1791: Haydn: Symphony No. 96 (MIRACLE) in D major

WEDNESDAY, November 18, 2020 – 10:53 AM

In everything I write about Haydn’s symphonies I’m going to link to this post HERE and then mention this man’s gut reaction to each symphony, although strangely I don’t even see his name mentioned.

24. Symphony No. 96 (‘The Miracle’): So basically this is another nicknamed symphony where the nickname has literally no bearing on the symphony. Apparently, when it was first performed, a chandelier fell to the floor and ‘miraculously’ missed everyone in the audience. But then it turned out that it actually happened at a different premiere (symphony no. 102), so it was totally irrelevant. Fortunately, the music is cracking, full of verve and gumption. So we propose a new nickname: ‘The really good’.

His rating of 24 for No. 96 – out of all 104 symphonies – puts this pretty close to the top of the list. I mostly agree, but I’d put it far closer to the very top. Maybe in the top five. I think this really is a miracle,and there is an interesting link to the “Real Miracle”, No. 102, for reasons that have nothing to do with miracles. They are simply two extremely creative symphonies, and supposedly this really the 1st of all the London Symphonies according to historians who have studied the chronology.

No. 96

Symphony (MIRACLE) in D major, age 59


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

No clarinet, but it has everything else!

Ton Koopman

1st movement

There is the usual intro, and typically these intros start in minor and then the mood switches to major when the sonata form begins. I keep saying this, but you can really hear where Beethoven got a lot of his ideas from. And yet there are little touches of Mozart too, bringing up a question: how much did both these composers imitate each other?

2nd movement

This is a rather long and complicated slow movement. It is simple and rather typical, at first, but then it suddenly moves HERE to minor and you have a short section that is very contrapuntal. There is a bit of what happens in Beethoven’s Eroica, but Beethoven did not start on his 3rd symphony until 12 years later. Again it’s obvious that Beethoven studied Haydn’s music very carefully. He was around 21 years old at this time.

3rd movement

It’s typical and not in any way terribly unexpected, but there is a ton of energy. Note the tempo says “allegretto”, which is clearly different from No. 102, the “Real Miracle”, that is marked “allegro”. To the tempo of this one should probably be a bit slower and more stately. I sense a definite trend in Haydn of accelerating his minuets later in his career.

4th movement

Vivace is Haydn’s fastest tempo mark, and when you see it you know the music is going to be fast and exciting. In 2020 the most wild thing Haydn wrote sounds easy to listen to, but he really threw in some outrageous things If you play this chord: Bb D F G A, it clashes. It’s a very modern sound, something you would expect in jazz. What it means is that Haydn uses F/C then moves to a Bb dim chord. But he has the trumpets play A the whole time, and that gets us to this unusual chord right HERE. That  was so surprising that I could not figure out what he was doing and had to figure it out.

Really the 1st

Symphony No. 96 is supposedly the 1st of the 12 London symphonies written and performed although it is numbered as the 4th. The nickname “Miracle” came from an incident with a falling chandelier. It could easily have killed several people in the audience who had moved from their seats to stand closer to Haydn, who was conducting. No one was hurt. But historians think that this actually happened during the 1st performance of No. 102.

Try to listen to this as if it’s the 1st of something very new…

For audiences of the time going to a concert with a Haydn symphony was not some stuffy event. The  public was very eager to hear what Haydn had up his sleeve. You had an enlightened, middle class, public audience rather than a handful of wealthy, privileged aristocrats. Haydn knew his audience. They were sort of a mixture of very knowledgeable listeners eager fans just getting to know such music. So he had very enthusiastic listeners and capitalized on this.


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