Sound of Charlotte Blog

The Story Behind Haydn's "Farewell" Symphony

In line with the historical context of the work, your CSO musicians will be snuffing out their candles and leaving the stage at the close of Haydn's Symphony No. 45, "Farewell". So what's the story behind this tradition?

It all started with the premier in 1772. Haydn was employed as royal conductor to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy and had taken temporary residence at the Prince's castle in Hungary. After what seemed to be an extremely long season, Haydn and his musicians were long overdue to return home to their families. 

To their dismay, the Prince requested they stay longer to perform a new symphony. Haydn, of course sympathetic to his musicians' plight, devised a plan to change the Prince's mind. He wrote what became known as the "Farewell" symphony to include a special ending.
 
During the last movement at the premier, just as the music's dynamic momentum began to bring the movement to a close, there was an unexpected pause and an Adagio began. As this new, slower section of the movement proceeded, musician after musician finished his part, snuffed his candle, and left the stage. By the time the piece was over, all but two violins remained on stage. Did the protest work? According to the historical telling of this story, the Prince bid his musicians a farewell the following day, and allowed them to return home to their families. 


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