of his own music, let alone Classical Music as a whole, this piece is rightly regarded as sublime
This symphony runs to five movements rather than the conventional four, including a (funeral) march and a waltz. It is a classic of 'programme music' in that it tells and illustrates a story, thus in some ways anticipating the use of orchestral film scores in a later age. The instrumental effects are sumptuous and remarkable, in keeping with their composer who wrote an authoritative treatise on such techniques. Who was the composer, and what is the work?
Anton Dvorak : 'New World' Symphony
Mendelssohn : Das Lied von der Erde ('Song of the Earth')
Hector Berlioz : Symphonie Fantastique
Vaughan Williams : Sinfonia Antarctica
This was Berlioz' extraordinary work of symphonic autobiography-cum-fantasy, complete with a Witches' Sabbath round-dance and a March to the Scaffold in tumbrils. No other work in the standard repertoire could be quite like it!
Who is generally hailed as 'the Father of the Symphony'?
Johann Sebastian Bach
Franz Joseph Haydn
William Boyce
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
There are pieces entitled Symphony (or similar: the term means 'voices [or parts] together'), by Handel ~ for example, the short instrumental representing the shepherds in Messiah and others; but the substantial orchestral suite of three or four movements for 'classic' orchestra was created by Haydn, who 'tamed' the outdoor hunting-horns of his aristocratic patron and brought them into the orchestral fold for the purpose
Whose Ninth Symphony incorporates the choral Ode to Joy, and as such was the obvious climactic work to the Reunification concert in Berlin after the fall of the Wall 25 years ago?
This piece is now the European Anthem
Which Russian symphonist included a movement in the style of a waltz, yet in fact with 5 beats to the bar?
This was Tchaikovsky in his 6th ('Pathetique') Symphony. The movement, though very different in atmosphere, probably shares with Mars (from Holst's Planets Suite) the distinction of being one of the only two widely-recognised pieces in this time-signature for the modern concert orchestra
Whose 8th Symphony is known as 'The Symphony of a Thousand' due to the massive forces required for a performance?
Anton Bruckner
Gustav Mahler
Hector Berlioz
Ralph Vaughan Williams
The subtitle was never sanctioned by the composer, but a huge orchestra is called for (e.g. 5 flutes rather than the usual two or three), plus substantial numbers of singers, and it would be a simple enough gesture to summon a choir several hundred strong ~ if you were already onto such a whopping logistical scale. Many years ago the BBC made an interesting radio documentary entitled 'Mahler needs a jumbo', about such challenges. Berlioz (Answer 3) meanwhile had written a Grande Messe des Morts ('Great Mass of/for the Dead') calling not only for beefed-up versions of the classic oratorio forces, but also no fewer than four offstage brass ensembles
Which of these nicknames for Haydn symphonies (out of the 104 such that he wrote!) is the odd one out?
The Clock
The Surprise
The Miracle
The Farewell
Each of the other Answers refers to an intentional musical or para-musical effect by the composer: a ticking clock, the sudden loud chord to awaken slumberers a few moments into a quiet slow movement, the players' pantomime about wanting to go home. The 'Miracle' Symphony was otherwise relatively ordinary, except that a massive chandelier collapsed (Phantom-of-the-Opera-style) onto where the audience had just been seated ~ just after many of them had surged forward to applaud the performance, and were safely out of its way. We can be fairly sure this was not an example of Haydn's humour or forethought!


Author:  Ian Miles

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