Haydn’s Symphony No. 85: Music Fit For a Queen

Joseph Haydn (portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1972).(Photo: Thomas Hardy)
Joseph Haydn (portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1972).(Photo: Thomas Hardy)

Franz Joseph Haydn has been called “The Father of the Symphony” for his role in developing the genre in the second half of the 18th Century.

With 104 numbered symphonies to his name, a couple of collections are particularly famous: The final twelve “London Symphonies” (nos. 93-104) from the 1790′s and the six “Paris Symphonies” (Nos. 82-87) first performed in that city in 1787.

By the time Haydn wrote these works, he was famous far beyond Vienna and the estate of the Esterhazy family where he was employed for nearly 30 years. Younger composers, even such geniuses as Amadeus Wolfgang Mozart, greatly admired and respected Haydn’s achievements. Parisians also admired his music, hence the commission for the six “Paris” symphonies.

The concerts at which the symphonies were premiered were a great success, and even the Queen attended.

The Symphony in B-flat majory, No. 85 was said to be her favorite and got the nickname “La Reine,” (the Queen). The name stuck, but alas, the queen, Marie Antoinette did not stay around too much longer with the French Revolution just a couple of years away.

Symphony No. 85 is the only one of Haydn’s Paris Symphonies that got its nickname in the 18th Century. The other two that have names, No. 82, “The Bear” and No. 83, “The Hen,” got them later, apparently for sounds audiences heard in the music that reminded them of those animals.

Be that as it may, all six of these symphonies are marvels of fine composing and could all have the nickname, “Wonderful.”

This evening on Symphony at 7, I’ll have Symphony in B-flat major, No. 85, (“La Reine”) for your enjoyment and hope you can join me.