Symphony No. 82, "The Bear"
Length: c. 23 minutes
Orchestration: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: July 28, 1959, Izler Solomon conducting
By the mid-1780s, Haydn was a musical hero famous across Europe and largely independent of his continued employment at the provincial Hungarian court of Prince Nicolaus. That was particularly true of his composition of symphonies. There was a declining interest in them at home, but great demand abroad. Count d'Ogny commissioned a set of six symphonies from Haydn for the concerts organized by the "Olympique" Lodge of the Paris freemasons, all of which were huge successes with the French - Marie Antoinette's reputed affection for No. 85, which included variations on a French tune, gave it the nickname "La Reine."
The Symphony No. 82 is the first of the "Paris" symphonies in number, though not in order of composition. In Paris, Haydn had a larger orchestra at his disposal than ever before, and he responded with his grandest efforts in the medium to date. The inclusion of trumpets and drums in Nos. 82 and 86 gives those works an extra measure of ceremonial brilliance. Indeed, the opening movement of No. 82 is superficially a matter largely of fanfare flourishes, though the fanfares are punctured by dynamic surprises and deflated with expressive sighing that leads into the contrasting theme of Haydn's characteristically customized form.
The second movement is a set of variations on an ambivalent theme, half major mode and half minor, which inspires the equally quirky reinterpretations. The third movement is a Minuet gracious enough for the Ancien Régime, though with a more bumptious Trio section.
It is the finale that gave this symphony its nickname. The droning bass and country carnival atmosphere suggested dancing bears to the French. Haydn certainly makes his obsessively recurring main motif do all sorts of tricks, jumping through an extraordinary series of harmonic hoops in the development section, and charging home with irrepressible vivacity.
- John Henken is the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Director of Publications.