What’s so surprising about Haydn’s Surprise Symphony?

Haydn's Surprise Symphony, may have come to be known by its score’s most talked about feature, but it is much more than just one dramatic moment.

It’s easy to forget that when Haydn was writing his symphonies a new work was big business. And when the composer came to London in the 1790s, he found himself in something of a ratings war with one of his own pupils, Ignaz Pleyel. Knowing that Pleyel was putting on concerts of his own, Haydn knew he needed something that would get his show talked about. He needed the element of surprise.

In this video from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the OAE’s Chief Executive Crispin Woodhead explains not only how the surprise element ensured infamy this piece, but why what lays beyond the surprise shows Haydn to be the 'King of Symphonies'.

Why is it called the Surprise Symphony? The secret of Haydn's success



Haydn really was up for audience engagement, he wanted the people at his concerts to cheer and to whoop and to cry out when things happened
Crispin Woodhead, OAE Chief Executive on the music of Haydn

From now until 2023, the OAE is going back to its roots with Six Chapters of Enlightenment, six special seasons exploring the golden age of science and philosophy that gave the Orchestra its name.

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