Haydn: Symphony no 103 (The Drumroll”)”

Haydn is known as the “Father of the Symphony” (of which he wrote 106)
and the “Father of the String Quartet” (of which he is thought to have
written around 70). He was a friend of Mozart and briefly a teacher of

Haydn lived most of his life in Austria but in 1790, at the age of 58, he was
invited to visit London to conduct and to compose new works to be
premiered there. His popularity in London was well established and he
stayed there from January 1791 to June 1792 and again from February 1794
to August 1795. Audiences flocked to his concerts and as a result he became
financially secure and was awarded an honorary doctorate of the University
of Oxford. The London visits led to some of his best-known works
including the Surprise Symphony, the Military Symphony, the London
Symphony (actually the twelfth of the twelve “London Symphonies”), the
Rider Quartet, the “Gypsy Rondo” piano trio … and the symphony we are
performing tonight, the “Drumroll” (the eleventh of the London

The “Drumroll” nickname comes from the long timpani roll which opens
this symphony. The work was composed in the winter of his first visit to
London and premiered on 2nd March 1795 at the King’s Theatre (now “Her
Majesty’s Theatre” on the Haymarket). The symphony is scored for 2 flutes,
2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings.
Written in the key of E flat major, it is in standard four movement form:

I. Adagio – allegro con spirito. After the opening drum roll, the bass
instruments play a gloomy opening theme. This is followed by a lively 6/8
movement in standard sonata form i.e. exposition; development;
recapitulation. The opening theme makes several appearances throughout
the movement and part of it is also restated in the coda (the conclusion).

II. Andante più tosto allegretto. This is in double variation form – theme A
then theme B then a variation on theme A followed by a variation on
theme B and so on. The themes and variations also alternate between C
minor and C major. It is believed that the themes were developed from
Croatian folk songs that Haydn knew and the movement features a long
violin solo.

III. Menuetto. This movement returns to the symphony’s home key of E flat
major. It begins as an archetypal classical minuet but develops into a fullblown
symphonic movement.

IV. Finale. Allegro con spirito. This movement is in sonata rondo form –
this merges rondo form (repeated use of a theme alternating with other
episodes based on different themes in the form A B A C etc) with sonata
form so that the exposition combines themes A and B; the development
combines themes A and C; and the recapitulation combines themes A and B
again. The movement opens with a horn “call” which is again claimed to be
based on a Croatian folk song. By Haydn’s standards it is a long movement
but Haydn uses a simple theme in many different ways to maintain our
interest and enjoyment.

The andante was encored at the first performance – please feel free to
request “more” tonight!