Haydn, Fuga a due soggetti

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The final movement of Haydn's Quartet in F minor, Op. 20, Nr. 5, Fuga a due soggetti, orchestrated for concert band by David Whitwell.

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Joseph Haydn
Quar­tet in F minor, Op. 20, Nr. 5, Fuga a due soggetti
Orches­trat­ed by David Whitwell

Instru­men­ta­tion: Con­cert Band
Dif­fi­cul­ty: Grade 4
Dura­tion: 5:20
Year: 1772, orches­trat­ed 2021

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Performance Notes

On an occa­sion of reread­ing H. C. Rob­bins Lan­don’s fine book, Essays on the Vien­nese Clas­si­cal Style, I was sur­prised by his com­ments about this movement.

Hayd­n’s quar­tet in F minor ends with a fan­tas­tic Fuga a due Sogget­ti (dou­ble fugue) marked sem­pre sot­to voce (lit­er­al­ly always in a soft voice), which gives the whole ghost­ly and def­i­nite­ly sin­is­ter over­tones. Beethoven used this for one of his mod­els when he was exper­i­ment­ing with con­tra­pun­tal forms pri­or to com­pos­ing the Grosse Fuge.

The read­er may be sur­prised to read of such descrip­tions as “ghost­ly” and “sin­is­ter” asso­ci­at­ed with the music of Haydn. How­ev­er, Haydn had on occa­sion the abil­i­ty to pro­duce very sur­pris­ing works, such as the Har­moniemusik works he wrote for use by his first aris­to­crat­ic employ­er and his friends to slurp their soup — music based on the Catholic Chant for the Dead, or the over­ture he wrote in retire­ment after he decid­ed he need­ed a new over­ture to Part II of his Cre­ation, a wind band work sound­ing more like Bruckner.

In any case, Rob­bins Lan­don’s descrip­tion of “ghost­ly” and “sin­is­ter” sent me to the library to see this music by Haydn. What one sees on paper is a stan­dard Baroque church fugue, with no string idioms what­so­ev­er. Fur­ther­more, a dou­ble fugue with entries of the two sub­jects pre­sent­ed in var­i­ous reg­is­ters is quite dif­fi­cult to appre­ci­ate when played by only four play­ers, three of which have very sim­i­lar tone qual­i­ties. One per­for­mance I heard by a string quar­tet not only had this dis­ad­van­tage, but was also a per­for­mance which ignored the “sem­pre sot­to voce” which Haydn took time to write and, think­ing of the work as the last move­ment of a quar­tet, they per­formed it very fast, try­ing to make it sound like a “Finale.”

These prob­lems caused me to think of scor­ing this fugue for wind band, which would make it pos­si­ble to have the vari­ety of col­ors nec­es­sary to help the lis­ten­er hear the many entrances of a fugue with two sub­jects. Fur­ther­more, since on paper one sees a church fugue with no string idioms, it remind­ed me of the fact that the church organ at this time was still a sur­ro­gate wind band, the vibrat­ing soupy string sounds which are so famil­iar in organ per­for­mance today were stops which only appeared lat­er in the 19th cen­tu­ry, long after the life of Haydn.

The one per­for­mance issue which I should like to men­tion is one still unknown to many musi­cians, and that is the fact that the dot over a sin­gle note at this time in Cen­tral Europe meant not stac­ca­to, but rather an accent. Accord­ing­ly, these dots which appear in the sec­ond sub­ject I have replaced with accent sym­bols, which also give more dri­ve for­ward than the bow bounc­ing off the string in try­ing to make stac­ca­to at a fast tempo.

David Whitwell, 2021
Austin, Texas