Symphony No. 59 in A Major – Feuersymphonie (Fire Symphony)
When was it composed?
Despite its number the Fire Symphony is thought to have been composed as early as 1769 if not earlier.
When was it first performed?
The when and where of this piece are unknowns however we do know it was published in 1772.
What instruments does the composer use?
2 oboes, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, continuo, strings
How long is the piece?
Approximately 25 minutes.
How did it get its nickname?
Thirty-three of his 108 symphonies have been given “nicknames” but very few originated with the composer. With the exception of three early symphonies that Haydn christened “Le Matin,” “Le Midi,” and “Le Soir” most were assigned by publishers or impresarios.
It has been suggested that No. 59 got its name from the fiery first movement and the frenzied activity of the fourth. Though that is a possibility it is more likely that the name dates from several years after its composition. In 1774 several movements were used as incidental music for Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Großmann’s play Der Feuersbrunst (The Conflagration) when it was presented at the court theatre at Esterhazy. The first movement has the structure of a typical overture of the time beginning with an outburst and ending with quiet music signalling the raising of the curtain.
On the subject of nicknames, during his first visit to London a chandelier fell at the rear of the concert room during a performance. However the crowd had moved forward to applaud the composer, so no one was hurt. Because of this stroke of fate the Symphony No. 96 became known as “The Miracle”. One slight problem: when the chandelier fell they had just finished playing Symphony No. 102.
How many movements are there?
There are four movements. The first is marked Presto (Quickly) which was an innovation at the time. It starts the work of with a fiery introduction but calms down ending on a quiet note. The Andante appears at first to be scored only for strings however in another unusual move Haydn brings in the full orchestra for the recapitulation of the second theme. In another unusual move that theme surfaces in the Minuit and Trio. The Allegro finale is highly theatrical with horn and oboe fanfares sounding back and forth and racing strings give it an almost frenzied air – a bit like a blazing fire?
Is there a recording available?
There are many recordings available of this little gem and the choice will depend on your preference for conductor or orchestra. Most recordings are of recent vintage and use an orchestra reflective of Haydn’s time. A search of any of the major audio sites will provide a wide choice. Many of these recordings can be found using a YouTube search.