No Haydn symphony is as well-known to the general public as the “Surprise” symphony, with its dramatic “wake-up call” chord in the second movement.

Even beyond that, though, this symphony is musically noteworthy. Haydn composed it during one of his visits to London in the early 1790s (as part of his “London Symphonies”), and it shows the full flowering of Haydn’s mature symphonic style.

A singing opening Adagio, with alternating wind and string choirs, gives way to a light-hearted Vivace, starting with an unassuming melody in the violins which rapidly changes into a full-throttle orchestral gallop. The winds are prominently featured, with numerous solo passages.

The famous second movement Andante is actually a series of variations on a simple theme, alternately set in the major key (C Major), minor key (C minor), and its relative major key (E-flat), before making its way back. Beyond the technical mastery shown, the movement evokes many moods – in turn “simple,” elegant, tragic, impassioned, humorous, heroic, and (last) mysterious. The following minuet and trio are elegant in style, with the trio prominently featuring the bassoon.

The final Allegro di molto is a romp featuring florid string passages, especially in the violins.

Symphony No. 94 in G Major, "Surprise"
By Franz Joseph Haydn