1794: Haydn: Symphony No. 102 (THE REAL MIRACLE) in Bb major

This symphony is the 10th of the 12 London symphonies written by Joseph Haydn, at the instigation of impresario Johann Peter Salomon. It is one of a trio of symphonies he worked on in 1794, along with his 103rd and 104th symphonies.


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

He has everything here except clarinets, so I wonder why he left them out in this symphony. But two flutes!

Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Harnoncourt was famous for his recordings of “period instruments”, and I don’t like that sound, so I mostly avoid his recordings. But apparently at the end of his life he was moving more and more towards conducting modern orchestras. So he was pushing something I love, which is more of that so called “authentic sound” with with an incredible energy, and this just perfect. Most of all he takes the 3rd movement – minuet – at a much faster pace, and to me that is justified by the fast tempo mark – allegro. Most conductors interpret it as a fill-in or place holder between the 2nd and 4th movements. I don’t like that. I like a tempo that is more like Beethoven’s scherzos. And I love the well miked timpani.

Leonard Bernstein

This is an older view. I don’t like the 3rd movement as well at the much more typical and slower pace, but there are some wonderful moments so this is a good contrast with the other recording.

1st movement

There is a long introduction, something Beethoven and many others would make more and more popular. The introduction is almost a composition of its own. This is unusually deep, expressive and creative. Haydn was always a superb craftsman, but this music is just magic. The rest of the movement is high energy. The development section is amazingly inventive.

2nd  movement

The second movement is an orchestration of the second movement of his F♯ minor piano trio, transposed from F♯ major to F major. I believe this is the most beautiful slow movement Haydn wrote. Everything about the writing is spectacular.

3rd movement

Minuets in this time period can be relaxation between the 2nd and 3rd movements, but there is controversy, and more and more modern conductors are pushing the tempo, thinking perhaps Haydn was moving more towards the Beethoven scherzo idea. That’s the view I prefer. In Harnoncourt’s version. There is an absolutely huge tempo change between the minuet and trio, and this engages me as a listener.

4th movement

Part of the Haydn formula is a very fast, exciting last movement with a big finish


It was completed in the summer of 1794, and premiered at benefit concerts at the King’s Theatre in May 1795. A chandelier fell from the ceiling of the concert hall in which it was performed. The audience escaped unharmed, supposedly because they had rushed the stage to get a better view of Haydn. It was long believed that this “miracle” event took place at the premiere of his Symphony No. 96, which had happened in 1791, but in fact it appears to have happened at the premiere of his 102nd symphony. So No. 96 got the “miracle” nickname, but this symphony should have, and it is also quite a miracle as a piece of music.

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