Movement 1: Largo – Vivace
Movement 2: Adagio
Movement 3: Menuetto – Trio: Allegro
Movement 4: Finale: Presto
In the second set of London symphonies, Haydn’s arguments become even more intricate and engrossing. And the first movement of No 102 is arguably the most challenging of all. It begins with an ethereal slow introduction whose initial five-note phrase (following a long-held unison B flat) will play a crucial role in the main Vivace. From its explosive opening, this is Haydn at his most combative and Beethovenian. The drive and intensity of the music, peppered with violent offbeat accents, never abate; and even the main theme of the second group, heralded by a disruptive unison, is tense and restless where Haydn’s audience had come to expect a catchy, popular-style tune. The development ratchets up the tension even further: first in a rebarbative three-part canon, then, after a solo flute proposes the main theme in the alien key of C major, in a stupendous fortissimo build-up to the recapitulation.
Haydn follows this high-pressure symphonic drama with one of his loveliest meditations, an arrangement of the rhapsodic Adagio from his recent Piano Trio in F sharp minor. It is just possible that the symphony movement came first, though the evidence of the autograph, and the music’s delicately ornamental style—typical of his late keyboard slow movements—suggest otherwise. When the exposition is repeated, it is re-scored with almost impressionistic subtlety, its misty colourings enhanced with muted trumpets and muffled drums. This movement was surely in Rimsky-Korsakov’s mind when he pronounced Haydn the greatest of all orchestrators.
The stomping minuet brings us down to earth, making riotous play with a three-note figure that invades all sections of the orchestra. Haydn spices the comic antics of the finale with a streak of cussedness that brings it into line with the opening Vivace. An early review commented admiringly on the rapid, unpredictable tonal shifts within the main theme. This is another movement that left its mark on Beethoven, not least the coda, where the main theme disintegrates and stammers to a halt before the madcap final send-off—an idea Haydn’s one-time pupil took up in the finale of his Symphony No 4, in the same key.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2009