Creation Date: 1767· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 20’ · Created as Symphony #41.
Symphony No. 38 in C major
Whether the inspired foolery of this work owed its inspiration to the stage we cannot know; it certainly would not lose anything from the association. Like several other early Haydn symphonies in C, the opening Allegro di molto employs the otherwise unusual 'finale' metre of 2/4 in its opening movement. Perhaps it is overture-like; certainly it sounds 'stagey', faintly bombastic, with little subtlety of contrast or motivic variation. And in the middle of the development it becomes downright comic: this section has centred around A minor; at the conclusion of a long sequence, Haydn twice cadences deceptively on F (its submediant), until he tires of this game and stamps out a third cadence, in unison, to clinch A minor at last whereupon he not only substitutes F this time too, but drops to piano and begins a new episode in F major! (The 'trio'-like effect of the reduced scoring and contextual separation of the latter section is also found primarily in early finales.)
The Andante molto is a delicately farcical 'echo' movement, of the sort that notoriously offended the conservative North German critics of Haydn's day. The second violins, muted, constantly imitate the concluding motives of the unmuted firsts no matter how tactlessly in the rhythmic context, or how excessively at the end of both main sections. The minuet features a solo oboe in the trio. So does the second group of the Allegro di molto finale (now in alla breve), which in general alternates between an opening theme that prances up and down the scale over an offbeat tonic pedal, and contrapuntal passages in the transitions and the development. The effect is decidedly one of comic juxtaposition rather than organic integration.