Creation Date: (Frühjahr) 1763· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 21’ · Created as Symphony #26.
Symphony No. 12 in E major
Even more than No. 16, this work is an apotheosis of the mid-century Austrian chamber symphony. Along with No. 29 of 1765, it is one of only two Haydn symphonies in the strongly 'sharp-side' key of E major. The opening Allegro, a very fast alla breve, begins with a suave, ingratiating theme for the strings, piano and mostly unison; the forte counterstatement leads without break into the second group, which even has time for a contrasting 'second theme'. The very short development returns to the tonic 'too soon', but the passage is based on the second theme and we again move away before the definitive preparation and return. This is an early version of Haydn's later 'false recapitulation'.
The slow movement, unusually, is marked Adagio; even more unusual is its key of E minor: after c. 1740, orchestral movements in sharp-side minor keys are very rare. Although it begins with a conventional 'siciliano' motive, we soon enter a strange 'operatic' world of unison forte outbursts, dissonance, chromaticism, and deceptive cadences. Most unusual of all, the exposition modulates to and cadences in the dominant minor key (B minor) rather than Haydn's usual relative major. We must suppose that this movement carried extramusical associations. By contrast,
the Presto finale is all activity. Nevertheless, Haydn's inimitable combination of unpredictability and compositional craft raise it from routine entertainment to something higher.