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Creation Date: 1773/74· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg – 2 Hr 2 Trp – Pk – Str · Duration: 18’ · Created as Symphony #59.
Symphony No. 50 in C major
This symphony reveals its origins as the overture to Der Götterrat (see the historical note) in various ways. The slow introduction — a rare feature before the 1780s — conveys the majestic air appropriate to the high gods and goddesses who, in this prologue, would soon appear on stage. The ensuing Allegro di molto is terser than the opening movements of Nos. 54—57: the modulations are abrupt, and the 'driving' quaver rhythm never lets up, not even in the six-bar excuse for a 'second theme' near the end of the exposition. Everything pushes forward towards the drama to come — except that in symphonic form this energy becomes the drama.
The Andante moderato is in the 'bright' dominant G major instead of the more usual subdominant (although Haydn did employ the dominant for slow movements more often — perhaps one-quarter of the time — than most of his contemporaries). Its original function as an operatic movement may explain its conservative orchestration, essentially for strings alone with a solo cello doubling the melody at the lower octave (compare Symphony No. 16, in vol.3). In addition, this movement has no real development section, merely a six-bar leadback that, again in conservative fashion, even restores the tonic before the reprise. On the other hand, at the reprise the oboes suddenly enter, deepening the expression; this sudden enrichment of the instrumental palette, a kind of affective 'stereo-scopy', is common in Haydn's 'Sturm und Drang' slow movements.
The newly composed minuet, by contrast, is very long (as are most of the minuets in this volume). It is in fact a miniature sonata form: main 'trumpet' theme, vigorous transition, piano closing theme in the dominant; middle section mainly in the minor, on an imitative, dissonant derivative of the closing theme; and a full recapitulation. But the real surprise is the trio: uniquely in Haydn's symphonies, it is entirely through-composed. It begins with the headmotive of the minuet, still in C, but suddenly deviates towards the subdominant F major, where the trio melody enters in oboe and violins. This melody is peculiar both melodically and rhythmically (six bars, with an oddly redundant and unstable harmonic rhythm); the peculiarity is reinforced by its development through four statements into a full double period. Hence when a modulating sequence finally enters, it
sounds like the beginning of the second part of a conventional binary form; however, this section soon lands on E major, the dominant of A minor (m. 94). This, astonishingly, turns out to be the retransition to the minuet, which enters directly by a remote progression; the underlying rationale is a common-tone modulation (the fifth degree of A minor = the third degree of C major). Overall, the trio is thus constructed as an unstable modulating transition from the minuet's own beginning back to itself. (For a 'normal' trio in the same key and instrumentation, see Symphony No. 56.)
The witty and exciting Presto finale, replete with dynamic contrasts, reverts to the terse style of the first movement. The exposition comprises merely two paragraphs; each begins with the quiet main theme in two-part counterpoint (a distant forerunner of the finale of Symphony No. 95, also in C), while the caesura between them is marked by a fourfold loud dissonant chord. The development culminates in two longer loud chordal passages, in rapid alternation between strings and winds; the second of these includes excruciating dissonances between the winds, on E, and the strings. But this E is the dominant of A minor — and, just as in the trio, the recapitulation enters piano, without transition, by means of the common-tone E. Its ending leads seamlessly into a brief but brilliant coda.
I. Adagio e maestoso
II. Andante moderato
III. Menuet e Trio
IV. Finale, Presto
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Joseph Haydn
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33 CDs, aufgenommen 1970 bis 1974, herausgegeben 1996 Decca (Universal)

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