No 45 is one of the best-known of Haydn’s Eszterháza symphonies, largely because of the famous circumstances of its composition. The prince and his court moved to the palace as usual for the summer of 1772, but this time he had decreed that no wives or families of the musicians were to visit them there. The only exceptions to this ruling were Haydn, two principal singers and the leading violinist, Luigi Tomasini. As the summer moved into autumn it soon became apparent that the prince had no immediate intention of returning to Eisenstadt and the restless musicians pleaded with Haydn to do something about it. His solution was in an artistic guise—his Symphony in F sharp minor (incidentally, the only symphony in the eighteenth century to use this rare key). The first three movements proceed relatively normally: a tense Allegro assai that saves its second subject for the development section; a delicate A major Adagio; and an F sharp major Minuet and Trio. The finale even begins as a typical sonata-form Presto, but it leads after a short pause into what is in effect a whole new movement, a 3/8 Adagio in which, one by one, the instrumental parts come to a stop. In the original performance at Eszterháza, each player in turn snuffed out his candle, took his instrument and silently left the room until at the end, in virtual darkness, only Haydn and Tomasini were left. (Haydn knew that the prince so enjoyed Tomasini’s solos that he was bound to stay to the end.) The prince, in good humour, got the message and is reported to have said, ‘If they are all going, so too must we’. And the next day the whole court moved back to Eisenstadt.
from notes by Matthew Rye © 1991