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Haydn's symphony played backwards

Haydn's Symphony No. 47 (1772) is sometimes known as the Palindrome Symphony, because its third movement, the minuet and trio, are both enigmatically-notated palindromes. The second half of each palindrome is missing, and the respective titles 'Menuet al Roverso' and 'Trio al Roverso' give a clue as to where they went. Following this enigmatic presentation of the minuet and trio in the published score is the fully written-out solution or 'Risoluto' to each including the retrograde so that the performers are not required to read backwards.

Still, the enigmatic notation is so consistently simple, with at most three notes per measure, that the reading of the retrograde by the performers from the enigmatic version is entirely feasible.

Artfully done

There are several aspects of this treatment that deserve mention. First, all of the details are reversed, not only note pitches and durations. Even the rests, slurs, articulations, ties, and particulaly the contrasting dynamic levels are calculated to be equally effective in reverse.

The harmonic structure of each section is not only effective but enabled by the reversal: While the first (notated) section of the minuet cadences on the dominant, its retrograde begins in the dominant and returns to the tonic. Notice the unresolved nature of the D chord in measure 10. The self same technique is used to craft the harmonic structure of the trio as well. Furthermore, an entirely separate and higher level of temporal symmetry is invisible yet audible in every minuet and trio—namely the direction 'Menuet da capo', meaning that the Menuet (with retrograde) is to be played again following the Trio. That larger symmmetry seems emphatically poignant here, since it contributes all the more to an impressive economy of notation.

The entire symphony is worthy of close study, and further contrapuntal prowess is to be observed in the other movements.

The English Chamber Orchestra's recording on youtube

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