Surprise Symphony and Haydn’s Later Years

Franz Joseph Haydn  arrived in London on New Year’s Day 1791. He stayed in London for a year and a half and returned in 1794 for another year and a half. During this time he was composing music and experiencing life outside the royal court. It was the highest point of his career. He earned the same amount of money in one year as he did all of his almost 20 years as a Kapellmeister combined. (A Kapellmeister is a leader or conductor of an orchestra of choir.)

If you missed the previous post about Haydn’s time as a Kapellmeister and the Farewell Symphony or about Haydn’s Early Years, check them out before you continue.

During this time, Londoners showed up by the thousands to watch him conduct premieres of his new works. Critics and audiences alike loved what he was doing. He became a big celebrity.

Haydn had composed twelve new symphonies including Symphony No. 94 in G Major.

Haydn’s Surprise Symphony

One of my favorite Haydn symphonies is the “Surprise Symphony” (originally known as Symphony No. 94 in G Major).

This symphony became famous quickly when Haydn was conducting at a concert and decided to change the dynamics of the second movement. Not everyone agrees on the reason behind the change, but one story is the most famous… and the one that I like to believe.

Haydn was irritated by people always falling asleep and even snoring during concerts. There was even a man in the front row who had started snoring on the evening of March 23, 1792, (the night of the first performance) before this movement even began, so Haydn came up with a plan to make them think twice about taking a nap during his music.

Let’s listen to it now to find out what he did. (Do not turn the volume up much, especially if using ear buds.)


The orchestra played softly and then even softer to lull the people to sleep. All of a sudden they played a very loud note. They then continued like nothing strange happened.

Would you wake up to that? I think I would.

It is said that the music was making it even easier to sleep until the fortissimo (very loud) note when the snoring man jumped to his feet. LOL

Whatever is the true story, this symphony earned the nickname Surprise Symphony after that first performance.

Let’s look at a music map of the Surprise Symphony. 

You can download my free PDF Surprise Symphony Listening Map.

Play the video above again while following along with the music by putting your pointer finger on the pictures as you go. Move your finger to the next picture every two notes until the last picture on each line. That is one longer note. By the time you get to the bottom of the page, you will be at the last picture.

It has also proven to be really fun for my young students when I play the music one or two more times and let them pretend to be sleeping and snoring… and then startle awake. 

Besides this fun surprise in this piece of music, the four-movement symphony followed the structure that became a standard during the Classical Era of classical music. It begins with a lively movement with several contrasting melodies. The second movement is at a gentle pace, but includes the famous surprise. The third movement is like a minuet or dance of the time. By the fourth and final movement the music is lively and energetic.

Haydn’s Later Years

A lot of Haydn’s music contained jokes or special story lines. He also composed “The Clock” that we used to learn about steady beats.

Haydn taught a lot of musicians throughout the years. He was even a teacher to two extremely famous composers. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. (We will learn about their times together when we study Mozart and Beethoven in future lessons.)

Besides often being called “Papa Haydn” like we learned in our last lesson, Franz Joseph Haydn and the Farewell Symphony… Haydn was also known as the “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet” because of his important work developing these forms.

Haydn spent the last years of his life in Vienna. He was composing vocal pieces like masses and oratorios during this time. The masses were pieces of music used in the church and oratorios are large pieces of music written for an orchestra, choir, and solo singers. 

By 1803, Haydn was physically unable to compose. He suffered from dizziness, inability to concentrate, weakness, and painfully swollen legs.  (Likely arteriosclerosis.)  His illness was especially hard for Haydn since he continued to have new musical ideas, but he could no longer get his ideas on paper.

The last time Haydn appeared in public was on his 76th birthday on 27 March 1808. This was a performance of his oratorio The Creation at the Old University of Vienna. This concert was painted in a miniature watercolor by Balthasar Wigand. (See the picture on the right.)

Prince Nicholas Esterhazy II (the grandson of Prince Nicholas I, who we learned about with the Farewell Symphony lesson) provided a carriage so that Haydn could travel comfortably since he was in such bad health. Two footmen even carried the very frail Haydn into the auditorium in a sedan chair (likely similar to the picture on the left).

When they arrived in the auditorium, festive trumpet fanfares sounded. The audience cheered, “Vivat Haydn!”, which means “Long live Haydn!” Then one of his former students, Ludwig van Beethoven, kissed his hand to welcome him. All of Vienna’s nobility attended the performance that night.

When Haydn was dying in Vienna in May 1809, Napoleon (who had just conquered the city) posted a guard outside of Haydn’s house to make sure that he would not be disturbed, because Napoleon thought Haydn was the “Grand Old Man” of classical music. Joseph Haydn died peacefully on May 31, 1809.

You can watch and listen to Franz Joseph Haydn’s “The Creation” below. This version is in English. You can skip through it since it is rather long to see and hear the different parts of the music.



If you are new to the Music Adventures Lessons, please click on the graphic below for an introduction and more information.



{This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, please see my disclosure policy.}