In last week’s post we listened in astonishment as Beethoven forklifts a passage out of his 5th Symphony’s third movement and drops its into the alien environs of its fourth and final one.
As we saw, this remarkable move is motivated by an unassailable (if unanticipatable) logic. The relocated passage first appeared as a transition-cum-build-up that led from a strangely prolonged quietness at the end of the third movement into the glorious, trumpeting theme that opens the fourth. This theme returns a while later in that movement, and Beethoven, having so excitingly built up to it the first time, opts for the brutally simple expedient of building up to it again the same way: opts, that is to say, for extracting the build-up, lock, stock, and barrel, out of the third movement, and dropping it into the fourth , where it leads into the trumpeting theme’s return as thrillingly as it led into its debut. If there’s no precedent in music for this bold stroke, so be it (and, given its effectiveness, God bless it).
Except there is a precedent. No surprise where it’s found: in Haydn. Follow Beethoven to even his remotest locales, and there’s a good chance that, like Kilroy, Haydn has already been there. (The young Beethoven studied with Haydn, but not for long, feeling that the great man had nothing to teach him. If that was true, it was probably because Beethoven had already learned the better part–in both senses–of what he knew from Haydn’s music.)
Consider, in this connection, a spot in Haydn’s Symphony#46. Its third movement–a minuet (beginning at 15:50 in this clip)–includes a little ear worm of a theme (at 16:21) which ends the movement’s first section–or could have. Haydn in fact affords the theme the privilege of an immediate repeat, with a richer orchestration–those noble horns!–to boot. One senses in this repeat some special feeling for the theme on Haydn’s part.
Fast forward to the symphony’s fourth and final movement (which begins at 19:17). The music is racing along per usual for a classical finale when it comes to one of Haydn’s trademark, sudden halts. A brief, suspenseful silence–followed by a reappearance (at 21:58) of the little theme from the minuet! (Shades of the reappearance we looked at in Beethoven.) Our response to the theme’s return may have a couple of aspects: surprise of course (it’s not in every eighteenth century symphony that a theme from one movement finds its way into another), mixed, perhaps, with a sense of having come into some unexpected luck. (“That theme comes back?” one says to oneself. “Here? What a welcome surprise! The return of this theme makes me realize, as though for the first time, how much I’d liked it already.”) When Haydn immediately repeats the theme as he had in the minuet–in the full reorchestration he’d offered there, noble horns and all–a couple of additional feelings may enter our complex of response: that Haydn seems to hear something like a spiritual import in the theme, and that he knows we hear it too. In bringing the theme back for this gratifying encore, Haydn establishes an uncommonly deep connection between composer and listener, one in which each knows something innermost about the other, and knows the other knows. To say this another way, if the thematic return in Beethoven is driven by logic, its predecessor in Haydn is driven by love.