Symphonies
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Creation Date: 1778/79· Instrumentation: 2 Ob 2 Fg – 2 Hr 2 Trp – Pk – Str · Duration: 19’ · Created as Symphony #71.
Symphony No. 70 in D major
This unusual symphony has enjoyed a high reputation among Haydn aficionados ever since H.C. Robbins Landon's appreciative account of 1955.2 It is in 'D major-minor'; its complex major-minor play is correlated with the contrast between serious or 'learned' and light or galant style, so important in eighteenth-century music: the first movement and minuet are bright, forward-driving movements in D major and in 3/4, while the slow movement and (most of) the finale are in D minor and duple metre, and are 'demonstratively' contrapuntal. At the same time, however, as in the analogous case of the String Quartet, op.20 no.2 (1772), Haydn manipulates this correlation in unexpected and profound ways.
Thus the opening Vivace con brio, so fast as to be virtually one-in-a-bar, opens with a striking two-note falling motive that immediately develops into downward arpeggiations of the triad. Still in the tonic key, a piano counterstatement of the same motive brings an imitation with the bass, at two-bar intervals. The motive then returns as the principal idea of the second group in the dominant; again it is imitated in the bass, but now at the interval of only one beat, producing a quasi-canonic texture; it undergoes further contrapuntal manipulations in the development. In the recapitulation, astonishingly, a hitherto unassuming, rising stepwise motive is subjected to equally complex elaborations. However, all this is conflated with straightforward, jaunty homophonic passages: counterpoint, though present, is not the predominant aesthetic stance.
Quite the opposite is the D minor Andante, a double variation movement with alternating minor and major strains (A-B-Al-B1-A2). Haydn somewhat ostentatiously labels the main theme 'Specie d'un canone in contrapunto doppio'; the opening strain of its internal a1a2ba3 form is in two bare parts, which, along with the dotted rhythms, create a distinctly unheimlich air. Sure enough, the a2 strain inverts the parts; the theme, in the bass, is labelled 'canto fermo' and is accompanied by a new inner part in tenths. Following the rather brief b strain, a1 places the original bass in the inner part, labelled 'contrapunto', while a new bass gives the necessary harmonic stability at the end. The B sections are in sunniest D major, with a winsome tune featuring 'turn' motives in fast notes and nearly constant demisemiquavers in B,; but the demisemiquavers are present throughout A1 as well. This movement so strongly projects minor-major contrast — the telos of the symphony as a whole — that Haydn can afford to conclude with a simple restatement of A, elaborated only by occasional chromatic passing notes and two final cadential bars.
The boisterous minuet is homophonic and rhythmically two-and four-square; it compensates by continually varied harmonisations of the initial bar of its four-bar main idea. The brief trio contrasts utterly: piano, legato, and (like the slow movement theme) in only two parts, which however (unlike the slow movement theme) are homophonic, and indeed coalesce into bare octaves at every cadence. For the first time in a symphony, Haydn writes a separate coda following the repetition of the minuet proper, in which the equivalent of bar seven finally receives an appropriately strong cadential harmonisation.
But the finale is the capstone of this remarkable symphony. It begins homophonic-ally and pp, with a naked, high, repeated crotchet motive in the first violins alternating with legato lower strings, a combination that some have heard as suggesting the buffa stage. Suddenly the repeated notes thunder out forte, and we move to, and pause on, the dominant. Now begins a strict fugue, 'a 3 soggetti in contrapunto doppio'; its most prominent subject features the same repeated crotchets, yet again conjoining the galant and the learned. As always in Haydn, the fugue leads to new contrapuntal and rhetorical combinations during its course; one of the most remarkable is a canonic passage on the repeated crotchet motive alone, the other two subjects dropping out. Again, as always, sonata style eventually takes over: a long dominant pedal leads eventually to a perfect authentic cadence and full stop. But this is not the end: the homophonic 'stage-setting' music returns and leads, via a surprising reinterpretation of the forte outburst, to yet another dominant pedal. Now the fugue breaks out again, astonishingly in D major (the key of the galant); the crotchet theme blazes triumphantly in horns and trumpets (who could not play it in the minor, owing to the lack of the lowered third degree in their natural scale). Yet even this is not the end: the fugue breaks off almost at once, and the 'stagey' music returns one last time, leading to a joking yet profound ending that it would be witless to attempt to describe. Over the course of the symphony its two worlds — major and minor, galant and learned — turn into one.
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I. Vivace con brio
II. Specie di un canone in contrapunto doppio, Andante
III. Menuet e Trio, Allegretto
IV. Finale Allegro con brio
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