Joseph Haydn: Symphony No.12


Often known as the ‘Father of the Symphony’, Joseph Haydn’s legacy as a symphonist stays strong today. Haydn composed 104 symphonies over the course of his long and fruitful life, and we at Classicalexburns want to help you discover the stories and music behind all of them. In numerical order we will cover each symphony in the new #Haydn104 project, so look out for new ones by checking the ‘Projects’ page on our website, or by engaging with us on social media. 


The Music

Composed in 1763, Haydn’s Twelfth Symphony was written under the patronage of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. Set in Haydn’s three-movement symphonic structure, the symphony follows a strict fast-slow-fast running order. 


Movement I – Allegro

The quiet opening to the first movement is soon bombarded with shrill woodwinds who support the fast-moving string melody. The warm E major tonality adds to Haydn’s solid harmonic language that takes the listener on quite the journey. The quick scalic runs add excitement to the louder sections as Haydn focuses on the development of the main theme. Bold horns break through the rich string phrases, which adds an extra level of thrill to the music. After a short reprise of the main theme, the opening movement closes with some intricate scales and a final resolution chord. 


Movement II – Adagio

Marked as a ‘siciliano’, the slow-moving second movement is full of Haydn’s rich orchestrations.  The split between strong tutti passages and more exposed solo sections are highlighted a number of times throughout this movement. Haydn uses harmony to build tension within the music, before allowing for a much-needed resolution. The music is rather sombre throughout this movement, with the strings working hard to stay together to create the desired effects. The longest of the three movements, the second concludes with a quiet recapitulation section. 


Movement III – Presto

A burst of energy sees the finale movement off to a thrilling start. The pulsating accompaniment from the lower strings drives the music forward throughout, with the syncopated upper strings keeping the excitement high. Again, Haydn uses the shift between tutti and solo playing to create big dynamic contrasts which pack quite the punch. As the tension builds towards the last few pages of music, Haydn brings back the original theme for one final time. The symphony concludes with the strings rushing towards the end of the piece and ending together triumphantly. 


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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