1777: Haydn: Symphony No. 53 in D major (L’Impériale), age 45



Haydn was already widely renowned around Europe for his music, and Symphony No 53 became the most popular of his symphonies before he ventured into composing for a wider public in Paris and London. But what does the nickname mean? I can’t find the soure, except “L’Impériale” seems to always used for this symphony, which seems to mean “ceremonial”, and supposedly it is the subtitle.

The D major Symphony’s ceremonial start implies a more stately work to grace Esterházy’s palace. In contrast to the dramatic contrasts and surprises of Symphony No 52, its character is unhurried, with a slower rate of harmonic change even in the main Vivace section of the opening movement. With the Andante second movement we perhaps hear

London loved this:

It was this symphony that first drew Haydn to the attention of audiences in London, where it was extremely popular.


  1. Largo maestoso – Vivace
  2. Andante
  3. Menuetto & trio
  4. Finale. Version A: Capriccio: Moderato (Version B: Presto)

Finale A

These are period instruments, to the pitch is lower. But note this final is completely different from the other one. It seems to be played much less than the other, and I wish I could find a recording that gives us both with the same sounding orchestra with the same pitch.

Finale B

This is Marriner again, and it’s the 2nd finale, marked presto.

Circle of 5ths, 1st movement, development:

While listening this stopped me in my tracks. Haydn got to the key of F# minor, then did this:

F#m G#ø C#7  F#sus7 F#7 Bsus7 B7 Esus7 E7 Asus7 A7 D

This is not the first time I’ve heard him use this progression, and it’s wonderful to hear.


  • flute
  • two oboes
  • bassoon
  • two horns
  • timpani
  • strings

Two versions of the finale:

There are actually two other versions of the Finale. Haydn took the overture to an unknown opera which began in C major, and truncated the last dozen measures so as to conclude in D major. The Eulenburg edition, edited by Robbins Landon, includes both of Haydn’s finales.

The surviving autograph score of the second Finale had no flute or timpani parts, so Robbins Landon took them from a Hummel edition. For the timpani part there are rolls indicated by “tr” and a wavy line (something which occurs in none of the other movements except by Robbins Landon’s editorial emendation in bar 16 of the first movement).

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