Joseph Haydn wrote over a hundred symphonies; he is sometimes called the father of the symphony (also of the String Quartet). His London symphonies, a dozen of them written between 1791 and 1795, were his last. They solidified his reputation as one of the era’s most prolific composers of the form. According to Wikipedia, Haydn’s time in England, near the end of his 77 years, was the best of his life.
Musically, Haydn seems to owe as much to a demanding boss as other composers do to collaboration and formal education, neither of which he received much of during his formative years. Haydn spent most of his prime working years in the service of the wealthy Esterhazy family. As patrons, the family was passionate about its extensive musical establishment – the patriarch was a musician who commissioned works for his own instrument, the baryton. Operating mainly from a family palace in rural Hungary, Haydn developed a reputation as one of Europe’s best composers. Mozart was a great friend; Beethoven was a sometimes pupil.
“The Surprise” is Haydn’s 93rd symphony, the Second London Symphony. Named for a fortissimo moment in the second movement, the work was well-received at its debut in March of 1792. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m playing it – at least its most famous 16 measures. “The Surprise” moment of Haydn’s Symphony number 93 is tucked away in the second movement, which Wikipedia reports is an andante movement of theme and variations. I’ve been working to better incorporate dynamics into my playing; since “the surprise” is nothing but a momentary dynamic shift playing it seems an appropriate choice out of my book of famous classical excerpts.
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