Monday, June 30, 2008

Haydn: The London Symphonies: Symphony #94 "Surprise"

We've already talked about how Haydn's London Symphonies should be a foundation item in any beginner's classical music collection. Over a series of posts, we'll cover six of these twelve delightful symphonies from a Philips CD recording of Amsterdam's Concertgebouw Orchestra.
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Sir Colin Davis and the Concertgebouw Orchestra
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Haydn: 6 "London" Symphonies (Nos. 94, 100, 101, 96, 103 and 104)
Philips, 1977/2001

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Don't worry which of the London Symphonies to buy. They're all excellent and accessible to novice classical music listeners, and yet they contain beautiful passages and complex themes and melodies that bear repeated listens.

Better still, these symphonies are all quite brief, with the average symphony lasting around 25 minutes, and with movements lasting anywhere from four to eight minutes. Perfect for listening during a commute, or better still, in place of a content-free session of TV-watching.

Today we'll briefly deal with symphony #94 from this two-CD compact disc from Philips. We'll cover the remaining symphonies in future posts.

Listener notes for Symphony No. 94:
1) The "surprise" subtitle comes from the blasting chord that comes in about 30 seconds into the second movement. Supposedly Haydn said "the ladies will jump here" to a fellow composer. What a cad!

Of course the nature of "surprise" in classical music was defined upwards quite a bit by later composers (see for example Mahler's Second Symphony and the auditorially shocking transition from the 4th movement to the 5th movement). But I'm sure Haydn's little surprise was scandalous to audiences of the late 1700s.

2) You can clearly here the influence of Mozart in this work. Despite their difference in age (Haydn was some 24 years older than Mozart), the two composers were friends and greatly respected each other.

3) Recognize anything familiar about the second movement's key theme*? Haydn must have had a great sense of humor. You can tell he had a twinkle in his eye when writing this symphony.

* The theme is "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"


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