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Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 94 in G Major, second movement
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), born at Rohrau, Austria, began his musical studies in the
choir-school of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. In 1761, he received a position in the court of
Prince Nicholaus Esterházy. He spent the next thirty years of his life in their service, presenting
daily orchestral concerts and at least two operatic performances each week. By the 1780s, the
Prince was forced by demands from the public to release Haydn from the terms of his contract,
specifying that he would compose for no one but them. He began to publish his pieces, at first
works for piano and string quartet, a genre that he is credited as creating. At the invitation of J. P.
Salomon, he visited London in 1791 and 1794 and composed twelve symphonies that were
presented at public concerts. He was recognized as the greatest musician of the day, and the
University of Oxford honored him with the degree of Doctor of Music.
Haydn’s London concerts were a sign of a momentous change in the public life of
composers. His music was performed for an admiring London public, and his symphonies were
received warmly; in several of the performances the audience demanded encores of individual
movements. He was no longer a high-class servant of the nobility, as most composers and
musicians had been up to that time; he was a free-lance composer regarded admiringly by the
Listening Tips:
The second movement of Haydn's Symphony No. 94 (“Surprise”) is a theme and
variations form, in which a theme is presented and changed in the ensuing variation section. The
folk-like, staccato theme begins softly but is punctuated by a sudden loud chord, the surprise
inserted by Haydn supposedly to awaken sleeping audience members. The effect was quite the
opposite; some ladies were said to have fainted. In the four variations, the theme is changed in
instrumentation, dynamics, rhythm, and melody. Sometimes the original melody is accompanied
by another melody, a countermelody. In one variation the theme is presented in minor instead of
major. The theme consists of two parts, sections a and b, each of which is repeated. This pattern
is usually retained in the variations.
Listening Guide:
Theme - section a
Section a: Violins
section a
Section a is repeated. Surprise chord at the
end of the a section,
section b
Section b: Violins. New melody.
section b
Section b repeated
Variation I
Countermelody in violins
Variation II
Transformation to minor
Variation III
Theme in faster repeated notes.
Countermelody present in sections.
Variation IV
Rhythmically vigorous theme changes
character as variation proceeds
Closing section
Based on theme but different from a
variation. Melodic structure is altered.