Thursday, 25 September 2008

166. Joseph Haydn - Symphony No.94, "Surprise" (1791)


Title: The London Symphonies, Vol.2
Performers: Amsterdam Concertgebouw
Director: Colin Davis
Year: 1981
Length: 23 minutes


Haydn's constantly humorous approach to to his compositions is never as clear as in this particular symphony. The subtitle of "Surprise" is not here by accident, the second movement has a little musical joke, in the middle of a soporiferous slow movement, so simple as to sound almost like a lullaby, Haydn makes a loud crashing sound.

Is it meant just as a surprise or as a way to wake up the dozing audience? We will never know, but it is smart, funny and original. If the symphony consisted solely of this movement it would be interesting enough to include it here. Hell there have been entries here shorter than that movement.

The rest of the symphony is equally as bright spirited as that little joke in the second movement would make you believe, while Mozart is circling the drain of Romantism and death, getting progressively gloomier with only some bits of light shinning through, Haydn retains all his joviality, and that's nice.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

As with Haydn's England visits in general, the premiere was greatly successful. One reviewer wrote that the symphony was "equal to the happiest of this great Master's conceptions." In his feeble old age Haydn remembered the premiere with nostalgia, recounting to his biographer Griesinger: was my wish to surprise the public with something new, and to make a debut in a brilliant manner, in order not to be outdone by my pupil Pleyel [who was leading a rival series of concerts] ...the first Allegro of my Symphony was received with countless bravos, but the enthusiasm reached its highest point in the Andante with the kettledrum stroke. Ancora, ancora! sounded from every throat, and even Pleyel complimented me on my idea.

Toward the end of his active career Haydn wove the theme of the second movement into an aria of his oratorio The Seasons (1801), in which the bass soloist depicts a plowman whistling Haydn's tune as he works.

Here is the second movement, turn up your sound:

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