Joseph Haydn

Symphony No. 104

Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method

Duration: About 30 Minutes
Genre: Symphony
Time of Creation: 1795
World Premiere: 04 May 1795 (London)

Table of Contents

Haydn's Symphony No. 104 in 5 Sentences

Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 belongs to the famous “London Symphonies”. Haydn created the total of 12 London symphonies as commissioned works for the concert promoter Johann Peter Salomon; they were premiered in London in two “installments” (1791 and 1792). This enterprise was successful for Haydn in three ways: first, in terms of finances (see the quotation below), second, in terms of prestige (see the “Questions and Answers” below), and third, privately (the already somewhat aged, but mentally and physically fit Haydn may, it is assumed, have had several love affairs in London). Symphony No. 104 forms the conclusion of the London symphonies and is considered by many musicologists to be the crowning achievement of Haydn’s symphonic oeuvre or even the crowning achievement of the classical symphony in general.

Note: This work belongs to the Classical Music Top 100.

4 Highlights from Haydn's Symphony No. 104

Highlight 1: first movement – fanfares and a chant-like theme

The first movement from Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 is very varied. It begins with massive fanfares, which is followed by a brisk but simple and chant-like main theme:

Highlight 2: second movement – theme with variations

In the second movement Haydn shows all his variation skills. A theme marked by typical Haydn humor (it seems to “hop” along) is varied in every conceivable way:

Highlight 3: third movement – fast dancing

Haydn still calls the dance movement a “minuet”, but with the indication “Allegro” he demands a rather fast tempo. This movement can therefore be seen as a starting point for the development of the minuet into a scherzo, which Beethoven in particular advanced:

Highlight 4: fourth movement – folklore!

In the last movement, we are once again confronted with “Papa Haydn’s” great humor. With a lot of wink he processes a theme that comes from folklore:

3 Questions and Answers about Haydn's Symphony No. 104

Question 1: What is the nickname of Haydn's 104th Symphony?

Haydn’s 104th Symphony is sometimes referred to as “London” (after the place of its premiere), “Salomon” (after the concert organizer), and “with the bagpipes” (because of the folklore elements in the last movement).

Question 2: When did Haydn first perform his Symphony No. 104 in Vienna?

The first Viennese performance of Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 was on December 18, 1795.

Question 3: Was the first performance of Haydn's 104th Symphony successful?

The first performance was very successful. Haydn was extremely popular in London. Newspaper reviews were full of praise: there was talk of “fullness, richness, and majesty”; it was even prophesied that there would probably be no better composer than Haydn in the next 50 years.

2 Recommended Recordings of Haydn's Symphony No. 104

Recording 1: Sinfonietta Riga, Alexei Ogrintchouk (live, 2022)

With Sinfonietta Riga and Alexei Ogrintchouk conducting, there is this live recording from Amsterdam’s famous Concertgebouw:

Recording 2: NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra, Herbert Blomstedt (live, 2019)

There is also a live recording from a famous German concert hall, the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg:

1 Quote about Haydn's Symphony No. 104

On May 4, 1795, I gave my benefit concert in the Haymarket Theater. The hall was full of select company. a) First part of the Military Symphony; Aria [...]; Concert [...]; Duet [...] by me; a new Symphony in D, namely the twelfth and last of the English ones; b) Second part of the Military Symphony; Aria [...], Concerto [...], Scena nuova by me, Mad. Banti (She sang very scanty). The whole company was extremely amused and so was I. I made four thousand guilders that evening. One can only do such a thing in England.

Haydn's entry in his notebook about the premiere of the 104th Symphony

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