Haydn’s “Military” Symphony No. 100

It would be fun to travel back in time to visit the dynamic public concerts of London’s Hanover Square Rooms during the early 1790s. This is when Franz Joseph Haydn was taking the city by storm, conducting his final twelve symphonies (Nos. 93-104) from a seat at the harpsichord. Haydn remained on the payroll of the Esterházy court during this time. But it was London where he was regarded as a rockstar, thanks to an invitation from the prominent impresario, Johann Peter Salomon.

Symphony No. 100 in G Major (1794) was written for Haydn’s triumphant return to the English capital. It’s filled with surprising, new sounds- most notably the “Turkish” exoticism of the triangle, crash cymbals, and bass drum. Audiences at the time might have expected to hear these special effects in the opera house, but not in a symphony. From a bugle call (a quote of the Austrian General Salute) to drumrolls, this “Military” Symphony is filled with the sounds of the battlefield. England was embroiled in the French Revolutionary Wars at the time, but Haydn may have been more influenced by the sounds of the Austro-Turkish War which occurred between 1788 and 1791.

Following the premiere, a writer for the Morning Chronicle wrote,

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 increased to a climax of horrid sublimity.

Still, all of these “Military” references occur within the context of stately elegance and even humor. The cheerful melody which opens the Allegretto second movement originated in this music from Haydn’s Concerto for Lire Organizzata in G, Hob. VIIh/3. There are moments which seem to foreshadow the music of Beethoven. (The young, rebellious Beethoven came from Bonn to study with Haydn around this time). Compare these ascending scale lines in the strings in the third movement (Menuetto: Moderato) with this familiar passage from the third movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

This music is a whirlwind of energy, humor, and surprise- an exhilarating unfolding drama of conversing voices. With every jolting interruption, teasing imitation, interjection, “wrong” note, and sudden turn, it’s easy to get the sense that a power has been unleashed which has a “mind” of its own. All of this craziness reaches an exuberant climax in the final movement. Fasten your seatbelt and enjoy the wild ride…

Five Great Recordings

Photograph: a depiction of the Battle of Valmy which occurred on September 20, 1792 during the French Revolutionary Wars, Horace Vernet, 1826

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

2 thoughts on “Haydn’s “Military” Symphony No. 100

  1. In contrast to Haydn’s trend of speeding up his minuets, here he slows the pace back to Moderato providing a more old-fashioned aristocratic minuet.

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