Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Haydn - Symphony No. 103 'Drum Roll'

Joseph Haydn began his career as a composer just as the Baroque era of music was winding down. He was one of the composers of the time that was exploring different techniques and sounds for musical expression. In his years as a composer there was a steady increase in complexity and richness in his music. His two trips to London, England enriched his technique even further. The set of twelve symphonies he wrote for his London visits are the culmination of his symphonic style. Indeed, Haydn wrote no more symphonies after his 104th, the last in the London series. Maybe Haydn himself realized that he had reached as far as he could go in the form.

But the London symphonies are not merely more difficult and rich. They are surely that, but they are also more  accessible to the listener. Haydn not only could compose learned and valid 'classical' music, but music that  was popular. The Symphony 103 is a good example.

The symphony earns its nickname from the drum roll for timpani that opens the introduction to the first movement.  It is slow and solemn,  and after a few bars leads into the first theme which is the opposite of the introduction as the tempo quickens and the mood lightens. The music of the introduction appears once again near the end of the movement and is whisked off by the first theme and horns.  The second movement is in variation form. There are two contrasting themes, the first in C minor, the second in C major, so this is actually a double variation. Each tune is heard in succession in variations.  The third movement is a Minuet with a heavy accent on the first beat which gives it more of an impression of a peasant dance than a refined, courtly dance. The last movement begins with a call from the horns, a pause, and the music proper begins. The horn call motif is heard throughout the movement, and it comes to a close.


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