Creation Date: 1776· Instrumentation: Fl 2 Ob 2 Fg 2 Hr – Pk – Str · Duration: 25’ · Created as Symphony #69.
Symphony No. 61 in D major
No better example of the unassuming art that animates Haydn's symphonies of the middle 1770s could be found than this lovely work, which even the great Haydn scholar Jens Peter Larsen dismissed as 'pleasant and unpretentious'. That it is pleasant, nobody will deny. Its opening theme, like that of N0.53, combines rapid surface activity and slow-moving harmony; as the movement proceeds we realise that this block-like phrase organisation is characteristic. But this, along with the entertaining rondo finale based on a 'hornpipe' theme in 6/8 time, are virtually its only features that can be called unpretentious, and even then only in the sense of 'unassuming', not modest or conventional. Indeed the block-like passages eventually become memorable; see the quavers for the winds at the beginning of the second group, and especially the closing theme, whose quavers become four octaves deep in oboes and horns and thus 'surround' the strange, chromatically rising semibreve melody.
The Adagio features the earliest example of an important thematic type in late Haydn slow movements: the 'beautiful', hymn-like melody in triple time. For this gorgeous movement, with its expressive transition and positively Schubertian second theme, the epithet 'unpretentious' is wildly inappropriate. The minuet begins conventionally enough, but its second part is much extended in unexpected ways; the trio features an oboe solo. As for the finale, the only appropriate response is to laugh aloud but, as everyone knows, this is just when Haydn is at his least innocent.