Haydn – Symphony No. 86, “Paris”

by Max Derrickson

Franz Josef Haydn
(Born March 31, 1732 in Rohrau, Austria; died May 31, 1809 in Vienna)

Symphony No. 86 in D-Major, “Paris”
1. Adagio – Allegro spiritoso
2. Capriccio: Largo
3. Menuet: Allegretto
4. Finale: Allegro con spirito

Lucky to have the long-lived and stable patronage of the Esterhazy Estate in Vienna, Haydn’s compositional brilliance soon became known around Europe.  In 1786, a Parisian music aficionado, the Comte (Count) d’Ogny of Paris commissioned Haydn to write 6 symphonies for the Concert de la Loge Olympique (a semi-public theater in Paris), and for a very agreeable sum.  The Esterhazy patronage allowed for such extracurricular work for their beloved “Papa” Haydn, and within 12 months the 6 symphonies were complete – No. 82 through 87 – now referred to collectively as his “Paris” Symphonies.  Contemporary accounts show that the works were played in Paris almost non-stop for weeks, and Haydn’s reputation as a giant among composers grew.  In fact, so suited were the Parisians to Haydn that it took many decades for Beethoven’s music to gain acceptance there.

The first movement tells us a bit of Haydn’s tactics, both in music and in winning public approval.  After a regal (and expected) slow introduction, the Allegro fires up with a melody of undeniable simplicity.  Haydn knew that his Parisian audiences needed a little spoon feeding, [. . .]  all kinds of flights of harmonic fancy happen.  The brilliance in this is that it sounds so natural, yet it makes the movement shine even brighter.

The second movement is as much of a delightful puzzle as it is beautiful.  Haydn called it Capriccio – Largo.  The 2 words are at odds with each other.  The typical meaning of the Italian word capriccio, in Haydn’s time, is quick, without any formal structure, perhaps even mischievous.  Largo typically meant [. . .]  Here, Haydn gives us, really, neither.  It’s neither particularly [. . .], this movement is perhaps one of Haydn’s most inventive, and really one of his most lovely, additions to the Classical Symphony genre.  Its only caprice is Haydn’s word play.

The Menuet third movement is a charming dance, but there comes a wonderfully unexpected set of sequences in the second major phrase, first up and then down, that are magical to hear – one pictures Haydn simply basking in the joy of these lovely musical sonorities.  The Finale is a delightful [. . .].