‘Haydn came to London as Europe’s greatest living composer. How did he live up to his billing with the first 16 bars of his ‘London Symphony’?
Haydn was asked to produce 12 symphonies for his visits to England, the final one being called ‘The London Symphony’ which was first performed on 4 May 1795. The first 17 bars are his Adagio introduction before the sonata Allegro form.
To start off his final symphony, Haydn wanted to make an impact and to make everyone sit up and he does this by the fortissimo and having the full orchestra (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horns, trumpets, timpani and strings) playing to make a big important sounding start to his symphony. The first two bars are regal and ceremonial starting off as a fanfare. The grand impression is given with the dotted rhythms and rising perfect fifths which combined with the octave texture makes it sound powerful and impressive. The opening key is ambiguous; we know by the tonic and the fifth that it is in D ...view middle of the document...
The rhythm is the same but the stepwise movement contrasts to the previous octave leaps and imply the feeling of apprehension. This is exaggerated by the fact that we now know it is in D minor (by the f naturals in the bass line). Throughout these bars Haydn uses inverted chords (I b – V7D) instead of the previous octaves and this adds to the mystery of the piece as the chords sound unstable. The 5th and 6th bar changes the key slightly and we expect them to sound like bar 3 but it goes to the relative major of F with the same chord progression until the fourth bar which ends with an imperfect cadence leading onto bars 7/8 which are now in the key of F major.
In bars 7/8 the opening fanfare is used again (but in F major). As a result of the key change, the horns and the timpani cannot play as they are turned to D and A. This makes this section sound weaker but it is still the same powerful fanfare idea.
After the fanfare, the mysterious music returns for 5 bars making the uneasy and anticipation feeling being stronger. This is done by the stepwise and chromatic movement which makes us stray away from the original keys we have previously used and uses F7, G minor (V7 – Ib), A minor (V7 – Ib), and back to D minor at the ending of bar 13 which ends with a perfect cadence. The rising sequence in bars 9-11 and the melodic idea being used more frequently heightens our suspicion and Haydn exaggerates this by adding another bar to the motif than previously used. Also the change from fortissimo to piano makes us suspicious.
The final 3 bars return to both the fanfare and mysterious ideas. Bar 14 is forte again contrasting to the previous section, and uses all the instruments once again being in D minor exactly like bar 1. However the next bar surprises us using a steep drop in the dynamics to pp. The mysterious motif is used but differently dropping by a fifth (compared to the usual 4th) to the subdominant. The E flat major chord at the end of the bar is rich and colourful surprising us because it is built from the flattened second degree of the scale known as the Neapolitan Chord. Bar 16 follows with a poignant solo oboe which seems melancholy and crying out for help, the bar ends with an imperfect cadence (Ic to V7) preparing us for what is to happen next into the joyful and major beginning of the Allegro section.