The five symphonies that changed music / Haydn, Symphony no. 22, ‘The Philosopher’ (1764)

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Mark Elder conducts for The Symphony

It's thanks to Haydn that the symphony became the place where a composer's grandest, most original, and most daring thoughts were to be found. His first symphonies are more like suites, the historical form out of which the symphony developed.

They were composed in Esterhazy for the court where he worked. There is a quality of having his feet on the ground that gives all of his symphonies an incredible humanist breadth. He gave his first symphonies a new sense of humour and a new sense of pictorialism, and he also composed with a new virtuosity in his wind and brass parts, as well creating some astonishing excitement in the string writing. Haydn's 22nd Symphony, the so-called Philosopher – although nobody really knows why - is an extraordinary example of the range that he gave to the form.

Nobody up to that time had thought of starting a symphony with a noble slow movement, as he does in this piece, nor had anybody ever thought of the extraordinary sound that the symphony begins with: a chorale played by two horns and two cor anglais against an incessant pattern of notes in the strings. It all gives this movement a strange, unexpected beauty. That spirit of adventure continues in the rest of the symphony's three movements. It's one of those pieces in which you feel the symphony as genre expanding into a forum for the expression of a composer's most profound thoughts.

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