Program Notes

Franz Joseph Haydn

BORN: March 31, 1732. Rohrau, Lower Austria

DIED: May 31, 1809. Vienna

COMPOSED: Early 1794, though the second movement employs material written in 1786 for an earlier work

WORLD PREMIERE: March 31, 1794 (Haydn’s 62nd birthday), at the King’s Theatre in London

US PREMIERE: May 1, 1825, in Boston

SFS PERFORMANCES: FIRST—December 1919. Alfred Hertz conducted. MOST RECENT—April 2008. Bernard Labadie led

INSTRUMENTATION: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in C (in the second movement only), 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, and strings. The performance practice of the time would have also called for a keyboard instrument to serve in a sort of continuo capacity; at the work’s premiere, Haydn led the work from the pianoforte

DURATION: About 22 mins

THE BACKSTORY In 1790, Franz Joseph Haydn’s employer of nearly three decades, Prince Nicholas Esterházy, died and was succeeded by his son, Anton. The new prince did not much care for music. He granted Europe’s most admired composer a pension; and though he kept Haydn on staff as his music director, he made it clear that no particular duties—or even attendance—would be required. Haydn was free to explore.

The impresario Johann Peter Salomon, a German expatriate in England, secured a Haydn tour. Following his first trip ever aboard a ship, Haydn arrived in London on January 1, 1791, and embarked on a schedule of musicmaking and social appearances that included dinners with the Royal Family and the acceptance of a doctorate from Oxford University. He returned to Vienna in the summer of 1792 having enjoyed the experience enormously, and he happily accepted a second invitation to visit London, in 1794­–95.

For these two residencies, Haydn wrote a group of twelve symphonies (his Nos. 93 through 104) that ever since have been dubbed the “London” or the “Salomon” symphonies. The initial concerts booked for the second residency extended from February through May 1794, with Symphony No. 100 being unveiled midway through. At the final concert (on May 12), Salomon informed the crowd that Haydn had consented to stay in England for a further season. He may have been thinking of settling in London permanently, but Prince Anton Esterházy died unexpectedly and his successor, Prince Nicholas II, immediately moved to restore the musical program. Ever the loyal employee, Haydn returned to Austria once he fulfilled his London commitments in the 1795 season.

During that 1794 season, Haydn’s Symphony No. 100 gained special popularity thanks to its programmatic overtones. The subtitle Military was not devised by Haydn—like all of his “London” symphonies, this one was unveiled simply as “a New Grand Overture”—but the name became attached practically on the heels of the premiere. The 1790s were bellicose years; the Reign of Terror in France moved English Royalists to form an anti-French alliance with Austria, Holland, and Spain—this when the unsettling business with the upstart colonies in America was still a fresh wound. Napoleon was on the rise, and by 1798 it would fall to England’s own Viscount Nelson to arrest the French Army’s military designs on Egypt. Austria got swept up in the web of warfare through its alliances, and Haydn did his part by producing his Mass in Time of War and Nelson Mass (a.k.a. Mass for Troubled Times), as well as a now-forgotten cantata called The Battle of the Nile to celebrate Nelson’s visit to the Esterházy Court in 1800.

THE MUSIC By the 1790s, Austrian composers had adopted a specific sound to signify the military: the music of the Turkish Janissary bands that were attached to political processions of Ottoman officials, whose nation had an adversarial history with some European courts. In Vienna, the vogue for Janissary music was in full swing already in the 1770s and ’80s. Triangle, cymbals, and bass drum were particularly associated with the “Janissary sound,” and they all figure prominently in the second and fourth movements of Haydn’s Symphony No. 100. (One early manuscript of the score suggests that a tambourine may have been used, too.) Trumpets can also have a military connotation, and Haydn does not fail to insert an authentic trumpet fanfare in the second movement of his symphony. He also employs a pair of clarinets in C in that movement; a bit more piercing than standard clarinets in A or B-flat, they were staples of military bands at the time. Usually Classical composers omitted the more forceful instruments—brass and percussion, sometimes all the winds—from their symphonic slow movements; here Haydn contradicts expectations by scaling up his orchestration and throwing the spotlight on his added forces.

We seem to be getting ahead of ourselves with these observations about the second movement before even mentioning the first. But that reflects not only the prominence the Allegretto enjoyed from the outset but also the chronology of its creation. It preceded the rest of the symphony by some years, having begun life as a movement from a concerto for two lire organizzate (Hob. VIIh:3) that Haydn wrote for the King of Naples in about 1786. (The lira organizzata was a curious hybrid of a miniature organ and a hurdy-gurdy.) For the most part, the symphony movement is an exact transcription of the earlier piece (though with extra inner parts), up to the point where Haydn adds a coda that begins with a haunting, low-pitched trumpet call. This, along with the ensuing drum-roll, must have represented the “climax of horrid sublimity” to which an early reviewer referred, although it may not strike quite the same tone of terror in listeners today.

The rest of the symphony is no less marvelous. As had become Haydn’s habit, the first movement begins with a slow introduction that darkens in texture and harmonic complexity as it progresses. Shadows are dispersed, however, with the charming Allegro section, beginning with flutes and oboes alone, sounding almost toy-like after such an introduction. The second subject has been debated by scholars: either it did or did not serve as later inspiration for Johann Strauss I’s Radetzky March. This opening movement seems to be unrolling in a well-behaved sonata form and reaches a semi-colon on the dominant chord of D major, signaling that we are on the verge of the development section. But the development begins with a startling silence—two measures of it—and then the music picks up, rather tentatively, in the key of B-flat major. The drop of a third at that point is highly unorthodox, but anyone looking for orthodoxy in late Haydn is likely to go away disappointed. Similarly, the recapitulation is launched “just as it should be” in G major but then suddenly side-steps to E-flat major, the drop of a third mirroring the similar feint at the beginning of the development.

The “military” second movement follows, after which Haydn offers an enjoyable Minuet and Trio, the former notable for the fact that the opening eight measures are not simply repeated verbatim (as everyone would have expected), but instead are reiterated with an entirely new orchestration. Novelty lurks in the Finale, too, where the Janissary percussion instruments pay another visit (though not the clarinets). This movement was as warmly embraced as the second in its day, and within a few years its main theme gained currency as a popular dance under the title “Lord Cathcart’s Welcome Home.” —James M. Keller

LISTEN AGAIN: Colin Davis conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips) 

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