Hyperion Records

Symphony No 98 in B flat major
first performed on 2 March 1792

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Movement 1: Adagio – Allegro
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Menuetto – Trio: Allegro
Movement 4: Finale: Presto

Symphony No 98 in B flat major
Composed early in 1792 and premiered on 2 March, three weeks before the ‘Surprise’, No 98 in B flat major is a more serious, inward-looking work, at least in its first two movements. ‘The new Symphony in B flat was given, and its first and last Allegros encored’, noted Haydn laconically in his London Notebook. The success of the intently argued opening movement testifies to the sophistication of Haydn’s audience. Its fertile main theme, adumbrated starkly in B flat minor in the slow introduction, is worked with dazzling ingenuity and logic. Contrast comes courtesy of a sustained, chromatic oboe melody over a pedal point near the end of the exposition. After one of Haydn’s most intricate and stressful contrapuntal developments, the recapitulation continues to explore the theme’s polyphonic potential before finally presenting it in its bluntest, most elemental form.

It was the musicologist and composer Donald Tovey who first suggested that the Adagio was Haydn’s requiem for his friend Mozart, who had died the previous December. Certainly the echoes of the ‘Jupiter’ Symphony’s Andante are hard to miss in this sublime movement, in full sonata form. In the recapitulation, the hymn-like main theme (which Haydn seems to have modelled on ‘God save the King’) is poignantly intensified, first with a counterpoint for solo cello, then in woodwind imitation, and finally in an aching new chromatic harmonization. Even the minuet, with its suavely melodious trio, is less flamboyant than those in Nos 93, 94 and 96. There is a delicious moment in the second part when the music dips insouciantly from F major to A flat for a demure flute solo. Haydn the humorist is immediately to the fore in the irrepressible 6/8 finale. The cheeky second theme belongs to the world of Rossini’s Figaro (the Italian was a great admirer of Haydn’s symphonies); and the comedy continues in the development, with its violin solos for Salomon in wildly contrasting keys, and the huge coda. Near the end, after what sounds like a pause for a cadenza, Haydn slows down the main theme with mock solemnity, and then decorates it with a ‘cembalo [i.e. fortepiano] solo’ for himself—an effect that doubtless brought the house down in 1792.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2009

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