Symphonies
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Creation Date: ca. 1774/75· Instrumentation: 2 Ob 2 Fg 2 Hr – Str · Duration: 30’ · Created as Symphony #65.
Symphony No. 68 in B flat major
The opening Vivace begins with a smooth, flowing 3/4 theme, which predictably becomes more vigorous later on, leading eventually to a 'second theme' that it would be criminal to hear without laughing aloud. The development seems uneventful, until by tonal sleight of hand Haydn slides into the recapitulation before we are aware of it. The end of the movement considerably expands the tonally off-centre closing theme.
For the last time in his symphonic career (the few other examples are all much earlier), Haydn places the minuet in second position, the slow movement third. The former adopts a rustic air, with four-square phrasing and simple texture, while the trio wears its sophistication on its sleeve, with joking upbeat phrases that suggest the trio of the 'Oxford' Symphony.
The Adagio cantabile is arguably the most extraordinary movement in this volume, particularly in its bewildering mixtures of Affekt. The opening theme and transition are played almost entirely by muted violins alone; the melody, in the first violins, seems arbitrary, repetitive and directionless. Meanwhile, the second violins proceed in unbroken, almost mechanical semiquavers, seemingly dissociated from the ruminative melody above (many will follow Charles Rosen in being reminded of the 'Clock' Symphony) — except for occasional forte interjections by the full band, on the same semiquaver motif, which however never come just when they 'should'. The effect is at once amusing and disorientating. As the movement proceeds, the rigid distinction between melody and accompaniment becomes more complex, as the expression becomes more serious (though at first never for too long), until, in the widely modulating development, all humour is left behind. Nevertheless, all the discontinuities return in the recapitulation. As a whole, the movement is not easy to 'read'. Are the comic elements 'stagey', or high wit, or a kind of Brechtian Verfremdung (alienation)? Do the disparate elements become synthesised into a sat
isfying whole, or do they remain unintegrated?
No such difficulties of interpretation cloud the rondo finale, as close to pure entertainment as Haydn ever came. The main theme is a raucous, triadic affair; nor do the episodes, for all their attractive variety, essay the bold modulatory or contrapuntal passages Haydn usually offers in this context — although one reprise includes a crudely canonic variant of the main theme. In the comic coda, everything is repeated to excess (this is no criticism): a high dominant pedal, dying away; 'echo solo' entries on the main motif, wittily resolving that dominant, for all the instruments in turn; a tremolo wind-up, and altogether 'too many' shouting chords at the close.
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I. Vivace
II. Menuetto e Trio
III. Adagio cantabile
IV. Finale, Presto
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