3.4.2 Exploring the Microstructure

Exploring the Microstructure

In the previous activities, you will have noted that the ‘Drumroll’ symphony starts with an Adagio introduction. The introduction to this work is the longest in terms of number of measures and metrical beats than any other Haydn symphony. In addition, it exercises an unusually significant influence on the Allegro con spirito which follows it. Although several of Haydn’s introductions show a motivic connection to the Allegro sections that follow, the Symphony No. 103 is one of the few examples where the introduction material and motives are actually quoted in the Allegro con spirito  – compare mm. 99-103 with mm. 1-4, for example. Some authors even claim that the introduction to No. 103 is the first in the symphonic literature that is presented at its original tempo, albeit in an abridged version, near the end of the Allegro (mm. 202-213). Thematic material from the Introduction also appears briefly, in rhythmic diminution, in other spots of the Allegro: mm. 74- 75 and 214-215; and during the development at mm. 112-114. One other curiosity pointed out by some authors is the similarity of the beginning of the Adagio with the Gregorian Dies Irae, which might be fortuitous, but nevertheless creates a sombre atmosphere (Schroeder, 1985, 71).

Figure 3.7 Haydn, Symphony in E-flat no 103. Detail of the autograph manuscript of the drumroll at the start of the introduction.

The Adagio introduction, (I in the schematic representation), is preceded by a timpani drumroll (see Figure 3.3). Haydn used suspended notes or chords to begin a couple of his symphonic introductions. In this one, however, the use of the timpani alone for this purpose is an innovation. In fact, this drumroll raises some interesting interpretational questions. While more traditional interpretations lean towards a roll performed with different choice of dynamics, the autograph manuscript leaves some doubts about what the composer wanted because of the ‘intrada’ and ‘solo’ indications that precede the E-flat roll.

Questions of Interpretation

(Allow around 15 minutes for this activity)

Reflect on what you know about the timpani drumroll at this point. What interpretational questions does the drumroll raise for you?


There is of course a range of things you may have thought of, but here are some we came up with:

  • Should it be performed as a simple drumroll?
  • At which dynamic intensity should it be performed?
  • Could Haydn have intended for a small introductory solo on the timpani finishing with a roll on the E-flat?
  • Is it open to some improvisational liberty for the timpanist?
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