Haydn / Farewell Symphony

Have you ever had one of those conversations where you say something like, “Oh, X is like Y” and someone looks at you like “Y? what on earth is that?” and you suddenly wonder whether you have not in fact simply made Y up?

I had this experience the other day. My university has a 15 week semester, which is longer than average. It’s kind of a slog towards the end. Which means that sometimes by week fifteen – this week – attendance at department events tends to be kind of spotty. Or, if there is a talk, people come but they start filtering out towards the end. This happened on Monday, when we had a not very good paper given and people started leaving, in ones and twos, during the question period. I was talking to someone later and mentioned that oh, it’s like that Haydn symphony where the players start leaving one by one.

Colleague: [?]

Me: You know. Maybe it wasn’t Hadyn.

Colleague [who is an opera fan, so it wasn’t an insane comparison for me to draw as we were talking]: [?]

Me: I think it was Haydn. But never mind.

As it turns out, I am not making it up. It’s Hadyn’s Symphony no. 45 (“Farewell” symphony) and this is the part I was remembering:

When historians filter out of a room, though, we don’t do it nearly so nicely. Far less attention to maintaining balance, and the last time I saw a history paper end with a pleasant little duet . . .well, that was a long time ago.