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Creation Date: 1778/79· Instrumentation: Fl 2 Ob 2 Fg 2 Hr – Pk – Str · Duration: 25’ · Created as Symphony #72.
Symphony No. 53 in D major ('L'Imperiale')
The slow introduction, Largo maestoso, leads to a Vivace with, for Haydn, unusually consistent four-bar phrasing, further emphasised by the slow harmonic motion, owing to the triadic construction of the main motif. Perhaps this implies an association with stage music, which we know is the case for the finale. This unusual phrasing persists not only in the second group, when the main theme is transferred to the bass with an active quaver countermelody above, but, more surprisingly, throughout the first part of the development. The latter does eventually become contrapuntal, speeding up — if this is not interpretative overkill — to two-bar units; eventually, in a wonderful passage of 'suspended animation', the main motif leads chromatically under sustained winds back to the recapitulation. In the minuet, the second part characteristically 'closes' onto a deceptive cadence, following which an analogous passage over a dominant pedal prepares the final flourish.
The Andante theme sounds as if Haydn could have adapted it from a popular tune, although no model has been located; most probably he composed it himself. It stands for his entire world, in which apparent artlessness conceals high art. Simple in texture, it is a straightforward double period, 8+8 bars; each strain is divided into 4+4 bars by half-cadences, and further into 2+2+2+2 bars by the constant two-bar subphrases, always on the same motif. Yet each subphrase is different from all the others; moreover, in the second strain the accompaniment is quietly transformed into something syncopated, chromatic and legato, leading to a distinct, if understated, climax. As a whole, the movement is an early example of what became Haydn's favourite slow movement form: double variations on alternating major and minor versions of related themes.
Of the two finales (see the Historical and Chronological Notes), the later one, 'A', is marked 'Capriccio. Moderato'. Its main theme is an elaborate two-part construction: a | b — a, with a modulation to the dominant in 'b'; its apparently placid course is belied by the five-bar phrasing in 'a'. The movement as a whole is a large-scale ternary form, with the middle section in the tonic minor; it begins with the same motif but soon goes its own way, with an odd 'whining' melody at the first cadence, a quasi-development section (at one point
recalling the first movement of Mozart's 'Jupiter' Symphony) and a very long retrans-ition based on the main motif. The reprise is expanded considerably at the close. The earlier finale 'B' confirms its origins as an overture by its bustling activity (except in the second theme), its lack of internal repetitions, and its long, sequential development.
I. Largo maestoso - Vivace
II. Andante
III. Menuetto e Trio
IV. Finale, Presto
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Joseph Haydn
The Symphonies

Philharmonia Hungarica
Antal Dorati

33 CDs, aufgenommen 1970 bis 1974, herausgegeben 1996 Decca (Universal)

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Symphonies complete

Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra
Adam Fischer

33 CDs, aufgenommen 1987 bis 2001, herausgegeben 1996
Brilliant Classics

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Academy of Ancient Music
Christopher Hogwood

10 doppel- und triple-CDs
aufgenommen und herausgegeben 1990 bis 2000
Decca (Universal)

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