Symphony No. 100, "Military"

Joseph Haydn

Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

Date of Composition: 1793 or 1794
Duration: 28 minutes

Haydn’s nickname—“Father of the Symphony”— is well earned. His over one hundred symphonies standardized the genre and inspired other great composers of the era. Early in his career, Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) worked variously as a teacher and performer but found financial security in 1761 when he accepted employment with the Esterhazys, a royal family he served for over forty years. Most of his tenure was spent in the employ of Prince Nikolaus, with whom Haydn became quite close—or at least as close as a top servant might come to his noble master. Haydn later credited his isolation in the Esterhazy courts for his prolific musical output. He told his first biographer, Georg August Griesinger, “My prince was satisfied with all my work, I received bonuses, I could experiment as the leader of an orchestra, observe what enhanced or weakened an effect, improve, add, cut, dare. I was isolated from the world … and so I had to become original.”

Prince Nikolaus died September 28, 1790, almost thirty years after he took the throne. His son Anton dismantled the Esterhazy orchestra. Haydn was left as one of a few remaining musicians on the payroll—a Kapellmeister without performers. He resettled in Vienna. While there, he met Johann Peter Salomon, an English promoter looking for performers for the upcoming London concert season. When Salomon read of the prince’s death, he dropped all his plans and hurried to Vienna to entice Haydn to return with him: “I am Salomon of London and have come to fetch you.” Salomon commissioned an opera, six symphonies, and other works that Haydn would conduct in London the following year. When Haydn arrived in the city in early 1791, his music immediately charmed the English populace. The feeling was mutual, for Haydn spoke of his London travels with warmth and affection. After two successful seasons, he returned to Vienna, but was lured back to the English capital in 1794, commencing a two-year tour in which his acclaim exceeded the first.

The twelve London Symphonies, numbered 93 through 104, were Haydn’s final contributions to the genre and represent the composer at his best. Six of them were given descriptive titles, mostly for purposes of identification, a sort of pre-catalogue measure. Symphony No. 100 in G Major, “Military,” gains its nickname from Haydn’s addition of cymbals, triangle, and bass drum in the second movement. At the time, percussion use in symphonic music was typically limited to timpani. The addition of battery instruments was a convention drawn from opera orchestras to signify military associations. A solo trumpet call toward the end of the movement, followed by seven dramatic measures of cloudburst make the composer’s vision clear. Yet Haydn quickly switches back to a courtly sort of elegance, reminding listeners that they were safely ensconced within a London concert hall. Over the next two movements, Haydn alternates light and full dynamics and textures and harmonic modes, and then brings back the added percussion at the end of the finale. His juxtaposition of graceful, courtly music with battle-like themes is quite effective. From the very first performance, audiences approved heartily of Haydn’s innovations.

Salomon hoped Haydn would stay on, but Prince Anton died in early 1795. His son, the new Prince Nikolaus II, summoned his Kapellmeister back to Vienna in hopes of rebuilding the Esterhazy musical establishment. Although a return to London never materialized, the musician never forgot his newly adopted city nor those who helped him through an uncertain time, propelling him from “Father of the Symphony” to “Perfector of the Genre.”

© Dr. K. Dawn Grapes, 2023