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Creation Date: 1. Hälfte 1774· Instrumentation: 2 Ob 2 Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 25’ · Created as Symphony #60.
Symphony No. 55 in E flat major ('The Schoolmaster')
This symphony provides the main example in this volume of Haydn's 'turn' towards a lighter style, which became so important later in the 1770s. The chief sign of this is its inclusion of two theme-and-variation movements, the slow movement and the finale. Whereas previously such movements had been rare in the symphony (most of Haydn's earlier slow movements and finales are in sonata form); now he adopts them as a normal resource.1 Furthermore, this galant orientation in individual movements entailed changes in the patterns of 'weight' and import among the four movements in the cycle, which we will have occasion to note below and in future volumes.
The nickname 'Schoolmaster' for this symphony is spurious; it appears in no eighteenth-century source and as far as is known was not associated with any symphony by Haydn until the lexicographer Ernst Ludwig Gerber did so, in the second decade of the nineteenth century.2 To be sure, Haydn did compose a work with the nickname 'Der Schulmeister': a lost early divertimento bears this nickname in both of his thematic catalogues. Possibly it originated in connection with a children's pantomime by Joseph Kurz(-Bernadon), with whom Haydn collaborated on Der krumme Teufel.3 Hence Gerber may have been aware of the existence of such a work and simply attached the label to the wrong one.
The first movement, although not 'difficult' (see its opening fanfare and cantabile answer), is structurally complex. The exposition rushes forward in typically Haydnesque fashion; typical as well is that the contrasting piano 'theme' is actually an unstable construction, whose inability to cadence is only confirmed by the swift forte interruption. As in No. 54, the development is longer than the exposition — much longer, in fact; it comprises three substantial paragraphs in a complex modulatory scheme; the second of these begins with one of Haydn's very best 'false recapitulations'. In the 'true' recapitulation, the winds vary and extend the cantabile phrase in a wonderful new manner.
The variation slow movement bears the remarkable and unique heading 'Adagio, ma semplicemente'. That Haydn's ostensible 'simplicity' is actually a highly self-conscious eccentricity becomes obvious as the final note of the first phrase, which enters 'too soon', in the 'wrong' harmonic context. The theme has written-out repetitions of both halves, for the purpose of contrasting an initial 'sem-plice' statement, dotted-rhythmed and staccato, with a supple, legato 'dolce' statement; the same is true in Variation 2. In Variations 1 and 5 this principle of contrast is worked out in a different way, through dynamics and orchestration, while the pianissimo Variation 3 is a remarkable essay in expressive chromaticism.
The minuet features a 'Scotch snap' rhythm and, yet again, a novel retransition; the trio is, literally, in three parts (two violins and bass). The finale is another set of variations, outwardly similar to that in Symphony No. 42 (see vol.6), even to the inclusion of a separate variation for winds alone. Its witty theme is no less beguiling, if less eccentric, than that of the slow movement. In addition, this is a clear early example of Haydn's 'variation-rondo' (another of his many formal inventions), adumbrated again in the finale of No. 42. After Variation 2, the variation pattern breaks off in favor of a modulating interlude based on violent contrasts, which leads to a new variation in G flat, the flat mediant — the first such 'remote' key relation, as far as is known, in any variation movement. But its second half again resumes the modulations, eventually returning to the tonic for a last, rousing/orte variation and a brief, witty 'tag' ending.
I. Allegro di molto
II. Adagio, ma semplicemente
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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10 doppel- und triple-CDs
aufgenommen und herausgegeben 1990 bis 2000
Decca (Universal)

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