1786: Haydn: Symphony No. 86 (2ND BIG ORCHESTRA) in D major

FRIDAY, November 13, 2020 – 4:49 AM

For a humorous guide to Haydn symphonies go HERE. Before starting most of my Haydn exploration I skimmed through this page, and although I certainly do no agree exactly with his order or ratings, I think he has the right idea.

Here is his view of this symphony:

38. Symphony No. 86: Strident, daring and ultimately triumphant, like sneaking in under the barrier in a multi-story car park when the car in front has already gone through.

In other words, he’s putting this symphony at #38, almost in the top 3rd. I think that’s about right, though a great performance would move it up higher for me.

Symphony No. 86 (2ND BIG ORCHESTRA) in D major, age 54

Count Claude d’Ogney, hugely supportive of Haydn’s works in France, suggested that he use a larger orchestra for this symphony, something that became normal for Haydn in his London Symphonies. This was the 5th of his Paris Symphonies and the second of that group to use flute, trumpets and timpani.


  • flute, two oboes, two bassoons
  • two trumpets, two horns
  • timpani
  • strings

Out of the six Paris symphonies, the 86th and 82nd are the only two to use percussion and trumpets.

Barbara Hannigan

This is a lady to watch. She is mostly known as a virtuoso soprano of very modern music. She has a faultless ear and grew up also as a pianist and oboe player. She is already a fine conductor and could easily be one of the best in the world, if she chooses to focus on conducting. She has more talent in her pinky than most men have in their whole bodies.

1st movement

What’s unusual here? That is the question I ask myself in each symphony. There is a slow intro, and that’s part of Haydn’s formula. So nothing is new in this. The beginning of the exposition does not begin immediately in D major, which is a bit unusual. The the 2nd theme does not immediately begin where we expect, in G. But these are minor things. I would say that there is nothing new here. It’s just Haydn’s usual craft, and it’s just extremely easy to listen to. As always I hear a bit of Mozart, so more and more I am unsure of how much Mozart and Haydn copied each other, but my conclusion is that it went both ways between two men who hugely admired each other.

Listen right HERE for a section that is pure circle of 5ths – F#7 B7 E7 A7 and back to D. This is a formula they all used, so when you hit this you listen to see how well it is handled.

2nd movement

A “cappricio” is a lively, loosely structured musical composition that is often humorous in character. According to what I read the only other time Haydn used this marking was in the finale of his 53rd symphony. But the marking seems misleading, because the middle section of this is quite serious and spend a lot of time in minor. I particularly like this movement. I also notice how much a flute player adds to the sound, and of course trumpets also add a lot. Note that clarinet does not show up much in Haydn’s symphonies until rather late in his life, and we can see that get used more and more often also by Mozart until it becomes standard for Beethoven.

3rd movement

Minuets tend to sound like “space keepers” to me, as if we are supposed to just relax for awhile after the slow movement, to get ready for whatever pyrotechnics are about to appear in the last movement. Often to me they sound a bit ceremonial and pompous, though later Haydn started speeding them up more and more to foreshadow Beethoven’s scherzos, which had huge energy and dram of their own. I don’t hear anything unusual or unique here. It’s just typical Haydn, easy to listen to and quite relaxing.

4th movement

It’s time for the “big ending”, so when we get to the last movement we just wait to see what Papa Haydn came up with to surprise his audience. This one starts very softly and lightly, then there are big accents and there is high energy. I’m pretty sure this was a huge source of Beethoven’s style. At the time this was written Beethoven was still only 16, but Mozart at the age of around 30 was at his absolutely peak. It’s always a reality check to listen to symphonies Mozart and Haydn wrote the same year. So what was Haydn’s young genius friend doing? Listen HERE to hear what Mozart wrote the same year. If you do, you will hear Mozart using a slow intro, and he uses the same key, the same instruments and has the same formula. Mozart departs from the usual formula by using only three movements. So who was the greater master here? Mozart or Haydn? It’s a tough pick!

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