Classical Music for Winter

Haydn Symphonies Nos 100 “Military” and 104 “London”

Although Joseph Haydn is rightly thought of as a Viennese composer, he spent several lengthy spells in London at the invitation of violinist, Salomon. It was on these occasions that he wrote his last twelve symphonies (Nos 93-104) between 1791 and 1795. I feel that any one of these latter symphonies will appeal to the inexperienced listener wishing to become familiar with this genre of “classical music”. I can well remember introducing my children to a number of Haydn’s latter symphonies and none of the pieces elicited the oft heard “oh no, not more classical music”! Interestingly the listening public in Vienna were used to quite a different manner or theme in music to that which Haydn came across in London. Far from the Viennese court audiences, London suited the bourgeois public. We often refer to the Haydnesque “humour”, however there is more to these symphonies than perhaps can be presumed at first listening.

The Symphony No.100 in G is nicknamed the “Military” Symphony. Here, in the second movement Haydn uses the then popular Turkish music with emphasis on the base drum, cymbals and triangle. The first movement, whose secondary theme, seems to take on the popular theme of the Radetsky March. A thoroughly jolly piece of music!

Symphony No 104 in D was Haydn’s last symphony, written in 1795 when he was 63. This is a work highly reminiscent of Mozart and I find this observation most significant (ref. Konold) that this piece points the way to the orchestral works of Beethoven. Each time I listen to this work I note this observation with interest and agree wholeheartedly. The slow movement is quite beautiful and has been described as “capturing the entire scope and depth of Haydn’s music”. The finale is based on a Croatian folk-song and truly demonstrates the composer’s technical competence.

I have always enjoyed Sir Colin Davis’ interpretation of these famous symphonies and here I am recommending this fine pairing with Sir Colin and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam.

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