The Symphony No. 94 in G major (Hoboken 1/94) is the second of the twelve so-called London symphonies (numbers 93-104) written by Joseph Haydn. It is usually called by its nickname, the Surprise Symphony, although in German it is more often referred to as the Symphony "mit dem Paukenschlag" ("with the kettledrum stroke").
Date of composition
Haydn wrote the symphony in 1791 in London for a concert series he gave during the first of his visits to England (1791--1792). The premiere took place at the Hanover Square Rooms in London on March 23, 1792, with Haydn leading the orchestra seated at a fortepiano.
The Surprise Symphony is scored for a Classical-era orchestra consisting of two each of flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets, plus timpani, and the usual string section consisting of first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.
Nickname (the Surprise)
Haydn's music contains many jokes, and the Surprise Symphony includes probably the most famous of all: a sudden fortissimo chord at the end of an otherwise piano opening theme in the variation-form second movement. The music then returns to its original quiet dynamic, as if nothing had happened, and the ensuing variations do not repeat the joke.
In Haydn's old age, George August Griesinger, his biographer, asked whether he wrote this "surprise" to awaken the audience. Haydn replied:
No, but I was interested in surprising the public with something new, and in making a brilliant debut, so that my student Pleyel, who was at that time engaged by an orchestra in London (in 1792) and whose concerts had opened a week before mine, should not outdo me. The first Allegro of my symphony had already met with countless Bravos, but the enthusiasm reached its highest peak at the Andante with the Drum Stroke. Encore! Encore! sounded in every throat, and Pleyel himself complimented me on my idea.
The work was popular at its premiere. The Woodfall's Register critic wrote: "The third piece of HAYDN was a new Overture [i.e. symphony], of very extraordinary merit. It was simple, profound, and sublime. The andante movement was particularly admired."
The Morning Herald critic wrote:
The Room was crowded last night.... A new composition from such a man as HAYDN is a great event in the history of music. — His novelty of last night was a grand Overture, the subject of which was remarkably simple, but extended to vast complication, exquisitly [sic] modulated and striking in effect. Critical applause was fervid and abundant."
Like all of Haydn's "London" symphonies, the work is in four movements, marked as follows:
• I. Adagio - Vivace assai 0:00
• II. Andante 9:34
• III. Menuetto: Allegro molto 16:10
• IV. Finale: Allegro molto 21:45
The first movement has a lyrical 3/4 introduction that precedes a highly rhythmic main section in 6/8 time. As with much of Haydn's work, it is written in so-called "monothematic" sonata form; that is, the movement to the dominant key in the exposition is not marked by a "second theme".
The second, "surprise", movement, the Andante, is a theme and variations in 2/4 time in the subdominant key of C major. The theme is in two eight-bar sections, each repeated. Haydn sets up the surprise, which occurs at the end of the repeat of the first section, by making the repeat pianissimo with pizzicato in the lower strings. Four variations of the theme follow, starting with embellishment in sixteenth notes by the first violins, moving to a stormy variation in C minor with trumpets and timpani, then solos for the first oboist and flautist, and concluding with a sweeping and lyrical forte repeat in triplets. In the coda section, the opening notes are stated once more, this time reharmonized with gently dissonant diminished seventh chords over a tonic pedal.
The third movement is a minuet and trio, in ternary form in the tonic key (G major). The tempo, Allegro molto, or very quickly, is of note since it marks the historical shift away from the old minuet (at a slower, i.e. danceable, tempo) toward the scherzo; by the time of his last quartets Haydn had started to mark his minuets presto.
The fourth movement is a characteristically rhythmic, energetic and propulsive Haydn finale. The movement is written in sonata rondo form with the opening bars appearing both at the beginning and in the middle of the development section. The stirring coda emphasizes the timpani.