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The D major Symphony’s ceremonial start implies a more stately work to grace Esterházy’s palace. In contrast to the dramatic contrasts and surprises of Symphony No 52, its character is unhurried, with a slower rate of harmonic change even in the main Vivace section of the opening movement. With the Andante second movement we perhaps hear something of what Holst meant by “a wealth of experience of town and country”: we hear two charming themes, one in A major which may possibly be related to a French folk theme and certainly was widely circulated in various arrangements; then a second in A minor. These are both subject to variations through the movement. With the Minuet we return to the home key of D, the music straightforward and offering relatively few surprises compared to the minuet of the C minor Symphony. The final movement in the surviving Esterházy orchestral parts of Symphony No 53 is headed “Finale. Capriccio”: much of it is presented in the form of a statement played softly (piano) answered by a forte balancing statement, the movement ending in a lively and literally striking manner with a solo spot for the timpanist. The alternative finale, marked simply Presto, is more often found in old manuscript copies of the symphony and is a more obviously lively piece, a reworking of an overture with some differences in the scoring from the rest of the Symphony—notably divided bassoon parts, and originally no flute and timpani parts (added by Robbins Landon for modern publication).
from notes by Daniel Jaffé © 2015