Symphonies
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Creation Date: (Frühjahr) 1773· Instrumentation: 2 Ob Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 24’ · Created as Symphony #57.
Symphony No. 51 in B flat major
Though less expressive than Nos. 45—47, this symphony is no less original or eccentric. In the opening Vivace, the main theme has three parts: a vigorous forte unison gesture, a quiet continuation for strings alone, and a mysterious low unison motive for strings and second horn, which ends off the tonic, on D. The entire complex is repeated, whereby the horn D becomes the dominant of G minor; this introduces the vigorous transition, which leads seamlessly into the equally vigorous second group. Only later do we hear a quiet, contrasting theme; in its extension, however, the contrasts of material and dynamics become eccentric in the extreme.
The development surprisingly takes up the concluding phrase of the exposition, leading eventually to a 'false recapitulation' of the main theme in the subdominant, and then to much of the second group in — again — G minor. As the quiet theme is about to cadence, Haydn interrupts with a chromatic passage that leads yet again to D in the bass, harmonized as the tonic in first inversion — whereupon, as if nothing unusual were happening, the second phrase of the opening theme enters, and we find ourselves in the middle of the recapitulation.
The sonata-form Adagio in E flat features remarkable solos for the two horns: the first horn leads an eight-bar theme in the tonic, dizzyingly high, then the second horn modulates to the dominant, unfathomably low (with 'stopped' notes). The first oboe joins in, and the relatively brief second group soon cadences, with chromatic colouring in the codetta. The development begins with new solos for the oboe, then the two horns, now together; a long, ruminating passage for strings alone leads to the recapitulation. This is much altered: the second (low) horn solo is replaced by a new, more active one; the second group returns sooner, but is then much extended, including a written-out cadenza for the strings.
Like the minuet in No. 47, this one is based on a gimmick. It is only sixteen bars long (8+8); the bass comprises eight successive statements of the same two-bar motive, at different pitch-levels, which an Esterházy set of parts reproduces as a 'cipher' for the amusement of the players. It is unique in Haydn's symphonic oeuvre in having two trios (see the 'Historical Note'.)
The symphony ends with one of Haydn's earliest variation finales (in this case, a more precise designation would be 'variation-rondo': certain 'variations' are in different keys and present new thematic ideas). The artlessly 'kittenish' theme (as Tovey would have called it) for strings alone harbours (as always) a wealth of art; the first, third, and fifth variations add new effects of dynamics and instrumentation. The second variation, in E flat, is a solo for the first oboe, while the fourth is a surprisingly passionate outburst in G minor. Following the fifth variation comes a brief coda, eccentric to the end.
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I. Vivace
II. Adagio
III. Menuet, Trio I, Trio II
IV. Finale, Allegro
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