The Paris Symphonies are a group of six symphonies written by Joseph Haydn and performed at the Concert Spirituel, the Concert de la Loge Olympique (Concert of the Olympic Lodge) and the Concert de Amateurs (Concert for the Fans) in Paris.
The symphonies are:
- Symphony No. 82 in C major, The Bear (1786)
- Symphony No. 83 in G minor, La Poule ("The Hen") (1785)
- Symphony No. 84 in E flat major, In Nomine Domini (1786)
- Symphony No. 85 in B flat major, La Reine ("The Queen") (1785)
- Symphony No. 86 in D major (1786)
- Symphony No. 87 in A major (1785)
Parisians had long been familiar with Haydn's symphonies, which were being printed in Paris as early as 1764. H. C. Robbins Landon writes: "All during the early 1780's Haydn's symphonies were performed at the various Parisian concerts with unvarying success, and numerous publishing houses -- among them Guera in Lyon, Siber, Boyer, Le Duc and Imbault in Paris, etc. -- issued every new symphonic work by Haydn as soon as they could lay hands on a copy.".
The work was composed for a large Parisian orchestra called "Le Concert de la loge 'Olympique'" (Orchestra of the 'Olympic' (Masonic) Lodge). This organization consisted in part of professionals and in part of skilled amateurs. It included 40 violins and ten double basses, an extraordinary size of orchestra for the time. (Haydn's own ensemble at Eszterháza was never larger than about 25 total.). According to Robbins Landon, "The musicians wore splendid 'sky-blue' dress coats with elaborate lace ruffles, and swords at their sides." They performed in a large theater with boxes in tiers. The performances were patronized by royalty, including Queen Marie Antoinette, who particularly enjoyed the Symphony No. 85, giving rise to its nickname.
The individual responsible for commissioning the symphonies from Haydn was Claude-François-Marie Rigolet, Comte d'Ogny (i.e., count of Ogny), an aristocrat still in his twenties (his life dates were 1757-1790). The Count, who was the "Intendant Général des Postes" (postal service superintendent), grew up in a very musical household, where his father kept a great collection of musical manuscripts. Patronage of music may have been an extravagance for the Count, since at his death he left a huge debt of 100,000 livres.
The actual negotiations with Haydn were carried out at Ogny's request by Joseph Boulogne, the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the talented leader of the Loge Olympique orchestra. Haydn was paid 25 louis d'or for each symphony plus 5 louis for the French publication rights; the sum was apparently very satisfactory from Haydn's point of view, since the lack of copyright laws had generally prevented him from profiting much from his popularity as a composer.
According to the composer Luigi Cherubini, who participated in the orchestra, the finest musicians in Paris performed in the premieres of the symphonies, and received them with "rapture". The works were also popular with public and press, and were soon published in London and Vienna as well as in Paris.
The anonymous critic of the Mercure de France particularly praised Haydn's ability to write "monothematic" sonata expositions (as they are now called; see sonata form): "this vast genius, who in each one of his pieces knows how to draw developments so rich and varied from a unique theme (sujet)--very different from those sterile composers who pass continually from one idea to another for lack of knowing how to present one idea in varied forms".
Modern critics also appreciate the works. Robbins Landon calls them "a remarkable fusion of brilliance, elegance, and warmth." Charles Rosen writes "There is not a measure, even the most serious, of these great works which is not marked by Haydn's wit; and his wit has now grown so powerful and so efficient that it has become a sort of passion, a force at once omnivorous and creative."
- Robbins Landon 1963, xiv. All material in this article derives from Robbins Landon unless otherwise noted.
- Webster, 2001
- Translation by Charles Rosen in his Sonata Forms (1988, 5); see Robbins Landon 1963 for the French original
- Rosen 1997, 159
- Harrison, Bernard Haydn: The "Paris" Symphonies (Cambridge University Press, 1998)
- Robbins Landon, H. C. (1963) Joseph Haydn: Critical Edition of the Complete Symphonies, Universal Edition, Vienna.
- Rosen, Charles (1997) The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. Norton.
- Rosen, Charles (1988) Sonata Forms, 2nd. ed.. Norton.
- Steinberg, Michael (1995) The Symphony: A Listeners Guide. Oxford University Press.
- Webster, James (2001) "Joseph Haydn", article in the New Grove, online edition.