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  • Writer's pictureGraham Abbott

Haydn's Symphonies: Part 15

The second London visit: 99-104 (1794-95)

This post is the fifteenth and final instalment in our survey of the complete symphonies of Joseph Haydn. The previous post covered the first of the composer’s two triumphant visits to London in 1791-92. In this post we explore the six symphonies written for his second visit and which end his extraordinary series of more than a hundred symphonies composed over nearly half a century.

Haydn left London in 1792 after eighteen months in England, promising to return the following year. The English papers were full of news of his impending return in early 1793 but this wasn't to be. Why Haydn delayed is not clear, and the papers started making up reasons, with some articles claiming he was ill. Another even said that he'd decided to have an operation on a nasal polyp, but this too was fiction.

In all likelihood Haydn simply wanted a break from the exhausting round of concerts, composing, social events and travelling his first visit to England had entailed, plus it was probably a relief to be back in Vienna and able to speak German again; his English was basic at best and language issues must have been a constant strain in England.

1793 was also a momentous year in European politics. Louis XVI was guillotined in January of that year and the ensuing tensions across Europe, not to mention actual wars, would have made travel risky until the situation could be better understood. Haydn was wise to delay, but he didn't delay for long. Still in the nominal employ of Prince Anton Esterházy, and on a pension from the court, Haydn gained permission to undertake a second visit to London in 1794 and he arrived in early February of that year.

French engraving: "Day of 21 January 1793 the death of Louis Capet [Louis XVI] on the Place de la Révolution"

Just as he’d written six symphonies for his first visit (nos 93-98), so Haydn intended to write a further six for the second. Symphony no 99 was written in Vienna in anticipation of the return visit and it was premiered in London only a few days after his arrival. No 99 was the first symphony in which Haydn included clarinets in the orchestra, and all but one of the six symphonies written for the second London visit use them. Furthermore, all six of the second London set show Haydn clearly setting out to "conquer new territory", as the noted Haydn scholar James Webster has put it.

No 99 explores remote key relationships, with movements in G major and C major set in the home key context of E flat. But Haydn's classic wit is never far away. Possibly because it lacks a nickname, and because its musical treasures are less-easily appreciated by the untrained ear, no 99 is not often heard today. I have a special fondness for it and have performed it several times. [listen]

In terms of the sheer popular appeal of Haydn's symphonies in London, nothing, it seems, could have topped no 94, the "Surprise" symphony, which was premiered on his previous visit. But with his next symphony, no 100, Haydn seems to have done just that. No 100 is now known as the "Military" symphony because of its inclusion of so-called Turkish or military instruments in the 2nd and 4th movements. These instruments - bass drum, triangle and cymbals - had never been used in a symphony before and their employment here caused a sensation.

But there's more to no 100 than the noisy percussion. The first movement, like all the second set of London symphonies, starts with a slow introduction which begins innocently but which soon takes us on an unexpected journey. The main fast section which follows is one of Haydn's most dynamic, and like no 99 makes it clear that the winds will be given equal treatment to the strings. Interestingly the clarinets are silent in this movement; like the extra percussion, they have to wait until the second movement before they get anything to play. (In fact the clarinets don't play in the third or fourth movements, either.) But the flutes, oboes and bassoons have plenty to do in this opening movement.

Haydn based the second movement of no 100 on a theme he'd originally used in a concerto for the obscure lira organizzata written for the King of Naples some years before. (See Part 13 for a discussion of this instrument and Haydn’s use of this music in Symphony no 89.) It's a tune which is simple and catchy, and in this orchestral version Haydn dresses it in the prettiest of orchestral colours, again featuring the winds and with no hint of the percussion onslaught about to occur. It's in the central section, in the minor key, that Haydn unleashes his battery of percussion. The major key returns, initially without the extra percussion but they soon join in. For the coda Haydn adds fanfares, making the "Military" nickname even more appropriate.

The militaristic sound of this movement touched a nerve with its first audiences, acutely aware as they were of the horrors being unleashed in France and the wars breaking out across Europe. It seemed to say aloud what everyone was thinking and feeling, and the response was electric. The Morning Chronicle reported it in these terms:

Encore! encore! encore! resounded from every seat: the Ladies themselves could not forbear. It is the advancing to battle; and the march of men, the sounding of the charge, the thundering of the onset, the clash of arms, the groans of the wounded, and what may well be called the hellish roar of war increase to climax of horrid sublimity! which, if others can conceive, he alone can execute; at least alone hitherto has effected these wonders.

The "Military" symphony has one of my favourite Haydn minuets, while the finale is a brisk romp in a Presto 6/8, as toe-tapping and engaging a finale as Haydn ever wrote. The coup, of course, is reintroducing the percussion instruments from the slow movement right at the end to provide the noisiest and perhaps most unbuttoned finale of any Haydn symphony. [listen]

Bowles' Pocket Map of London (1795)

The symphony no 101 in D received two performances a week apart in March 1794 and like the "Military" symphony, it had an ecstatic reception. The English public was keenly aware that every new symphony Haydn presented them was exactly that: new. As the Morning Chronicle wrote of this piece:

...the inexhaustible, the wonderful, the sublime Haydn! The first two movements were encored; and the character that pervaded the whole composition was heartfelt joy. Every new Overture [that is, Symphony] he writes, we fear, till it is heard, he can only repeat himself; and we are every time mistaken.

The opening of no 101 is a perfect example of Haydn's ability to capture his audience and hold them in the palm of his hand, but it's in the second movement that he managed to really capture his listeners. The accompaniment in this movement, ticking away with a smile on its face, rapidly gave no 101 its nickname: the "Clock".

Later in the same movement, Haydn wrote an extraordinary passage for four treble lines and no bass: the first violins are accompanied by a trio of flute, oboe and bassoon. Such sounds were virtually unprecedented and Haydn's audiences clearly loved it.

The minuet is one of Haydn's trademark fast minuets, full of good humour. The humour gets slightly out of hand in the trio, though, where the strings "forget" to change harmony under the flute solo the first time it's heard. After a suitable rebuke, fortissimo, from the whole orchestra, they get it right the second time. Many old editions assumed Haydn had made a mistake here and "corrected" it. In fact the clash is completely intentional.

Lest one suspect that Haydn's late symphonies are all fun and no seriousness, it should be emphasised that the composer's notorious sense of humour is only part of the equation in the London symphonies. The finales are almost always virtuosic in the extreme, requiring amazing agility and finesse on the part of every player. Moreover, despite their simple-sounding tunes, there is almost always an episode where Haydn indulges in complicated counterpoint, creating a sense of breathless energy which is unique and remarkable and always fresh. The finale of the "Clock" symphony is a perfect example. [listen]

Symphony no 102 in B flat is the one symphony from the final six which doesn't use clarinets. It was also at the premiere of this symphony - most probably - that the chandelier fell from the ceiling, narrowly missing the audience which had just at that moment surged forward to get a better view of Haydn. Tradition has associated that event - which certainly did happen - with no 96, which is why that symphony is called the "Miracle" (see Part 14), but subsequent research indicates that it actually happened at the premiere of no 102 in 1794.

In no 102 Haydn seems to go out of his way to avoid jokes and horseplay, choosing to write a work which is almost overwhelming in its elevated seriousness. Its opening movement is powerful and energetic, but probably the work's chief glory is the slow movement. This is Haydn's own arrangement of a pre-existing movement from one of his piano trios, but in the symphony the music is transformed into a sublime and moving statement. The movement contains a part for solo cello in the accompaniment, and the horns and trumpets are muted. That Haydn was predicting the world of Beethoven and Schubert in this music is undeniable.

The minuet evokes Schubert as well, and the opening of the finale is easy to mistake for Beethoven or Schubert. [listen]

Memorial stone in Westminster Abbey to Johann Peter Salomon, the violinist who brought Haydn to London

Haydn's second-last symphony, no 103, was composed in London in the winter of 1794-95, and premiered on 2 March 1795. It has had, almost from day one, the nickname of the "Drumroll" symphony, because of the opening bar, which Haydn entrusts to the timpani alone. This bar is traditionally performed as a simple roll on the note E flat, starting loudly and getting softer. However, Haydn's score contains the word "Intrada" next to this timpani bar, suggesting that some sort of improvised drum introduction is required, and not just a single roll. In recent years - with period instrument orchestras and a greater focus on historically informed performance practice - it has become more common to hear the timpani perform some sort of introductory cadenza at the start. Compare the openings of these performances, for example:

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Harnoncourt [listen]

Les Musiciens du Louvre / Minkowski [listen]

The slow introduction continues in an almost sinister, unpredictable way, foreshadowing perhaps the great prelude to The Creation which Haydn would soon write. Again, the fast section of the first movement is in 6/8. It's not Presto this time, although at Allegro con spirito this music is still very tricky to bring off, and it again shows Haydn's seemingly inexhaustible well of musical invention at age 62.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that Haydn repeats part of the slow introduction - complete with the timpani solo - right near the end of the movement.

The slow movement of the "Drumroll" symphony is a fascinating and involved set of variations on a sinister-sounding theme in C minor. The variations keep moving to and from C major with never-ending variations in instrumental colour as well. The movement eventually ends in the major, meaning that the change to the symphony's home key of E flat for the minuet is yet another example of Haydn shifting keys by thirds, something he did extensively in symphony no 99.

In the trio section of the third movement, Haydn finally gives the clarinets some prominence, albeit with them doubling the violins, but the absence of the flutes and oboes in the trio means that the clarinets' tone is more easily discernible.

The monothematic finale of no 103 is fast and furious, and technically very challenging for the orchestra to bring off with the required energy, lightness and accuracy of ensemble. [listen]

And so we come to the end of our journey, Haydn's last symphony. It's tempting to see no 104 in D as in some way Haydn's own summation of everything he had achieved in nearly 40 years of symphonic writing, but such 20/20 hindsight isn't required. Whether or not Haydn intended to write no more symphonies after this one is anyone's guess, but it is true that while he wrote a great deal of music in the fourteen years he still had to live, after this he wrote no more symphonies.

For some arbitrary reason, no 104 is known as the "London" symphony, an odd title considering the last twelve of Haydn's symphonies are collectively known as the "London" symphonies. But the name has stuck and will probably always be used. It was composed in London in early 1795 and premiered in May of that year.

What is undeniable is that regardless of whether or not Haydn knew it would be his last symphony, no 104 was a great one to go out on. Like the "Clock" symphony, no 104 is in D major and starts with a D minor introduction, but in no 104 the tone is stern and commanding, rather than mysterious and questioning. The mood of the major key fast section is one of Haydn's most positive and life-affirming.

Like no 102, no 104 contains no jokes or gimmicks, just freshness, clarity and beauty from start to finish. The slow movement is yet another set of variations, and the minuet is one of Haydn's most down-to-earth. The central trio section of the third movement yet again moves to a key three steps away - B flat major - in yet another example of Haydn using this sort of modulation.

The finale, though, is one the best. Some musicologists claim that the theme upon which it is based is a old Croatian folksong, but from the opening pedal note to the final perfect cadence Haydn knows what we need to hear even before we do. It's music which always sounds new, no matter how well you know it, and one of the best examples I know of the master audience-manipulator at work. I for one am more than happy to let him lead the way. [listen]

William Blake's "London", from the Songs of Experience, first published in 1794 (hand-painted print, 1826)

Haydn stayed in London until mid-August 1795, and shortly before he left he tallied up all the works he had written in and for England, covering both his visits since 1791. As well as listing the works he composed, he tallied up the number of manuscript pages each took to write. The result was a staggering 768 sheets of music. As well as the twelve symphonies there was the opera written for the first visit which was never performed, sets of dances, string quartets, songs and much else besides.

In his monograph on Haydn's visits to London - a major source for these final two parts - Christopher Hogwood rightly points out that this represents a musical legacy to England which has never been repeated by any other visitor. For his part, Haydn declared that his visits to England had been the happiest days of his life and had "opened a new world to him." Given the time, Haydn can always open new worlds to us.

This article is based on a Keys To Music program first aired on ABC Classic FM (now ABC Classic) in November, 2012.

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