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Joseph Haydn – “The Father of the Symphony”


Haydn as portrayed by John Hoppner in England in 1791


We are looking forward to another enjoyable term of music-making, which starts on Tuesday 19th September 2023.


One of the pieces which we will be playing is by Joseph Haydn, who is often referred to as “the father of the symphony”. Born in Austria in 1732, his early life was a struggle as he looked for free-lance work as a musician. However, when he started to compose string quartets, his talent was recognised, with a contemporary writing of them that “they abound in novel effects and instrumental combinations that can only be the result of humorous intent”. He was soon in demand as a performer and teacher, with full time employment at the court of the music loving Prince Esterhazy following soon afterwards. This position as conductor of a court orchestra in an isolated part of the Hungarian countryside proved to be the perfect setting for Haydn’s work as a composer to develop. He said of himself “There was no one near to confuse me, so I was forced to become original”.


Following the death of his employer in 1790, the court orchestra was disbanded, and Haydn was pensioned off. This left him free to travel, and after fond farewells from Mozart and other friends in Vienna, he crossed the English Channel on New Year’s Day 1791 for his first visit to England. This was the start of a very fulfilling period for Haydn, with the composition of new symphonies and audiences flocking to his concerts. A repeat visit in 1794-1795 was equally successful and was when his later symphonies (numbers 99-104) premiered.


From this London period, we will be playing an arrangement for strings of the 2nd movement of Symphony 100. Haydn’s biographer wrote that Haydn “considered the days spent in England the happiest of his life”. This sense of contentment is reflected in abundance in this movement as it brims with feeling, drama, elegance and wit.

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