The Music Plays On — Joseph Haydn Symphony №104 in D major “London”

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Haydn — portrait by John Hoppner, 1791

Haydn’s final symphony was also the final symphony he wrote for the impresario, violinist, composer, and conductor Johann Peter Salomon. This set of twelve symphonies is called the London Symphonies, or, Salomon Symphonies and this last symphony is called the London symphony…confusing, I know.

It was composed in early 1795 and premiered on May 4, 1795 in the King’s Theatre, with Haydn conducting. It was a success and Haydn was particularly impressed with his fee.

The whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I. I made 4000 gulden on this evening: such a thing is possible only in England.

I did a little snooping around and if my math is correct, and that is highly suspect, 4000 gulden would be equivalent to about $57,261 today. This isn’t too shabby for a thirty minute work!

The symphony has four movements. The first movement begins with a very grand Adagio followed by a sprightly allegro that is unique in that it only has one theme. The second movement Andante begins with what seems to be a very prim and proper theme but there are incredible outbursts that, when done right, are still shocking and comical all at the same time. The third movement is a classic minuet and trio, with the trio having a particularly beguiling quality. The final movement, Finale: Spiritoso, with its persistent drone that is heard throughout which always introduces the first theme, really has folk music qualities embedded in its very bones!

Written by

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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