Haydn’s Symphony No. 102

  • SPCO Cal Performance 261


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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Symphony No. 36, Linz

In the mid-1780s, Mozart wrote two symphonies for specific cities: Linz (No. 36) and Prague (No. 38). The Prague Symphony was completed at leisure in Vienna and then taken to Prague for a performance, but Mozart was caught on the hop in Linz. In late October 1783, he was on his way home from a rather trying three-month visit to Salzburg during which his wife and father met for the first time as in-laws. Living under the same roof, they clearly loathed each other. So it must have been with some relief that Mozart headed home for Vienna. En route he stopped at Linz, where he had many friends, as he wrote to his father:

When we reached the gates of Linz . . . we found a servant waiting there to drive us to Count Thun’s, at whose house we are now staying. I really cannot tell you what kindnesses the family showers on us. On Tuesday, November 4, I am to give a concert in the theater here and, as I have not a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one at break-neck speed, which must be finished by that time. Well, I must close, because I really must set to work.

The letter was written on October 31, so Mozart was not only giving a concert on five days notice, but was also expected to offer up a brand new symphony. Maddeningly, this letter is the last piece of contemporary evidence that survives about the premiere. All we know is that the concert took place, the symphony exists, and Mozart must have been quite happy with it. He thought it fine enough to present in Vienna in April 1784, when he billed it (with admirable honesty) as “a quite new grand symphony.”

Who knows what drove him over those five days, but he produced his finest and grandest symphony to date. Many commentators have detected the strong influence of Joseph Haydn in the slow introductory passage. This was the first time Mozart tried opening a symphony this way, and his innate sense of theater ensures that he carries it off with aplomb. Trumpets and drums add brilliance, not solely in the outer, fast movements, but also in the slow movement. This original stroke was probably purely a result of circumstance. The orchestra in Linz had trumpets but no flutes, so Mozart worked with what he had. All in all, there is no more impressive example than this of Mozart’s fabulous facility for writing first-class music at high speed.

Svend-Einar Brown ©

Franz Schreker


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Franz Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 102

After the successes of the 1791 and 1792 concert seasons presented with Johann Peter Salomon, Haydn would have been happy to stay in London. Instead, Prince Anton Esterházy recalled Haydn to Austria, where he spent the next eighteen months. During that time, Haydn gave some lessons to a young firebrand recently arrived in Vienna, one Ludwig van Beethoven.

Haydn arranged a second London visit as soon as he could, and he began composing more symphonies in advance of the trip, which began in February 1794. He stayed through the 1795 spring season, but by then Salomon had disbanded his concert series, so Haydn shifted his presentations to the “Opera Concerts” mounted by the violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, whose even larger orchestra numbered around sixty players.

Most of the second batch of “London” symphonies added clarinets to the orchestration, and several featured notable effects that inspired nicknames for the works, as in the percussion arsenal of the “Military” Symphony (No. 100), the tick-tock accompaniment of “The Clock” (No. 101) and the iconic timpani lead-in that begins the “Drum Roll” (No. 103). The Symphony No. 102 does not have a descriptive nickname, although it deserves to be known as “The Miracle,” the title ascribed instead to the Symphony No. 96. It was at the premiere of the Symphony No. 102 on February 2, 1795 (and not that of the earlier symphony) that a chandelier crashed to the floor; miraculously, no one was hurt.

The Symphony No. 102 begins with a simple yet striking effect: The home pitch of B-flat, spread among the whole orchestra in several octaves, swells from a piano dynamic and then recedes. (In a nod to his old teacher, Beethoven began his Fourth Symphony with a markedly similar gesture.) The lively body of the movement maintains a thematic link to that initial motive, using held tutti octaves to make surprising pivots to new sections.

The Adagio is an example of Haydn’s self-borrowing; this music appears, in a different key, as the slow movement of a Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor, composed around the same time. The long-lined melodies, beginning in the violins, have a vocal quality about them, and the movement takes on an operatic character as it passes through dramatic minor-key episodes. The Menuet jokes around with three-note tapping figures displaced to cut against the grain of the three-beat meter, while the contrasting trio section is smooth and lyrical, entrusting melodic duties to the mellifluous pairing of oboe and bassoon.

Musicologists have identified the theme of the finale as a Croatian folk tune, specifically, according to Sir William H. Hadow, “the march which is commonly played in Turopol at rustic weddings.” Haydn was born in an area of Austria with large immigrant populations from Croatia and Hungary, and he may have been partly Croatian himself. Later, the long stretches he spent at the remote Eszterháza estate near the Austrian-Hungarian border would have provided more exposure to Slavic traditions.

Aaron Grad ©2012