Joseph Haydn completed his Symphony No. 92 in G major, Hoboken I/92, popularly known as the Oxford Symphony, in 1789 as one of a set of three symphonies that Haydn had been commissioned by the French Count d'Ogny to compose. Instrumentation for the symphony is: flute, 2 oboes, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings.
The symphony is called the "Oxford" because Haydn reportedly conducted it at a ceremony in 1791 in which he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University. The name is something of a misnomer, because the symphony was actually written earlier for performance in Paris. Haydn was awarded his degree fairly soon after his first arrival in England, and as he had not yet finished composing any of the twelve "London" symphonies he ultimately wrote for England, he brought to the ceremony the most recent of his completed symphonies.
Haydn's appearance at Oxford was symbolic of the international success he attained beginning in his late fifties. Charles Burney, who himself had earned his doctorate in music at University College, was the one who suggested an honorary degree for Haydn and who made all the arrangements. Because Haydn arrived from London later than expected, he had to conduct a symphony already familiar to the Oxford musicians, since there was no time for rehearsal. However, we do not know which symphony was actually chosen for the concert following the ceremony.
Haydn was actually scheduled to conduct three concerts in Oxford as a prerequisite for receiving his degree. A rehearsal was scheduled for the second morning, and that evening the symphony we now know as the Oxford was played to the same acclaim it had previously enjoyed at Johann Peter Salomon's concerts in London. (Salomon would soon be the impresario responsible for Haydn's writing his 12 "London" Symphonies.)
- Adagio - Allegro spiritoso
- Adagio cantabile
- Menuetto: Allegretto
Haydn distinguishes each section of the sonata form in this movement by use of strong contrasts of stability and instability. Before revealing the first theme of the symphony, Haydn opens this movement with a slow introduction that begins in the tonic G major, modulates through to the parallel minor, and prolongs the German sixth chord (Gr+6) in G major. He begins the first theme in the tonic but on a dominant seventh chord. This is very unusual of symphonies of the time but it reflects an aspect of Haydn’s unique compositional characteristics. Because the rest of the Oxford will reflect many of the ideas presented in this first theme, this symphony has been termed monothematic.
Following the first theme is the transition, which allows Haydn to modulate to the dominant. The second theme begins with the opening idea of the movement, but in the dominant key. As this theme progresses it enters a section of minor-mode before entering into the closing theme. Haydn stays in the tonic key through the closing of the first movement. In the development section, Haydn borrows themes from the exposition, then “develops” and embellishes them. He adds sections of subject change and digression from the original theme as well as moments of rest or silence. These qualities of the development are all very characteristic of Haydn. Furthermore, he draws upon the older style of intricate counterpoint to enhance the galante style of the symphony.
The second movement is in ternary form with a slow and song-like melody. Haydn, however, adds his own uniqueness to this movement by adding an intense middle section in minor. This minor interlude is based on a motive from the opening section. A shortened return of the major section precedes a section of the movement that features the winds.
Haydn composes the third movement in ABA form with a minuet and trio. Both the minuet and trio are in binary form with repeats. In order to create a more entertaining movement for the listener, Haydn composes the minuet with phrases of six measures as opposed to the normal four-measure phrase and adds syncopations and stops. All of these qualities were found to be humorous by the audiences of Haydn’s time because they were so unusual.
Haydn’s final movement of the Oxford Symphony is centered on a feeling of tension and release. In order to convey this quality to the listener, Haydn wrote this sonata form movement slightly faster and shorter than the first movement of the symphony to create a climactic ending.