Joseph Haydn: Symphony No.20


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

The first four-movement symphony since No.15, Joseph Haydn’s twentieth symphony was likely composed between 1761-62.


Movement I

This symphony has been described as one of Haydn’s more festive offerings, with the opening movement bursting with energy and practically fizzing with excitement. The scalic string parts are cleverly balanced by the winds, who add colour and shape to the music. There is a real drive in this movement, with the violins playing intricate melodies whilst the bass line pushes the music towards an exciting conclusion.


Movement II

The stripped back second movement is composed just for strings. The first violins have a sweet serenade-like melody, the seconds have a lyrical countermelody, whilst the bass line is largely made up of pizzicato movement. This movement is light and airy, with Haydn showing off his sensitive side.


Movement III

The third movement is set as a minuet and trio, with the former starting in C major, before modulating to F major. The minuet is stately and pompous and features the woodwind, brass and timpani once more. The trio section is lyrical and glistens with style. Haydn was a real master of these styles, making every twist and turn so brilliant. 


Movement IV

The finale, marked Presto, brings back the festivities of the opening movement. The instant excitement and bounce within the strings is contagious, and the rest of the ensemble soon joins in with the jubilations. There are some interesting twists and turns throughout this movement, where Haydn plays with dynamics and harmony. This all leads a rousing finish to this spritely symphony.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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