Almost every symphony by Haydn is a 'surprise symphony'. Even his earliest symphonies play tricks with our expectations.
Take his Symphony No.15 in D major, written pre-1761 (before he went to work for the Esterházy family). The first movement takes an unusual form. You are sailing along on a delightful, relaxed texture consisting of a long and graceful tune for the violins placed over a pizzicato accompaniment, with a pair of horns adding the occasional comment. The serenade-like effect is enchanting, especially when the horns take over the tune against a high held note from the violins. Then suddenly you are surprised by an abrupt switch to the minor. The surprise is quite a mild one as genial movements in the major do sometimes make such moves to the minor. However, there's then a pause...and then a presto section (in sonata form) bursts in, hurtling around with manic energy. This section introduces the woodwinds, who have hitherto been silent witnesses. That was pretty surprising but, again, Haydn symphonies are known for sometimes having slow introductions (though not at this early stage in his career) so, yes, it's not that surprising I suppose. But what's this? The presto itself suddenly stops and the serenade-like music of the opening returns again, as if nothing had interrupted its easy-going flow. That 'shouldn't happen' in a Haydn symphony! Haydn seems here to be reverting to the old form of a 'French overture', where the slower opening music returns after a contrasting fast section.
Symphony No. 15 is a gem and this splendid, unusual opening movement is followed by a swinging Minuet with one of Haydn's catchiest tunes. All the sections of the orchestra join in the dance here. The contrasting Trio section, however, uses the strings only, setting the upper ones in a gentle and utterly charming dialogue with the lower ones.
The Andante third movement is the other section of the symphony where the strings sing alone. The song they sing is a lyrical one which I find particularly lovely. The tune has a catchy hook around which the flow of melody is hung and there are some sweet suspensions to savour too.
The short closing Presto is a spirited affair but, in another surprising move, it encloses a muted episode which sets a syncopated dance over a perpetual motion accompaniment.
(It was about time the patron saint of this blog got another look-in!)