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Creation Date: Mai-Sept. (?) 1765· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg 4 Hr – Str · Duration: 21’ · Created as Symphony #38.
Symphony No. 39 in G minor
This symphony occupies a special place in two respects: if the revised date of 1765-66 (see the note on chronology and sources) is correct, it is Haydn's earliest symphony that is truly in the minor mode (in the slightly earlier No. 34, only the opening slow movement is in the minor). It is also the only Haydn symphony using four horns that is not in the key of D. Indeed it seems to have instigated an entire series of passionate symphonies in G minor, including two by J.B. Vanhal, one by J.C. Bach (Op. 6, No. 6), and one by Mozart (the 'little' G minor, K183); one of those by Vanhal and the Mozart also use four horns. The horns are pitched by pairs, two in G and two in B flat; this permits their use virtually throughout the G minor scale, as well as in passages set in the relative major. Oddly, however, in distinction to Haydn's D major symphonies with four horns, the two pairs almost never play together in four-part harmony, but usually alternate according to the harmony; even the soloistic B-flat horns in the trio are (by Haydn's standards) routine. Hence the effect is not much different from that obtainable by only two horns pitched a minor third apart, such as we find in most of Haydn's later minor-mode symphonies.
The Allegro assai begins with a quiet four-bar theme that ends provocatively on the dominant, with a pregnant pause; it is followed still more provocatively by a six-bar continuation for the violins alone that again ends on the dominant, this time a bare octave, with another pregnant pause. Neither the rushing second group nor the impressive development centring round an elaborate contrapuntal passage can compromise the unsettling effect of this beginning; it stands as a psychological motto over the whole movement (and leads to the expected 'surprises' in the retransition and recapitulation). The charming Andante in 3/8 stands, unusually, in the submediant (E flat); this was Mozart's favorite key-relation in minor-key works, while Haydn usually chose the relative major or the tonic major. It has been unjustly criticized for its 'shallowness' in the context of a minor-key symphony, but this seems anachronistically Romantic: there is no law that every Haydn minor-mode symphony must create a 'through-composed' effect like that found in the 'Farewell' or No. 44 in E minor. The movement boasts subtle and witty effects aplenty, and an unexpected codetta at the end. The trio of the minuet features the oboes and horns; the main part exhibits Haydn's astringently bare two-part writing, here spiced by pungent Balkanisms (the raised fourth scale-degree). The finale, Allegro di molto, contrasts with the opening movement in having no leisure for provocations. It is passionate throughout (note the 'wide-leap' motives in the opening theme, argued by Sisman to be another 'theatrical' effect), and rushes through a brief, whirlwind sonata form that slackens the pace only in the most unlikely place: the first half of the development.
I. Allegro assai
II. Andante
III. Menuet e Trio
IV. Finale
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