SS No. 65 | Haydn No. 93

by Glenn on December 23, 2017

Franz Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 93 in D Major

Adagio—Allegro assai
Largo cantabile
Menuetto: Allegro
Finale: Presto ma non troppo

first performance: 17 February 1792
The Hanover-Square Concert Rooms, London

Ádám Fischer
Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra

Sir Colin Davis
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

Before there were “rock stars,” there was Franz Joseph Haydn who, late in life, after his golden age of artistic accomplishment ended in the palace of Esterházy with the death of Prince Nicholas Esterházy, was brought to England by Johann Peter Salomon to present his music to Londoners. The twelve symphonies beginning with No. 93 are known as the “London” symphonies, created for his trips to England. Haydn and this batch of symphonies were very popular. Concerning these symphonies, Michael Steinberg indicates,

“they are bigger, more grandly orchestrated, more brillinatly composed, deeper, and funnier than anything Haydn had done in the genre before. After London, Haydn wrote no more symphonies, and the London twelve were sufficient to keep his Viennese audiences entertained for a while.”


Long notes up front build suspense. We know the first movement will have some forward momentum, but this slow opening takes us on a journey through keys near and far. Big cadences add intensity. When the movement begins, the opening melody is absolute charm. The second tune feels like it has origins in dance.


The string quartet opening is beautiful and contrasting. It doesn’t repeat, so you have to enjoy it while it lasts. It’s gorgeous. The woodwinds are allowed to shine with the restatement. An oboe obligato near the end of the movement is both surprising and delightful. And the bassoon’s “moment” is hysterical. So much humor and wit or, perhaps, mild impertinence.


Steinberg describes this movement as “vigorous, very physical,” which is just right. Where the dance music in the opening movement is light, in the trio staccato eruptions from trumpets and drums provide a different sort of dialogue.


Again, a contrast, which is an operating principle for the symphony at this point in history. In the middle section, the woodwinds are allowed to shine soloistically. Steinberg declares the ending of the symphony “must have been the most brilliant and energetic London had ever heard.” Further, the end of this symphony was studied by Beethoven who applied lessons learned to his D Major Symphony No. 2.

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It’s been a while since my last formal listening—Shostakovich Symphony No. 5—but it’s interesting how this idea of and overall design for a musical work consisting of four contrasting movements will be largely the same over the course of 140 years or so while what composers do within the mold wil change dramatically over the years. I used to think, “Poor Haydn, if only he knew what Beethoven, Dvořák, et al would do with his music, maybe he would have done something different.” But the more I listen to Haydn in juxtaposition to what more modern composers have done, the more enjoyable I find his whole enterprise and I can understand why so many are included on Steinberg’s list. It’s a bit like the homes of Frank Lloyd Wright, which are unique from other homes but are thoroughly individual when compared to each other.

The two performances I listened to were terrific. I may try to find a performance by an orchestra with period instruments, but I have no complaints about what I heard. Phenomenal playing.