Circumstances Surrounding the Composition of the Last Movement of the Drum Roll Symphony, and Its Reception

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Explore the circumstances surrounding the composition of the last movement of the Drum Roll Symphony. How was the piece received at its first performance?

Haydn wrote Symphony 103 (nicknamed the Drum Roll Symphony due to the long roll on the kettle drums at the start of the 1st movement) in the winter of 1794/1795 during his second visit to London. The success and popularity Haydn experienced in London during his first visit made him eager to return, along with the demand from Salomon that he should compose 6 new symphonies that Salomon himself would conduct in a series of concerts. However this trip, which was planned to be in the winter of 1793, was postponed due to the reluctance of Prince Anton to let Haydn have a second leave of absence (during this time there was much unrest in Europe). Haydn contented himself to stay in Vienna for a while and finally left for London on January 19, 1794, arriving two days after the scheduled first concert Salomon had promised him. Haydn’s visit to London was highly anticipated by the public and his fame meant he spent time in the highest of company including The Prince of Wales and the Dukes of Cumberland and Gloucester with whom he performed chamber music. These social events did not get in the way of his compositions and he produced a flood of music including his last 6 symphonies (it is thought that he had decided earlier that he would compose no more symphonies after his return to Vienna). This can be seen in Symphony 103 which was his penultimate symphony. While in his first visit to London he adjusted his style to please the audience, he was now sure they were on his side and so his last six symphonies aimed to push his listeners. They were more complex and overall were on a grander scale than his previous symphonies. Symphony 103 has many unusual features in it which shows Haydn’s interest in exploring the boundaries of his composition. Symphony 103, like a lot of his other works, has influences from the...
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