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Creation Date: (Frühjahr) 1772· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 24’ · Created as Symphony #54.
Symphony No. 47 in G major
Unlike Nos.45 and 46, this symphony is in an 'ordinary' key and exhibits the customary sequence of four discrete movements, without overt extramusical associations. But the person who supposes that it therefore is not on the same high level has no hope of understanding Haydn's art.
The opening Allegro begins with a remarkable non-periodic martial theme (dotted motives), in which dissonant horn fanfares, later joined by the oboes, alternate with punctuating string motives; the whole builds up to an initial climax. The martial topos continues through the counterstatement and transition until, in the dominant, it yields to a quiet, ruminating theme in triplets; this leads directly to a brief codetta. The development begins with a piano modulating passage based on the martial theme, which eventually bursts out forte in combination with the triplets. A long, dissonant pedal on the martial motive leads to a repetition of the entire ruminating second theme, at whose cadence the triplets become forte and lead to the recapitulation. Here ensues one of Haydn's most astonishing surprises: in a manner not to be heard again until Schubert, the opening theme is rewritten in the tonic minor, and the build-up is correspondingly more dissonant — until, as if nothing unusual had happened, it leads directly to the ruminating triplet theme. However, the remainder recapitulates everything in an entirely different order.
The slow movement, with the unusual heading 'Un poco adagio, cantabile', is a remarkable combination of counterpoint and Variation form. The theme is an A B A'; the A section is a complete antecedent-consequent period, made up of five-bar phrases; it is for strings alone, in two-part invertible counterpoint. The B section, in richer texture, comprises a four-bar phrase plus six-bar extension; the winds join in, with gorgeous tone-colours. The A', again for strings alone, repeats A with the two parts inverted. Three complete variations follow according to the 'double' principle, of faster notes in each successive variation. None too soon, Haydn abandons this procedure in favour of a final variation in which the winds participate from the beginning, more gorgeously than ever. This however closes with a deceptive cadence, leading to an extensive coda and a pianissimo ending.
Yet the minuet 'al roverso' tops this with ease. Each movement, minuet and trio, comprises merely a single period of written-out music; in both cases, the second strain is produced by performing the first part backwards. As opposed to a 'crab canon', in which contrapuntal ingenuities or intricacies of texture abound, this music is entirely homophonic; nothing can distract us from Haydn's tour de force in composing harmonies and rhythms that make sense in both 'directions'. The key is to attend to the dynamics and articulation (which come through far more clearly with historical instruments than modern ones).
The finale is marked 'Presto assai', on the face of it the fastest tempo Haydn ever prescribed (though compensated for by the relatively slow harmonic rhythm). It begins breathlessly, piano and off-tonic; no meaningfully contrasting/orfe is heard until a terrific outburst in the dominant, which soon turns to the minor. The second group proper repeats the main theme, leading eventually to a brief, offbeat codetta. At the beginning of the development, Haydn proves once again that he can confound any expectations; soon, however, the main theme appears in the sub-dominant and leads by forte/piano sequence to the 'outburst' passage in E minor, including some hair-raising horn dissonances. The recapitulation is more or less regular (note the humourous transformation of an odd augmented passage into forte), until the codetta leads into a final high climax.
I. Allegro
II. Un poco adagio, cantabile
III. Menuet e Trio al roverso
IV. Finale, Presto assai
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Joseph Haydn
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33 CDs, aufgenommen 1970 bis 1974, herausgegeben 1996 Decca (Universal)

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