Distant cousin to Haydn, friend of Mozart, and student of Albrechtsberger, Joseph Eybler (1765-1846) was best known for his sacred works. Born not far from the Austrian capital, he was sent to Vienna to receive musical training at 12. Talented but not driven, he wanted to study law. A family catastrophe obliged him to turn to music to make money.
Well respected in the musical center of the German speaking world, he took a series of church positions before succeeding Salieri as the imperial court composer in 1824. Besides composing nearly 200 sacred works, Eybler wrote a number chamber pieces as well as these 2 symphonies.
Composed in C Major, Symphony No.1 opens with a regal and very brief `Adgaio' as introduction to the 1st movement. A horn fanfare breaks the mood and trumpets the arrival of the triple metered `Allegro spirituoso'. Propelled by tympani and the skillful use of wind instruments, particularly the oboes and bassoons, this opening movement alternates between passages of quiet introspection with those of vigorous action. A stately `Andante' follows, with a theme and variations structure, noteworthy for an extended bassoon solo, playful and humorous.
The 3rd movement `Minuetto' is characterized by an unexpected syncopation, an emphasis on the second beat toward the end of the lilting main theme, which gives this movement a charmingly quirky twist. The contrasting trio features the wind instruments, with the oboes taking a prominent role. Distinguished by furious action in the supporting lower strings, a rousing `Allegro assai' concludes the symphony.
More structurally elaborate and musically ambitious than its predecessor, the 2nd Symphony is written in D Major and contains five movements. After an ominous `Maestoso' acts as a brief introduction, the 1st movement `Allegro' has the violins present a stirring melody before relinquishing it to the winds. Generous use of tympani drives this work to its satisfying ending.
A brisk `Minuetto' features muted pizzicato accompaniment in the strings, and only winds in the trio, providing a stark contrast to the lush orchestration that precedes it. Wedged between the two minuets, the triple metered `Andante' includes plaintive horns, and often has the strings serve merely as accompaniment for the winds. Marked `Maetoso', the 2nd minuet is indeed bold and majestic, powered by tympani and a rolling urgency, while a delicate bassoon in the trio offers sharp departure from the more magisterial surrounding sections.
With scurrying strings sustaining the 5th and final movement, the flute, oboes and bassoons pass the melodic line like a hot potato only to be interrupted by horns and resounding tympani. Joyously buoyant, the concluding `Allegro' provides an exciting finish to this excellent work.
After a menacing beginning, the Overture in C Minor, Op.8 drifts into a pastoral interlude, lulling the listener and setting the stage for the frenetic race to the final bars. The strings are given more prominence in this composition, while the winds supply counter melodies and harmonic support.
Michael Hofstetter leads L'Orchestre de Chambre de Geneve with light-handed assurance, while CPO's recording reaches its usual heights, framing the winds without having the strings recede into the background.
Joseph Eybler's deft touch with winds underlines his ability to arrange choral voices. Mozart hired him to rehearse the singers and conduct performances for 'Cosi fan tutte', KV 588 and after his death, Mozart's widow asked Eybler to complete the unfinished `Requiem', KV 626. For whatever reason, he demurred. If the Mozarts had that high of an opinion of Eybler's talent, surely these orchestral works deserve our ear.