The Story of the Farewell Symphony

My habit of listening to classical music in the car started with my dad. One semester in high school he drove me to my driver’s ed classes before the regular school day began. And classical music is what he listened to in his old Mercedes-Benz.

When I eventually passed my driving test and shared a car with my sisters, I turned up the radio and opened my windows and let everybody listen to my 80’s music with me. During my senior year I secretly returned to listening to classical music, albeit only when I was on my own and with my windows rolled up.

And this is how I still love to listen—in the car, but not in secret anymore. That is where I discovered the Farewell Symphony (Symphony No. 45) by Jospeh Haydn and its intriguing story.

Do you know this story? Haydyn and his musicians were kept by Prince Nicholas at his summer palace, Esterhaz, in Hungary, longer than usual one year and were getting anxious to go back to the city to be with their families. Haydn composed this symphony in which each musicians leaves the stage one at a time. At the close, just two violinists remain. 

Anna Harwell Celenza wrote this story into a children’s book, The Farewell Symphony, and here is an equally good review of it.

The music, not just the story, stirs my imagination about experiences when external pressures conflict with our real desires and personal commitments. The music stretches out, like the musicians stay has been stretched out, and creates a somber feeling of longing. It reminds me that it is longing for something beyond our superfluous external circumstances that motivates us to act creatively to attain our truest priorities.

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