i. Adagio — Presto ii. Andante iii. Menuetto — Allegretto and Trio iv. Finale — Vivace
In 1790 Haydn’s thirty year tenure as Kapellmeister at the Court of Esterhazy became looser with the succession of a new Count, and he was able to escape the ties that he had willingly allowed to restrict his movements.
Having been cloistered for so long he had little idea of the extent of his fame, so it came as something of a surprise when the impresario Johann Peter Salomon called upon him later in 1790 at his home in Vienna to tell him how popular his music was in London and to invite him to visit London personally to compose six special symphonies. Haydn leapt at the chance, despite his trepidation at the thought of a fortnight’s journey through Europe culminating in a perilous channel-crossing. Before he left he and his pupil Mozart met to bid each other farewell; the younger composer expressed his fear that he would not see his mentor, then aged 59, again, but by the saddest irony it would be Mozart rather than the relatively aged Haydn who would be dead within two years.
Haydn was to stay in London on this first visit for a year and a half, directing the successive premieres of his symphonies Nos 93 to 98 with Salomon playing in the orchestra, before returning home to fulfil the commitments he still had at Esterhazy, and to take on a promising young pupil, one Ludwig van Beethoven, a relationship which eventually foundered shortly after Haydn’s second stay in London.
Salomon was anxious to build on the success of Haydn’s first visit and invited him back to London for six more symphonies, Nos 99 to 104, which were duly written and premiered in London between early 1794 and May 1795. Four of the final six have since been given nicknames, the Military (No 100), the Clock (No 101), the Drum Roll, (No 103), and the London (No 104), but Nos 99 and 102 escaped that slightly doubtful honour. Despite the fact that Haydn was to continue composing until shortly before his death fourteen years later, No 104 was his very last symphony; safely settled back in Austria he was to move towards oratorio, producing, amongst others, the groundbreaking Creation in 1798, The Seasons in 1801 and the Harmoniemesse in 1802.
The twelve Salomon or London symphonies continue the development of the form, progressing in the second six, for example, towards making the clarinet an ever-present member of the symphony orchestra where Mozart had used it only sparingly — Nos 98 and 102 are the only two of the last six symphonies which don’t – and introducing trumpets and timpani in some slow movements and Minuets, which he does in the Clock. In the final six symphonies his wit and invention reach new heights, each symphony a total joy, cementing his acknowledged status as ‘Father of the Symphony’.
As regards style, present performance practice in Haydn and Mozart tends towards leanness, with smallish string sections, but Salomon’s orchestra, it appears, consisted of at least sixty players. London’s love affair with Haydn remained undiminished, and reviews both of the composer and the orchestra were consistently in the ‘rave’ category; the day after the premiere of No 101 the Morning Chronicle wrote: ‘Nothing can be more original than the subject of the first movement, and having found a happy subject, no man knows like Haydn how to produce incessant variety without once departing from it.’
The Clock begins with Haydn’s customary slow introduction; the seeds of the movement’s main themes are sown in deeply portentous fashion, including dramatic sforzandos, promising an equally uncompromising Presto. But, lo and behold, it’s yet another of Haydn’s teases — the main body of the movement sets off in a buoyant 6/8 which is full of wit and good humour; it’s truly music to bring a smile to your face and make your toes tap. Melodic and rhythmic vivacity are the order of the day, and it’s easy to see how the audience at the premiere would have been instantly captivated.
Then comes the movement which eventually attracted the symphony’s nickname. The bassoons introduce the tick-tocking bass line supporting the elegant, musical-box style main theme, which is subject to a demonstration par excellence of Haydn’s ‘incessant variety’, including of course a stormier minor key episode and one or two startling key changes.
The Minuet is Haydn’s most extensive and is open to a variety of interpretations. Listen to Sir Thomas Beecham, recorded in the fifties, for example and you hear a genteel Minuet as it could have been heard and danced-to at a ball in the early 19th century. As with many great movements, however, it can also be a virile and ebullient romp, which nevertheless retains its original elegance. The Trio section perpetrates another Haydn tease; strings begin with a subdued but rhythmic drone over which 1 st flute plays an improvisational solo, but at the first playing the strings resolutely refuse to change their harmony to match the flute — everything is resolved for the same solos a moment later. The finale is another dynamic Rondo, once again beginning with a hushed energy but bursting into action with echoes of the sturm und drang (‘storm and stress’) artistic movement of the 1770s and 80s. Those echoes dispelled, the movement proceeds with exhilarating spirit; it’s a virtuoso display of ingenuity, as always, and a complete demonstration of the joyous human spirit.