Symphonies
icon   SYMPHONY 'MERKUR' NR.43 IN E-FLAT-MAJOR   info

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Creation Date: 1770/71· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 25’ · Created as Symphony #51.
Symphony No. 43 in E flat major
The long main theme of the opening Allegro fooled even so fine a critic as Charles Rosen, who criticized it as providing 'relaxed beauty... at the price of a flaccid coordination between cadential harmonies and large-scale rhythm'.4 (This misreading forms part of his elaborate defence of the untenable notion that Haydn did not attain 'maturity' until the 1780s, along with the triumph of 'Classical style'.)5 Admittedly, the theme appears to circle somewhat aimlessly around the first inversion of the tonic triad. But that is Haydn's point. It goes on too long, too demonstratively refuses to do anything, so that we become increasingly uneasy, more and more needful of hearing something different — which he finally provides when the violins, with a sudden forte, plunge down in tremolo semiquavers and the harmonic rhythm accelerates, leading to a very strong cadence that closes the first group and is elided to the vigorous transition.
The remainder of the exposition maintains the vigorous tone, except for a brief quiet passage that recalls the 'static' opening. But (after the exposition repeat) the development soon leads to yet another repetition of parts of the opening theme, in the tonic. This procedure is neither a 'false recapitulation' (which comes midway through a development section) nor a defect of form, but what I call an 'immediate reprise'; that is, a sophisticated variant of the older practice in which the development began with a two-fold statement of the main theme, first in the dominant, then in the tonic.6 Naturally, Haydn soon strikes out into other keys; before long, however, he breaks off yet again, and a threefold sequence based on the opening phrase leads to the recapitulation proper. (A similar transition is found in the String Quartet in D major, op. 20 no. 4.) The 'excessive' persistence of the main theme is thus wittily inscribed into the form as a whole.
The Adagio rings yet another change on the sprightly profundity so characteristic of Haydn's slow movements. The sectional construction (first group, transition, second group; development; recapitulation) is unusually clear by Haydn's standards; he rarely approaches this 'Mozartian' quality of every bar being as if foreordained. Perhaps this is why he inserted a chromatic 'sighing' passage into the second group, and utilized it — again 'too long' — for the entire second half of the development.
The vigorous minuet is clear in outline, although it includes subtle variations in the treatment of the 'long-short' motive and the phrase-rhythm; its quiet concluding phrase recalls the 'static' opening theme of the symphony. In the trio, Haydn proves that a single four-bar phrase (2+2) heard four times in close succession is not boring, when it prepares, first a cadence in the dominant, then one in the tonic.
In the Allegro Finale, Haydn's underlying eccentricity becomes more overt. The quiet main theme in rapid upward skips is demonstratively irregular in phrasing. Once we are off to the races, the music stops 'too often'; these pauses are sometimes followed by long expanded upbeats for the violins alone, sometimes by chromatic progressions in long notes. In the development, one of those expanded upbeats jokingly leads into the recapitulation. This section is unusually regular and cadential — too much so: after the repeat of the second 'half' of the movement it is followed, very unusually, by a long coda. This not only outdoes everything else in eccentricity, it systematically avoids cadencing until the very last moment.
The silly nickname 'Mercury' became attached to this symphony only in the nineteenth century; it is entirely lacking in relevance.
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I. Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Menuetto e Trio
IV. Finale, Allegro
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Joseph Haydn
The Symphonies

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