Work: Symphony no 100 in G major, H 1 no 100 "Military"
About This Work
In the wake of Haydn's glorious first journey to England in 1791-1792 (after three decades in Esterháza castle on a marshy plain in Western Hungary), he grew angry and dispirited back home in Vienna, where Prince Anton had moved the court.
While he remained the official and fully-salaried Esterházy Kapellmeister, there were no duties. Newspapers took no notice of his return or the extraordinary success abroad. His cherished Mozart had died; his Xanthippean wife behaved more mulishly than ever; and there was an unpleasant year spent with brash young Beethoven -- come from Bonn to study with him -- who made it plain that were Mozart still alive, he would have been first choice.
And so, when Johann Peter Salomon invited Haydn back to England for two more seasons of concerts, he was primed. Managing to finagle permission from Prince Anton (who kept him on the payroll as a trophy), he left Vienna on January 19, 1794, accompanied by his copyist and devoted factotum, Joseph Elssler. Haydn had already composed Symphony No. 99 and portions of 100 and 101 (the latter nicknamed Clock by London audiences) for a new season of 12 concerts in the Hanover Square Rooms, where an expert orchestra now included clarinets. He and Salomon co-conducted -- from the harpsichord and the concertmaster's chair, respectively.
His Military Symphony was the 1794 season's third and final premiere, on March 31 -- Haydn's 62nd birthday -- and enjoyed a career-high success. The audience demanded an encore after the second movement, which introduced "Turkish" instruments (triangle, crash cymbals, and bass drum) heretofore heard only in the opera house. This scene was repeated at a second performance on April 7, and likewise after the repercussive finale. Conventional wisdom has held ever since that Haydn was commemorating the war-in-progress against France. But more likely he was remembering the Ottoman incursion of 1788-1790 into the Hapsburg Empire, during which Joseph II was taken ill at the front and subsequently died. Trumpet music in the second movement was an actual army call known as the Austrian General Salute.
Today, this symphony, with the exception of the slow movement, sounds exuberant, even buoyant, with characteristic flashes of humor. Yet Haydn quite seriously evoked war, as he did several years later in the Masses In tempore belli and In angustiis (aka "Lord Nelson"), and as Beethoven did thereafter in Fidelio, in the "Agnus Dei" of his Missa solemnis, and in the finale of the Ninth Symphony. It bears noting, beyond the percussive novelty, that the Military Symphony has a monothematic finale; that the exposition of the first movement (after an Adagio introduction) assigns the main theme to a flute and two oboes -- unprecedented in concert music before 1794; and that the trio of the minuet has a loud, dotted ostinato passage underscored with timpani (could Giordano have remembered this in the opening scene of Andrea Chénier?). The Military Symphony has even more surprises than the so-called Surprise of 1791, plus greater finesse and a total mastery of means.
-- Roger Dettmer
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