3 Hilarious Examples of Rhythmic Ingenuity in Lesser-known Haydn Symphonies


Hi. I’m Richard Atkinson. This video will explain three hilarious examples of rhythmic ingenuity in lesser-known Haydn symphonies that aren’t part of a famous cycle like the Paris or London symphonies, and that don’t have famous nicknames like many of the others. I hope by the end to convince you that the Haydn symphonies are an almost never-ending source of musical genius that largely goes underappreciated by most classical music listeners. In the first example from the “presto” finale of Symphony No. 29 in E major, Haydn toys more with the phrasing than with the rhythm, although it’s probably an unimportant distinction, given how quickly the measures go by. Let’s start by listening to the first 11 measures: Measure 12 is definitely the beginning of a new phrase, which leaves us to make sense of the phrasing in the preceding 11 measures. They seem to be in duple meter, and there’s a repeating four-measure pattern that makes up the final eight measures. That leaves us with the first three measures which are purposefully, deviously confusing to the listener. If the first measure is heard as an upbeat, it makes sense as part of the otherwise duple phrasing. But it’s hard to hear it as such because it’s a loud forceful confident tonic note. Alternatively, we can combine the first three measures together and imagine a triple phrase followed by the duple phrases. In either case it’s confusing to the listener to have to divide 11 measures into phrases. At measure number 1, Haydn fools us again by switching to triple phrasing, which lasts until measure number 21, when he switches back to duple phrasing, until measure 33, when he switches back to triple phrasing, and in measure number 48, he finally settles on duple phrasing for the remainder of the exposition. With all this in mind listen to the entire exposition. The development section is short and doesn’t develop much of anything at all, but it does start again with an odd extra measure, which this time seems to stand alone ,since the rest of the development divides nicely into groups of four measures. This long stretch of straightforward phrasing prepares the listener once again to be confused by the first note of the recapitulation, which sounds even more convincingly like a downbeat this time. Now listen to the short development and the opening bars of the recapitulation. The second example is the minuet from Symphony No. 65 in A major. Start by listening to the first repeat. You probably already noticed the amusing four-quarter-note pattern that appears in the framework of a 3/4 time signature, with a forzando ornamented note to accentuate the beginning of each four-note group. It occurs again in the second section, but this time the horns are in on the joke, joining in with a comical four-beat pattern of their own. The third example comes from the finale of Symphony No. 80 in D minor, which is slightly better known than the previous two examples. The finale itself is actually in D major, and I’m going to play the first few bars without showing you the score. If you’re completely perplexed by what you just heard, you’re definitely not alone. The piece actually begins on an upbeat syncopated tied note which at first you can’t possibly know just by listening alone. The entire exposition plays around with this hilarious idea, so I’ll let you listen to it without further comments from me. The development section has two of my favorite ingeniously amusing moments. The first violin begins with a statement of the theme in D minor, with the expected accompaniment from the other strings in D minor. The first violin then repeats the same notes as before, but with a hilarious accompaniment transformation of the key, the rhythm, and the type of instrument, now played by the oboes and bassoons, in f major, and at the beginning of each beat. To conclude the video, I’ll play the rest of the development section which continues the confusing syncopations and ends with an outlandishly funny moment when two very intense syncopated notes are played by the whole orchestra, followed immediately by the quiet syncopated beginning of the recapitulation.