Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 ‘London’ – No. 25 in our collection

Joseph Haydn (31.03.1732 – 31.05.1809) was an Austrian composer of the Classical period. For most of his working life Haydn was a court musician for the wealthy Esterházy family at their remote estate and thus isolated from many other musical influences. Joseph Haydn was a very influential composer and he was a friend and mentor of Mozart, a teacher of Beethoven, and the older brother of composer Michael Haydn. He played a major role in in the development of such forms of chamber music as the piano trio and the string quartet. Haydn  wrote over a hundred symphonies leading to him acquiring the epithet “Father of the Symphony”, even if that is not exactly true!

Joseph Haydn

Between the years of 1750 and 1800 Haydn’s works show a steady increase in complexity and sophistication and his symphony cycle illustrates this as clearly as any genre. From the relative simplicity of early symphonic works such as Symphony No. 6 in D major, ‘ Le Matin’, through the so-called “Sturm und Drang” (“storm and stress”) period when the symphonies became longer, more passionate, and more daring (consider, for example, Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor, “Farewell”) and on to a lighter, more overtly entertaining style in which the symphonies take on new features and the scoring often includes trumpets and timpani. Finally The late Paris Symphonies (1785–1786) and London Symphonies (1791–1795) reflect the influence of Mozart and show Haydn at the height of his compositional powers. By 1795 Haydn was writing for an orchestra comprised of more than 60 players, twenty more than in previous seasons and about twice the size of his Esterházy court orchestra.

We could have chosen many of these London symphonies to feature in our selection of masterworks but we have opted for Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D major ‘London’ the “12th which I have composed in England” (as the score was annotated). The ‘London’ symphony may not be a depiction of the capital but there can be no doubt that it is Haydn’s response to a stimulating, urban environment and by turns it is entertaining, startling and enlightening. Haydn’s symphony No. 104 ends with one of his typically rollicking finales and brings to a suitable conclusion his groundbreaking set of symphonies. It would take a composer of Beethoven’s greatness to move the symphony forward from its classical perfection towards a new, more romantic, form of symphonic composition.

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We have opted for one of the finest, large orchestra, versions of this symphony by the Royal Concetgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam conducted by Sir Colin Davis. This CD also contains a further five of Haydn’s London symphonies each of them well performed.

Listen on Spotify or buy from Presto Classical.

View the other works in our collection.