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FastNotes

  • Haydn composed his “Hornsignal” Symphony for the Esterházy court at Eisenstadt, about 35 miles east of Vienna. The Esterházys were Hungary’s wealthiest nobles; their magnificent palace at Eisenstadt had more than 200 guest rooms, a chapel, a library, and, of course, a concert hall.

  • Haydn composed more than 30 symphonies, including the present one, during his first decade working for the Esterházys. In many of these works, he explored the possibilities available to him in Eisenstadt, with its especially lavish musical establishment.

  • The most apparent effect in the “Hornsignal” Symphony is Haydn’s use of four horns, heard right at the outset. There are also several moments of great subtlety, as in the second movement, with its melodic line alternating between solo violin and horns.

  • Another example of Haydn’s orchestral mastery comes in the finale, a set of variations. In each, Haydn extracts highly original and engaging sonorities from the orchestra right up through the movement’s close, when horns sound a majestic hunting call and cap everything off with the symphony’s opening hornsignal.


Composed: 1765
Length: 25 minutes
Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, bassoon, 4 horns, strings, and continuo
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: February 19, 1953, Alfred Wallenstein conducting

Haydn composed his "Hornsignal" Symphony for the Esterházy court at Eisenstadt, about 35 miles east of Vienna. He had entered into the service of Prince Paul Anton Esterházy as Vice-Kapellmeister in 1761. When Prince Nicolaus succeeded his brother Paul Anton, who died in 1762, the Esterházys were Hungary's wealthiest nobles, with 21 castles, 60 towns, and 414 villages among their holdings. Their magnificent palace at Eisenstadt had more than 200 guest rooms, a chapel, a library, and, of course, a concert hall.

Haydn was responsible for composing "such music as His Serene Highness may command," maintaining the standards of the prince's singers and orchestra, caring for musical instruments, and meeting with the prince every day to discuss musical matters - this final stipulation alone indicates the importance of music at the Esterházy court.

Haydn apparently found his new surroundings stimulating: He composed more than 30 symphonies, including the present one, during his first decade working for the Esterházys. In many of these works, he explored the possibilities available to him in Eisenstadt, with its especially lavish musical establishment. The most apparent effect in the "Hornsignal" Symphony is Haydn's use of four horns, heard right at the outset, two originally in D and two in G in order to achieve a greater variety of notes - the valveless horns available to Haydn offered fewer options than today's instruments.

There are also several moments of great subtlety, as in the second movement, with its melodic line alternating between solo violin and horns. It's the same material, introduced first by the violins, then repeated by the horns, but the change in orchestration creates a remarkable difference in the melody's effect.

Another example of Haydn's orchestral mastery comes in the finale, a set of variations. The strings introduce the theme, repeating each half. The first variation gives the melody to the oboes, with the horns joining where they can, over a gently rocking accompaniment in the strings. The third variation gives an extended solo to the cello, the fourth to the flute, and the sixth to the violin. In each variation, Haydn extracts highly original and engaging sonorities from the orchestra right up through the movement's close, when horns sound a majestic hunting call and cap everything off with a reprise of the symphony's opening hornsignal.

— John Mangum