Joseph Haydn had come to London at the age of 62 on a second concert tour arranged by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon. And on 2 February 1795, the King’s Theatre was filled to capacity with an audience eagerly awaiting the performance of a new symphony by the city’s most famous musical visitor. As was customary, Haydn directed the orchestra from the keyboard, and curious members of the audience rushed towards the stage in order to get a closer glimpse of the famous Haydn. As an early Haydn biographer reports, “The seats in the middle of the floor were thus empty, and hardly were they empty when the great chandelier crashed down and broke into bits, throwing the numerous gathering into great consternation. As soon as the first moment of fright was over and those who had pressed forward could think of the danger they had luckily escaped and find words to express it, several persons uttered the state of their feelings with loud cries of “Miracle! Miracle!” Haydn himself was deeply moved and thanked the merciful Providence that had allowed him in a certain way to be the cause of or the means of saving the lives of at least thirty people. Only a couple of persons received insignificant bruises.”It was one of those memorable evenings in the history of music.
Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 96 in D major, “The Miracle”
So it should come as no surprise that the symphony performed that evening should have acquired the subtitle “The Miracle.” That exciting moniker has been habitually attached to Haydn’s Symphony No. 96, but we now know that the chandelier actually fell in the last movement of No. 102. A newspaper report in the Morning Chronicle the following day wrote, “the last movement was encored: and notwithstanding an interruption by the accidental fall of one of the chandeliers, it was performed with no less effect.” The work in question was clearly No. 102, but even the great Haydn scholar HC Robbins Landon was slightly befuddled. He wrote, “I cannot quite figure out how this could have happened in the last movement of a piece, when people could reasonably have been expected to be in their seats, as opposed to before the beginning, when they could credibly have crowded near the stage.” What a great story, nevertheless, so let’s listen to the wrong symphony paired to the correct miracle!
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