Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D Major: A Triumphant Farewell to London

With Symphony No. 104 in D Major, Franz Joseph Haydn bid a triumphant farewell to London.

Composed in 1795, this was the last symphony Haydn would write, and the final installment in the set if 12 “London” symphonies the composer presented over the course of his two trips to the bustling English capital.

For 29 years between 1761 and 1790, Haydn was employed as kapellmeister of Esterházy Court. Isolated in the Austrian-Hungarian countryside, far from the musical influences of Vienna, he thrived as the ultimate innovator, stretching the form of the symphony as well as the string quartet. Following the death of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, his successor, Prince Anton, increased Haydn’s pension, but dismissed the court orchestra. With few duties, Haydn was able to move to Vienna and accept freelance work in addition to his salary. Then came a lucrative commission from London, which resulted in Haydn’s twelve final symphonies (Nos. 93-104). It was delivered in a direct message by Johann Peter Salomon, a prominent impresario, violinist and conductor. Suddenly, Haydn had a larger orchestra at his disposal, and he was writing, not for an aristocratic court, but for the public concert hall.

In London, the composer, now in his sixties, was greeted as a rockstar, and his music caused a sensation. Charles Burney described Haydn’s final six symphonies of 1795 to be “such as were never heard before, of any mortal’s production; of what Apollo and the Muses compose or perform we can only judge by such productions as these.”

Symphony No. 104 was performed at the King’s Theatre on May 4, 1795 as part of Haydn’s “farewell” concert. In his diary, Haydn wrote,

The hall was filled with a picked audience. The whole company was delighted and so was I. I took in this evening 4000 gulden. One can make as much as this only in England.

The slow introduction which opens Symphony No. 104 contains foreshadowings of the opening bars of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Both are set in a solemn, mysterious D minor, with edgy dotted rhythms, and the outline of the primal interval of the perfect fifth. Haydn’s motif emerges as a grand call to order, rising and falling in unison with a sense of monumental symmetry, and searching, note by note, for a way forward. The Allegro section turns suddenly into warm, joyful D major. The entire movement springs from this single sunny theme. In the development section, the music is condensed further as a two-bar fragment of the theme “takes over” and returns with obsessive persistence. As with so many examples in the music of Beethoven, a simple, seemingly insignificant, musical cell becomes elevated and opens the door to thrilling drama. The recapitulation arrives, not with the expected bar-for-bar repeat of the exposition, but with the theme veering off suddenly with a statement by the flutes and oboes.

Moving to G major, the second movement (Andante) begins with an elegant theme which tip toes along, at first in the strings alone, and then with the bassoon joining in. Suddenly, this courtly music takes a stormy revolutionary turn with the entrance of trumpets, horns, and timpani. This is music filled with surprises. Explosive outbursts evaporate just as suddenly into moments of silence. The movement continues with a series of exhilarating, adventurous variations on the original theme. We venture into a drama which is vast, exhilarating, and unpredictable.

The rugged, rustic Minuet is filled with accents on the “wrong” beats, keeping us perpetually off balance. Occasionally, two beats are superimposed against the larger feeling of three. In the trio section, a carefree melody is passed among the solo violin, oboe, and bassoon.

The final movement (Finale: Spiritoso) is an exhilarating tour de force. Emerging over a drone in the opening bars, the vigorous main theme is a Croatian folk song, Oj Jelena, which Haydn heard sung by peasants in Eisenstadt. Near the end of the movement, there is a hushed moment of stasis which sounds as if it could have come from a Beethoven symphony. It is only a glimpse, and soon we return to familiar territory. The coda delivers a boisterous and fun-loving musical “farewell.”

This performance features Paavo Järvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen:

Five Great Recordings

Featured Image: The King’s Theater at Haymarket c. 1828, Thomas Hosmer Shepherd

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.

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