Symphony No.96

Joseph Haydn

Symphony No.96 in D major

Hob. I/96 • “The Miracle”

About this work

Supposedly, at the premiere of this work in London's Hanover Square Rooms in 1791, a chandelier crashed into the hall but didn't injure anyone because the audience had pressed forward to hear Haydn's new symphony. That's how the "Miracle" nickname arose, but it's attached to the wrong symphony; the "miracle" actually occurred during a performance of Symphony No. 102.

Symphony No. 96 opened the first "Haydn season" in London in March 1791, and the composer took pains to present himself as both a learned musician and a composer who could appeal to a wide, bourgeois audience (back in central Europe, he'd been playing to the courtly crowd). So this symphony begins with a brief Adagio, very serious yet neither heavy nor dramatic. This leads to the main Allegro matter with its mildly contrapuntal initial bars that burst into a resounding tutti. This music is busy, vibrant, and celebratory, full of sudden dynamic contrasts geared to keep the unpredictable English audience attentive. Of the 12 "Salomon" Symphonies, this has one of the more interesting development sections, working through the melodic fragments with greater thoroughness and variety than usual. Then after an unusual full stop comes the recapitulation, with a striking trumpet fanfare launching the coda.

The Andante varies a hesitant theme that consists of a brief ascending phrase, an equally brief descending answer, and a fairly long rumination on the terse exchange. Variety comes through orchestration rather than manipulation of the notes themselves, although the melody does sometimes benefit from a contrapuntal treatment. Otherwise, the guises range from the intimate to the pompous, with the former quality prevailing.

The Minuet alternates a brawny statement for full orchestra with a more delicate response for strings and woodwinds. As in the Andante, this answering phrase consists of short, hesitant utterances followed by a smoother, undulating passage. The trio features an oboe solo in a Ländler tune -- a light one, not given the buffoonish treatment that Haydn often prefers.

The finale, Vivace assai, offers one of Haydn's lighthearted, scampering tunes for strings with occasional woodwind doubling. Things remain at a low dynamic level until the first contrasting episode, which is derived from the main theme -- as will be each episode in this movement, which is a cross between rondo and sonata form. The music becomes boisterous only intermittently, including a brief minor-mode incident and the rousing if short conclusion.