Although the symphony as we know it today has a wide remit in terms of structure and organization, this was not always so. Initially the symphony started off as an overture to an opera or a piece of incidental music but this eventually changed to a rigid four movement symphonic structure which was then perfected by the giants of the classical symphony, Haydn and Mozart.
The first symphonies:
The first symphonies which came out of the New Viennese School were short pieces generally in three short movements lasting under ten minutes. One of the most famous composers of these types of symphonies was Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf who contributed quite a few pieces to the genre. This Austrian composer was extremely advanced in this respect since he also came up with the idea of the programme symphony such as with his monumental series of works on Carl Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ – these are six programme symphonies in three and sometimes four movements.
Other composers who perfected the art of the classical symphony in the early 18th century include Mathhias Georg Monn and Leopold Hofmann. Here the maxim was a fast-slow-fast symphony which lasted under ten minutes but this eventually expanded into a four movement work that lasted just under 20 minutes. Johan Christian and Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach were also important exponents of the early classical symphony contributing considerable amounts to the genre which grew out of the concerto. Additionally although the instrumentation of the classical symphony in those days was based principally on strings, there was also an introduction of the woodwind and other similarly new instruments such as the horn to proceedings. In fact some of the most popular symphonies of the day such as Haydn’s ‘La Chasse’ used the horn to depict a hunting scenario, something also used in Dittersdorf’s ‘Metamorphosis’ symphonies.
The onset of Haydn and Mozart
The two composers who could be described as the masters of the classical symphony are Franz Josef Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Both composers came early to the symphony and in the case of Haydn, the structure of four movements was almost immediately apparent right from the very first of his 105 symphonies. Haydn continued experimenting with various shades in his titled symphonies such as the trilogy Nrs 6,7 and 8 named after morning, afternoon and night and he also moved the structure around using a slow movement to start of his ‘Trauer’ (mourning) symphony Nr 44 and a slowish movement to conclude Nr 45, ‘Farewell’ Symphony. Haydn can be said to have reached his peak with the ‘Paris’ and ‘London’ symphonies where he takes the art of the classical symphony to almost unheard of levels.
Although writing just 41 symphonies (when compared to Haydn’s 100 plus), Mozart is no less important to the symphonic canon. His later 20 symphonies are crucially important for the development and appreciation of this form especially the final trilogy where he brings a mysticism and rare beauty to all proceedings. Mozart perfected the four movement form which comes to a height in named works such as Nr 31, ‘Paris’, Nr 35, ‘Haffner’ and Nr 38, ‘Prague’, the latter in three movements but inserting an Adagio-Scherzo into the makeup of the work. Beethoven began with two Classical symphonies in his canon but eventually changed the face of symphonic music with his ‘Eroica’ symphony.
Kamien R, Music an Appreciation, McGraw-Hill 2010, Print
The Symphony. Retrieved from: http://classicalmusic.about.com/od/symphonyfaq/f/difference.htmThe Symphony: An Interactive Guide. Retrieved from: http://library.thinkquest.org/22673/quicktour.htmlA History of the Symphony Orchestra. Retrieved from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/578021/symphony/27482/The-mature-Classical-period