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Creation Date: 1787· Instrumentation: Fl 2 Ob 2 Fg – 2 Hr 2 Trp – Pk – Str · Duration: 22’ · Created as Symphony #90.
Hob.I:88 Symphony in G Major
Composed in 1787, Symphony No. 88 is the first of the pair of symphonies that Joseph Haydn gave the Esterházy violinist Johann Tost on his journey to Paris in order to keep the Parisians interested in Haydn’s compositions. What is unusual about this G major symphony is that Haydn allows the trumpets and timpani to pause for the entire first movement. This was ascribed to Haydn having to work long and with interruptions on this symphony so that he “forgot” about the instrumentation for the first movement. Far more likely responsible for these instruments being saved for the surprise in the second movement is a calculated economy of composition, for as a “professional composer” Haydn simply forgetting about it is too absurd. And when the work is heard in context it is obvious how simple it was for Haydn to achieve an enormous impact without particular effort. One sees that not just any instruments were held in reserve, but specifically the timpani and trumpets – only then to be brought in when a slowdown would be expected – that is, in the second movement. Yet back to the beginning of the symphony. The first movement requires the slow introduction, for its principal theme is extremely terse, actually just an accented rhythmic figuration of little melodic individuality. The introduction misleads the listener to expect that something “important” will now occur. Yet an almost spartanic theme is presented, simultaneously providing Haydn with the opportunity to unfold his exceptional virtuosity in composition and his orchestral brilliance. The movement also tends toward the monothematic with an extremely casual secondary theme. As one is wont to believe, Haydn set about the “intellectual challenge” of creating an absorbing movement (based indeed on all the “rules” of the art) with a “little thematic content.” The second movement, in particular, became famous, probably as a result of its consummate melody and tone combined with Haydn’s compositional skill at varying the basic material seven times without making any essential changes to the melodic substance, yet presenting something “new” every time. The finale is a perpetual-motion kehraus, in which a plethora of variations and combinations are unfolded out of an inconspicuous motival core as in the first movement. It is one of those movements which the listener is unable to get out of his or her head even hours after the end, boldly put, a “hit.”
I. Adagio - Allegro
II. Largo
III. Menuetto e Trio, Allegretto
IV. Finale, Allegro con spirito
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