Symphony No. 103 in E flat The Drumroll (1795)
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
- Adagio – Allegro con spirito
- Allegro con spirito
Haydn spent most of his working life in the employ of the Austro-Hungarian Esterházy princes as a liveried servant of the court. Prince Nikolaus the Magnificent was seriously committed to music and to providing his court composer with all the support and facilities he could have wished for. Haydn’s reputation grew such that he received commissions from France and Spain, even though he had not ventured further than 100 kilometres from his birthplace. When Nikolaus died in 1790 his son, Prince Anton, disbanded the orchestra and Haydn became unemployed for the first time in his career. However, the German-born, London-resident impresario Johann Peter Salomon immediately invited him to London with a generous commission to compose and perform twelve symphonies. Haydn arrived in London on New Year’s Day 1791. Over the following year he introduced the first six of his so-called ‘London’ symphonies to a rapturous reception not seen in London since the height of Handel’s operatic triumphs 70 years previously. The following year Haydn returned to Vienna to escape the exhausting London social melee. When he returned in 1794 with his final six symphonies he was received even more enthusiastically than before. The King invited him to settle in England, but Haydn declined.
Symphony No. 103 is the second last of all Haydn’s symphonies and in may ways the most original. The striking opening drumroll that gives the symphony its nickname introduces an imposing slow introduction that is ambiguous in both key and metre. Although the ensuing Allegro con spirito starts with a jolly folk tune (based on a Croatian melody), and the second theme is also dancelike, they too succumb to rhythmic and harmonic ambivalence, with accented offbeats and occasional modulation into minor keys. After much inventive manipulation of the two dance themes, the slow opening is suddenly repeated, before a spirited set of fanfare-like flourishes concludes the movement.
The second movement is a clever double variation on two themes, one in C major and the other in C minor and both of Croatian origin. The genial Menuetto also has its origins in folk music, in this case the Ländler, the forerunner to the waltz. The horns open the final movement with a four note motif that Haydn then works up in an elaborate competition with the main theme. Ultimately this motif is heard in all the brass and woodwind to bring the work to an exciting conclusion.
Performed: March 2017