age 63

(Either directly before or after listening to this symphony, try to listen to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (#2), age 34, because it was written in the same year, in 1795.)

Dima Slobodeniouk

This fairly young conductor makes the whole symphony explode with energy, and his tempo in the 3rd movement is extremely fast, which I love. The video is excellent. He uses modern brass, but the sound is not the least tame, showing that it’s always more about how you play the instrument than the one you use.


  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in D and G, 2 trumpets
  • timpani
  • strings

Note that at the end of his symphonic journey he has all the instruments of the time except trombone, which was still a rare instrument in symphonies. Haydn increasingly asked for more members in the orchestra, moving from only around 13 players in his first symphonies to much larger groups at the end of his life.

1st movement

There is a slow introduction in D minor. Notice how much like Beethoven this is, then remember that this came way before Beethoven’s 1st symphony. Haydn made slow intros one of his trademarks, and often it is almost like mock seriousness, faux drama. These composers know exactly where they are going, and they know that the moment the intro is over – after two to three minutes – the mood will totally flip to something manic, joyous and hugely energetic. It’s a formula, but a great one.

The 1st and second themes are the same but in different keys. In this movement Haydn really pounds you with the same theme, something that again feels very like Beethoven. The whole movement just gets better and better. The development section HERE, always critical, is just right, always the place where you hear the most innovation.

2nd movement

It’s just a nice melody for me. Once again this reminds me of Beethoven’s earlier symphonies. Instead of some kind of soulful search, maybe in a minor key for contrast, this is light, and it moves right to G major, which is typical and expected. There are nothing but strings, a trick Haydn often employed to set a mood. At the end of the first section you hear just a hint of winds, but no more, mostly bassoon. It’s mostly like a big string quartet. Then suddenly he moves to minor, in come the winds, and there is a total change of mood. This is also something you will hear later in Beethoven’s symphonies. It’s always important when you hear timpani in a slow movement, because the composer is making a statement. Then when the 1st theme comes back, it’s mostly the winds until big accents from the strings. So there is a great back and forth between the strings and the winds. Then later they all work together. There are some great modulations, and that just makes the whole thing even better. Finally the theme comes back one last time. It’s basically theme and variations, but it’s all genius.

3rd movement

This movement is rather famous, the one I’ve heard most. But why is it so good? That’s easy. It says it’s a minuet, but it’s too fast. It is at least a slow scherzo, and a scherzo is way faster than a minuet and in fact often sounds like 4/4 time with triplets. Many conductors still take this a bit on the slower side, but the conductor I picked slows it way down for the trio and then lets the A section go really fast in the manner of Beethoven – remembering again who copied from whom! With the faster tempo, which I love, this is a true scherzo so much like Beethoven that anyone hearing it for the first time would assume that Beethoven wrote it.

4th movement

The development section gets as far away from the key of D major as F# minor, and that’s just plain cool. This whole symphony, after listening to it a few more times, goes right to the top of my list of greatest symphonies every written.

Now, the rest of the story…

This is a funny link, but it’s also useful

First of all, look at this link HERE to read about how someone was given the task of listening to all 104 symphonies and then trying to rate them. It’s a humorous list, and his sense of humor is much like mine. For instance, if you look up “104” you don’t find Symphony No. 104. You find what he thinks was the worst, and in his book it’s the 4th symphony. Well, I’ve heard some of those early symphonies and I’m in about the same place. BORING!!! But where does he place this last symphony? He rates as #12, very high.

Then he says this:

Symphony No. 104 (‘London’): Another belting opening, after the daring drumroll of no. 103. Again, and perhaps all too late in his career, it shows Haydn to be a suddenly serious fellow – something that Mozart and, in turn, Beethoven undoubtedly seized upon.

In fact, his assessment is amazingly spot on, so now I’d like to know more about his background. He doesn’t go into more detail, because it’s not the right time or place for that in his list, but what strikes me is how like Mozart it is.

Why is that so important?

Because Haydn and Mozart were close friends . Not just friends but rather intimate friends who thoroughly enjoyed the music of each other and who fed off the evolution of the other. Mozart called him “Papa” and communicated with him with the intimate grammatical level in Gemran, meaning using “du” and “dir” and “dich”. Even today that’s a tricky thing in Germany, but in those more formal times you never spoke that way to an older man who was easily enough to be your father, yet that’s the kind of ease and trust Mozart had for “Papa Haydn”.

Mozart died so early, and Haydn never forget his young friend.

By 1795 Mozart had already been gone between four and five years, dead at an obscenely young age from some stupid illness that could be cured in a heartbeat today. Haydn did not stop channeling more and more of Mozart after he died because he knew well his style, tricks and formulas, and Haydn was a man who never stopped growing. It was almost as if by this time he was getting from Mozart more of what he gave to him, since Mozart learned a ton about making symphonic music from Haydn who was 24 years older.

What would Mozart have been like without the influence and mentoring of Haydn?

Without Haydn Mozart would have been a very different composer, and a far inferior one, and in fact his young brother, Michael, not poor composer by the way, was also a huge supporter of Mozart. Mozart needed the Haydn’s to grow into the musical giant he soon became.

And Haydn needed Mozart to evolve.

Try to listen to music written in the same year.In the same way, Haydn grew by leaps and bounds as Mozart became a mature composer, picking up all sorts of idea from the young genius. Before Mozart there was no one, anywhere, who even came close to the kind of compositional genius that Haydn regularly displayed. (Later Beethoven – who was 14 years younger than Mozart and 38 years younger than Haydn – channeled both these composers and had absorbed all there tricks, formulas and patterns and was free to channel them all in his symphonies.)

This means that if you want to understand these three composers you need to listen to music that was composed in the same year. But as you listen to this symphony, keep in mind that Beethoven’s 1st symphony did not appear until about five years later. So to compare it would be great to listen to Beethoven’s 1st piano concerto, also written in 1795. From that you will instantly hear the monumental influence of Mozart and Haydn on Beethoven.

Did Beethoven know this symphony?

Did he know this symphony well? I’d bet my life on it, and also that he hugely admired it. Because this symphony, as well as channeling some of Mozart’s best moves, has Beethoven written all over it, including huge accents, big drama, big finishes, bold rhythms and enormous dynamic contrasts – meaning, of course that Haydn came up with all of this on his own, no credit to Beethoven, who was still absorbing Haydn’s music, instrumentation and formulas at this point. This all makes this symphony hugely important as well as just a wonderful symphony. I agree with the guy who rated all these symphonies, except my rating would be right at the top, if not #1 by itself clearly tied for that place.

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