1765: 1: Haydn: Symphony No. 28 in A major (Ambiguous Meter + Bariolage), age 31 GA

Mr. Peabody Says:

This is one of the best symphonies I’ve ever heard in my life. The 1st movement is written in 3/4, but at least half of it is in 6/8 and is a mastery of the hemiola. The 3rd movement sounds like a howdown. It is literally 18th century pop music and must have delighted everyone. Start here: Menuetto e Trio (Trio in A minor) 2:18

Giovanni Antonini/Il Giardino Armonico

  1. Allegro di molto 5:52 (0:10-6:02)
  2. Poco adagio in D major 7:08 (6:02-13:10)
  3. Menuetto e Trio (Trio in A minor) 2:20 (13:10-15:30)
  4. Presto 3:30 (15:30-18:10)

Total time: 18:57


  1. 2 oboes
  2. bassoon
  3. 2 horns
  4. strings
  5. continuo

Nickname: “Ambiguous Meter + Bariolage”

It’s mine. This symphony is unique and deserves a name.

1st movement:

The 1st movement is in 3/4 time by key signature, but it starts out clearly in 6/8. That’s just the beginning. There are also all sorts of accented offbeats. In something like “America”, from “The Westside Story” you expect this kind of ambiguous meter, where one measure is marked 3/4 and the next is 6/8. But in Haydn? And yet here it is. It’s like the dancer who keeps changing direction, the optical illusion. Of course he knew exactly what he was doing. And I love this. I love it whenever composers go so far out of the box that theorists don’t even catch it, because I did not find one word written about this rhythm.

2nd movement:

This is like a string quartet, four parts with 1st and 2nd violin, viola and cello, but the bass part is also played on a double bass, and there are several players playing each part.

3rd movement:

This minuet employs “bariolage”, a technique used in string instruments. It comes from the verb barioler “to streak with colour”, and gives a sense of disorder or oddness. The player alternates between an “open” (unfingered) string and an adjacent string. The open string is always the same note; the other string plays other notes. (like A D A E A G etc.). An open string has a richer resonance. The other notes sound different than normal, by being played on a thicker and unexoected string with a different timbre. That gives the “colour” and oddness.

Haydn used bariolage a lot: in this symphony, the Farewell Symphony, and especially in the fourth movement of a quartet called the Frog where it alternates on the same note on two strings (a real ‘oddness’).

The trio is in A minor, for contrast, and there are only strings.

In bluegrass fiddling the technique is known as “cross-fingering”.

4th movement:

The last movement is in 6/8 and very fast. The idea is to play it fast as possible with a ton of energy. It doesn’t say that it is a jig (gigue), but that’s exactly what it is, and so the 3rd and 4th movements together are a one-two punch of 18th century pop music, all written for the aristocracy.

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