Joseph Haydn – Symphony No. 92 in G Major
Joseph Haydn completed his Symphony No. 92 in G major, Hoboken I/92, popularly known as the Oxford Symphony, in 1789 as one of a set of three symphonies commissioned by the French Count d’Ogny. Instrumentation for the symphony is: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
The symphony is called the “Oxford” because Haydn is said to have conducted it at the conclusion of a ceremony in 1791 in which the degree of doctor of music was conferred on him by Oxford University. A candidate for this doctorate was required to present a specimen of his skill in composition, and that presented by Haydn was not as is sometimes said this symphony, but a minuet al rovescio, i. e. a palindrome, though not one specially composed for the occasion, as it first appears in G major in Haydn’s 1772 symphony no. 47 (Hob. I:47), and in the following year in A major as the minuet of his keyboard sonata in that key (Hob. XVI:26), where the trio is also a palindrome. The “Oxford” nickname stuck, though the symphony had actually been written in 1789 for performance in Paris. The degree was conferred fairly soon after Haydn’s first arrival in England, and as he had not by then finished composing any of the twelve “London” symphonies which he ultimately wrote for England, he brought to the Oxford ceremony his most recently completed example in the form.
Haydn’s appearance at Oxford is evidence of the international success he attained in his late fifties. It was Charles Burney, himself a graduate of University College and an Oxford doctor of music, who suggested that the degree should be conferred on Haydn and who made all the arrangements. As the composer had arrived from London later than expected, he had to conduct a symphony already familiar to the Oxford musicians, who were to play it at sight.
As Haydn had agreed to conduct three concerts in Oxford in connection with receiving his degree, a rehearsal was scheduled for the second morning, and the same evening the symphony we now know as the Oxford was played to the same acclaim it had previously enjoyed at Johann Peter Salomon’s concerts in London. (Salomon was the impresario who had commissioned the composition of Haydn’s twelve “London” Symphonies, of which however only the last is called by German-speakers die Londoner Symphonie.)