Haydn encored

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Sunday, March 11, 2018

These days if someone goes to all the trouble to write a symphony, they’re lucky to hear it performed at all—and it might be years before a second hearing. But back in 1791, when Haydn paid his first visit to England, Londoners were so enthusiastic about his new symphonies they asked for repeat performances as soon as possible. On today’s date in 1791, the work we know as Haydn’s Symphony No. 92 had its London premiere, and, “by particular desire,” as they phrased it back then, was repeated a week later and again the following month.

And when Haydn paid a visit to Oxford University that summer to receive an honorary doctorate, he led a performance of this same symphony at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre. Ever since, this particular English favorite has been nick-named Haydn’s “Oxford” Symphony.

Haydn, being a politically astute sort of chap, didn’t publicize to his British fans that one of their favorite symphonies was actually commissioned by a French Count who had sponsored a series of Haydn concerts in Paris some five years earlier.

One wonders how the music-loving Count fared during the French Revolution, which was well underway in 1791. In any case, by 1794, when Haydn next paid a visit to London, England and France were at war, and Napoleon Buonaparte, the purported inspiration for one of Beethoven’s famous symphonies, was on the rise.