The Symphony No. 103 in E-flat major, Hoboken 1/103, is the eleventh of the twelve so-called London Symphonies written by Joseph Haydn. This symphony is nicknamed “The Drumroll”, after the long roll on the timpani with which it begins.
Composition and premiere
The symphony was the last but one of twelve that were composed for performance in England during Haydn’s two journeys there (1791–1792, 1794–1795). Haydn’s music was well known in England well before the composer traveled there, and members of the British musical public had long expressed the wish that Haydn would visit. The composer’s reception in England was in fact very enthusiastic, and the English visits were one of the most fruitful and happy periods of the composer’s life. Haydn composed the “Drumroll” Symphony while living in London during the winter of 1794–1795.
The “Drumroll” Symphony was premiered on March 2, 1795 as part of a concert series called the “Opera Concerts”, at the King’s Theatre. The orchestra was unusually large for the time, consisting of about 60 players. The task of directing the work was divided between the concertmaster Viotti and Haydn, who sat at a fortepiano. The premiere was evidently a success, and the Morning Chronicle’s reviewer wrote:
Another new Overture [i.e., symphony], by the fertile and enchanting Haydn, was performed; which, as usual, had continual strokes of genius, both in air and harmony. The Introduction excited deepest attention, the Allegro charmed, the Andante was encored, the Minuets, especially the trio, were playful and sweet, and the last movement was equal, if not superior to the preceding.”
The Sun wrote:
HAYDN’s new Overture was much applauded. It is a fine mixture of grandeur and fancy … the second movement was encored.
Haydn later performed the work in Vienna, and for this purpose made a small cut in the final movement, which is usually respected by conductors today.
The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
The work is in standard four movement form.
I. Adagio – Allegro con spirito
After the opening drumroll, the bass instruments play a somber opening theme.
As commentators have pointed out, the first four notes of which match the “Dies Irae” chant, part of the Latin mass for the dead.
H. C. Robbins Landon has remarked that at the start the theme is ambiguous between duple and triple time, and between the keys of C minor and (what ultimately proves the case) E flat major.
The sprightly 6/8 movement that follows this introduction is in sonata form, with a monothematic exposition. In a number of places it restates the theme of the introduction, in much faster tempo. Haydn restates part of the opening introduction in the coda, a formal procedure previously adopted by Mozart in his String Quintet K. 593 (1790). Beethoven was to do the same in his “Pathétique” piano sonata, published two years after the Drumroll Symphony in 1797.
II. Andante più tosto allegretto
In double variation form, with alternatingly varied themes in C minor and C major plus coda. The double variations had been a favorite musical form of the composer for about 20 years; along with the Piano Trio H. XV:23 from the same year, this was the last set he wrote. The themes are said to have been developed by Haydn from Croatian folk songs he knew; for discussion, see Haydn and folk music. Some different features in this movement include a long violin solo, as well as the lack of clarinets.
The minuet is in the home key of E flat major. Charles Rosen, in The Classical Style, chose this minuet to illustrate the point that Classical-era minuets often have very strong first beats, in contrast to the more flowing rhythm of the Baroque minuet
IV. Finale: Allegro con spirito
Like the first movement, the finale begins with a quasi-ritual gesture – in this case, a horn call, which is followed by a pause, and later echoed throughout the movement. It is in fast tempo, has a monothematic exposition, and is in sonata rondo form.
Like the themes of the second movement, the opening melody is said to be taken from Croatian folk song, in this case a tune called “Divojčica potok gazi”, (“A little girl treads on a brook”).