Haydn: Symphony No.68 in B flat

2016-02-16 — Original posting
2016-09-22 — Brushed up for better readability

This posting is about the Symphony No.68 in B flat, by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809), of which I currently have two recordings:

See my earlier post on Symphony No.103, “Drumroll”, for general remarks on these and alternative integral recordings of the Haydn symphonies. This short comparison is a “by-product” of my preparation for reviewing a concert in Zurich (2016-02-02).

Background, About the Composition:

Musicologists assume that Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) composed his Symphony No.68 in B flat in 1774/75 while he was employed by Count Nikolaus I. Esterhazy. Symphony No.68 is written for 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, and strings; it is the first one with two independent bassoon parts, and the last one to have the Menuetto / Trio as second movement — a position which thereafter was reserved for the slow movement.

The Movements:

The Symphony No.103 in E flat, “Drumroll” has four movements (note that empty and non-essential parts have been removed from the score samples below; sorry about the bad quality score. I tried my best at enhancing the poor quality scans available on

I. Vivace (3/4)

60 + 98 barsHaydn, Symphony No.68 in B flat major, score sample, mouvement #1This is a movement in (early) sonata form. Both parts (exposition and development + recapitulation) have repeat marks.

II. Menuetto (3/4) — Trio (3/4) — Menuetto da capo

Menuetto: 8 + 28 bars; Trio: 8 + 12 barsHaydn, Symphony No.68 in B flat major, score sample, mouvement #2, MenuettoThe Menuetto is a measured dance — not fast (tempo di minuetto)Haydn, Symphony No.68 in B flat major, score sample, mouvement #2, TrioThe Trio there has no tempo annotation. Presumably one ought to play this at the same or a similar tempo as the Menuetto. Yet, it has a completely different character, with dynamic contrasts, three bars with pizzicato accompaniment for the first violin, followed by three bars with the accent on the “weak” last note in the 3/4 time. One can imagine the dancing couples getting lost at this…

III. Adagio cantabile (2/4)

47 + 79 barsHaydn, Symphony No.68 in B flat major, score sample, mouvement #3Even without any repeats, this movement is longer than any of the other movements with repeats. At least, if played at the tempo that the two conductors below chose (rather a Lento in 2/4 time). The movement does feel like 4/8 (4 beats per bar) rather than 2/4 (2 beats per bar). However, there are notes as small as 1/48 (demisemiquaver hexuplets), which precludes a substantially faster execution.

IV. Finale: Presto (3/4)

268 bars without repeats, 368 bars with all repeatsHaydn, Symphony No.68 in B flat major, score sample, mouvement #4This movement is a Rondo with three intermezzi (“couplets“) and a coda:

  • Rondo theme (12 + 18 bars, both parts repeated)
    • Intermezzo I (12 + 12 bars, both parts repeated), with bassoon duet
  • Rondo theme (12 + 18 bars, no repeat)
    • Intermezzo II (14 + 12 bars, both parts repeated), with oboe duet
  • Rondo theme (56 bars, no repeat)
    • Intermezzo III (8 + 12 bars, both parts repeated)
  • Rondo theme (30 bars, no repeat), theme in semiquavers
    • Coda (52 bars), with a nice echo section in the middle, played by a concertino (soloists).

The Interpretations:

The two recordings below are 40 years apart, hence vastly different in several aspects. Still, I consider both non-HIP, in that they use modern instrumentation.

Antal Doráti, Philharmonia Hungarica (1969)

Haydn: The complete Symphonies, Antal Dorati, CD coverHaydn: The Complete Symphonies

Antal Doráti, Philharmonia Hungarica

Decca 478 1221 (33 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1973 – 2009 / © 2009
Booklet: 47 pp.: just track listing (English)

Haydn: The complete Symphonies, Antal Doráti, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on—

spacerTo my knowledge, Antal Doráti (1906 – 1988) made the first widely available recording of all 104 Haydn symphonies, together with the Philharmonia Hungarica. For additional remarks on this integral recording see my earlier posting on Symphony No.103, “Drumroll”.

Unfortunately, there is no real documentation with this CD box. There’s just a leaflet with track listing, the recording team, plus year and location of the recording (Bielefeld / 1969 for symphonies No.49 – 72).

I. Vivace

Duration: 4’31”, second part not repeated (1/4 = 144)
The tempo is too fast — semiquaver figures are not executed properly. Oddly, the tempo even picks up in the course of the exposition (and of the recapitulation). So, for most of the movement, the tempo feels driven — outside of my “comfort zone”.

II. Menuetto — Trio

Duration: 3’49” (1/4 = 122 / 1/4 = 118)
The articulation is very broad and uniform, also the dynamics in the Menuetto. The Trio is dynamically more differentiated. It also features lighter articulation. But overall, the movement (especially the Menuetto) feels rather heavy, not really dance-like.

III. Adagio cantabile

Duration: 7’35”, no repeats played (1/4 = 32)
The articulation is very broad in the first violins, “ultra-legato“. The notes in the melody are just long. They lack all forming, structuring (pre-1960 esthetics). Strangely, there is a tempo jump in bar 17 (suddenly slightly faster). Also later, the same thing happens again: cutting artifacts, (odd) intent, or lack of tempo control?? Also, the dynamic contrasts are all softened (especially the f / staccato interjections), probably with the idea to make the movement feel gentle, soft.

IV. Finale: Presto

Duration: 4’57” (1/4 = 154)
The tempo is too fast for this orchestra: the articulation is superficial — and again too broad in the legato parts.

Overall Duration: 21’07”
Rating (see above for details): 2.8 (3 / 3 / 2 / 3) — Very much a traditional performance that can’t compete with recent (HIP or non-HIP) interpretations.

Dennis Russell Davies, Stuttgarter Kammerorchester (2009)

Haydn: The Symphonies, CD #18f., Dennis Russell Davies, CD coverHaydn: The Complete Symphonies

Dennis Russell Davies, Stuttgarter Kammerorchester

Sony classical 88697 443312 (37 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2009
Booklet: 60 pp. English/German

Haydn: The London Symphonies, Dennis Russell Davies, UPC-A barcode
—Find CD(s) on—


For information on the Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (Stuttgarter Kammerorchester) and Dennis Russell Davies see my earlier posting on Symphony No.103, “Drumroll”. The continuo features a harpsichord, which definitely is historically correct and helps clarifying the rhythmic structure. This is a live recording.

I. Vivace

Duration: 7’16” (1/4 = 132)
The tempo is substantially slower than Doráti’s. However, it never feels rushed, the articulation is clean and light. Overall, this is clearly better and preferable. One could argue that the tempo is at the lower limit (at the border of feeling static, too comfortable for a Vivace). Still, I prefer that over “faster and superficial in the articulation”!

II. Menuetto — Trio

Duration: 3’57” (1/4 = 122)
This recording proves that also with new instruments it is possible to keep the articulation light(er), while still observing the slurs in the score. The result feels far less heavy and clumsy than Doráti’s. The Trio has at the same tempo as the Menuetto, but still retains its distinct character with the dynamic contrasts and the accents.

III. Adagio cantabile

Duration: 10’53”, second part not repeated (1/4 = 31)
Even though this is very slightly slower than Doráti’s interpretation, it feels lighter and is a pleasure to listen to (certainly in relative terms). The articulation is lighter, long legato notes are formed. The dynamic contrasts, the built-in surprises (f / staccato interjections) work as expected. The second part is not repeated. However, this would make this movement last 15.5 minutes: about as much as the other three movements combined.

IV. Finale: Presto

Duration: 5’21” (1/4 = 142)
Better tempo (slower, controlled), maybe at the lower limit for a Presto (feels rather like an Allegro). At least, it comes with clean articulation, lighter than Doráti, with much more dynamic differentiation.

Overall Duration: 27’46” (including applause)
Rating (see above for details): 4.0 (4 / 4 / 4 / 4) — definitely much preferable over Doráti’s interpretation.


Haydn’s Symphony No.68 in B flat was featured in a concert at the Tonhalle in Zurich, on 2016-02-02, with Richard Egarr and the Zurich Chamber Orchestra — see my concert review for As this is in German, I have written up a separate, more extended review in the posting “Isserlis, Egarr / ZKO — Zurich, 2016-02-02“.

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