Symphony No. 103 in E♭ major (H. 1/103) is the eleventh of the twelve London symphonies written by Joseph Haydn. This symphony is nicknamed The Drumroll after the long roll on the timpani with which it begins. It is from 1795, and his second-to-last symphony.
The symphony was the eleventh of twelve that were composed for performance in England during Haydn’s two journeys there (1791–1792, 1794–1795), arranged and organized by the great impresario, Johann Peter Salomon. Haydn’s music was well known in England well before the composer traveled there, and members of the British musical public had long expressed the wish that Haydn would visit. The composer’s reception in England was in fact very enthusiastic, and the English visits were one of the most fruitful and happy periods of the composer’s life. Haydn composed the “Drumroll” Symphony while living in London during the winter of 1794–1795.
It was premiered on March 2, 1795 as part of a concert series called the “Opera Concerts” at the King’s Theatre. The orchestra was unusually large for the time, consisting of about 60 players. The task of directing the work was divided between the concertmaster, the violinist Giovanni Battista Viotti, and Haydn, who sat at a fortepiano. The premiere was evidently a success, and The Morning Chronicle’s reviewer wrote:
Another new Overture [i.e., symphony], by the fertile and enchanting Haydn, was performed; which, as usual, had continual strokes of genius, both in air and harmony. The Introduction excited deepest attention, the Allegro charmed, the Andante was encored, the Minuets, especially the trio, were playful and sweet, and the last movement was equal, if not superior to the preceding.
The Sun wrote:
HAYDN’s new Overture was much applauded. It is a fine mixture of grandeur and fancy… the second movement was encored.
Symphony No. 103
1. Adagio – Allegro con spirito 9:20
2. Andante piú tosto – Allegretto 10:00
3. Menuet 5:25
4. Finale – Allegro con spirito 5:05