1. What is a symphony?

So, what is a symphony?

There are no absolute rules, but it’s mostly written for orchestra, has three or (more usually) four contrasted movements; which, in terms of form, often follow the pattern you see below. In a four movement symphony the order of the two middle movements is sometimes reversed, with the minuet/scherzo coming second.

The symphony as we know it came into fashion around the middle of the eighteenth century, with Haydn – whose numbered symphonies run to 104 – being frequently credited with establishing the form. But there were others – Sammartini working in Milan and Johann Stamitz in Mannheim, for instance, who were also producing examples of the genre.

Here are performances of two, short, three movement works (as many of the early symphonies were); the first by Sammartini…

I. Presto
II. Andante
III. Allegro assai

… and the second by Johann Stamitz:

I. Allegro
II. Larghetto
III. Presto


Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as “fair use”, for the purpose of study, and critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of the copyright owner(s).