Haydn’s Farewell Symphony: Easy Piano Tutorial

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Since we were talking about Haydn’s backstory in a previous video, I thought it would be fitting to do a tutorial of his music today. And instead of doing a piano tutorial of his simpler pieces, I thought I would take a very famous song – Haydn’s Farewell Symphony – and arrange it for piano, beginner-style.

Even though I call it an easy piano tutorial, it isn’t beginner-easy. I recommend you have at least a year of experience before attempting this one.

We’re going to discuss the backstory of this symphony, you’ll get to hear the piano arrangement, and then we’ll break it apart to talk about the theory and details.

And as always, the sheet music can be found here:
Haydn’s Farewell Symphony Sheet Music

Let’s get started!

Farewell Symphony: Backstory

Backstory time. This symphony is Haydn’s 45th and is in F# minor, nicknamed the “Farewell Symphony”. It was composed in 1772, or when Haydn was around 40 years old.

The story of this symphony is awesome. Haydn was the music director for the Esterhazy family, and the prince Nicolaus liked to shuttle all the musicians out to the Esterhaza summer home. Now this summer home was a day’s journey from where all the musicians lived, and the stay had been extended, much to their dismay.

So the musicians went up to Haydn and were like, “Haydn, we miss our wives. Will you please talk to the prince so we can finally go home?” And Haydn, being Haydn, decided to put this request into music (instead of talking to the prince directly). So he wrote this symphony, performed it through with all his musicians, and then at the end, as each musician finished one by one, they snuffed out their candle (it was night), and left. Soon there were just two musicians left – including Haydn, playing violin.

Prince Nicolaus took the hint and they all went home the next day.

The Unusual Key Signature of F# Minor

A note needs to be made about the key signature, F# minor. On piano it is a mildly annoying key signature with 3 sharps. But back in the 1700s, not a single other symphony used this key, since it was awkward for a lot of instruments. Apparently Haydn ordered some half-step slides for the horn players, which let them play a half-step lower, allowing for this unusual key signature.

Let’s take a listen to a few moments of the original symphony, and then we’ll jump right into the piano version.

Farewell Symphony Sheet Music

First thing I need to note is this arrangement spans just the first minute of the entire symphony. But it’s long enough to get a feel for the main theme, the part that most people are familiar with.

You’ll notice at the beginning are some staccatos, followed by the Italian “simile”, which just means “same”, or “etc”. Basically it means whenever you see a quarter note, play it staccato (choppy).

farewell_symphony_1

Our tempo marking at the beginning is allegro assai. You probably remember that allegro means “fast”, so when you add assai to it, it means “very fast”. Which is not an easy feat given the constant wide leaps.

So I was a little bit rude – there are constant chords in the left hand, but I didn’t label what those chords are. If you were a student at my studio, I would make you figure out the chords one-by-one, for practice. I highly recommend you do that, especially if you print the sheet music – then you can notate the chord symbols up top.

Let’s go through the first few together.

farewell_symphony_2

Our first 3 letters are C#, F# and A. To figure out what chord this is, we need to re-arrange the notes until they’re in root position (1 letter space between each note).

F# A C#

So notice how there’s a 1 letter space between F# and A (G), and a 1 letter space between A and C (B). This is how we know it’s in root position. And thus, it’s an F# minor chord. Which is to be expected, given that this piece is in F# minor.

Let’s rearrange the second chord now:

D F# B

In root position, it would be:

B D F# (B minor)

The third chord is a little different. The 3 notes are C, G# and B. When we rearrange these, we get:

G# B D

That isn’t a major OR a minor chord – it’s G# diminished chord. Diminished chords have a very characteristically uncomfortable sound – it sounds very stormy and even evil.

Descending Arpeggios

farewell_symphony_3

So now let’s take a look at these huge downward arpeggios. It becomes much easier to play if you can find a pattern in the notes. So we start with F#, to C#, to A. In the next line, it’s the same 3 notes, but an octave lower. Your fingers are going to have to be stretchy for this part, but it’s staccato so you don’t need to worry about connecting those wide leaps.

There’s a pattern in the second arpeggio too. The high note is a B, but all of the notes that follow alternate G# and C#.

On the second line, there’s a difficult hands together section – it helps to break these down into chords so you can intellectually understand what you’re doing, instead of just attempting to play a series of random notes.

farewell_symphony_5

Simplifying Farewell Symphony

I’m always a fan of simplifying. You’ll need to spend extra time working on the right hand notes, but sometimes playing right hand only can get boring. What I like to do, instead of playing the full chord in the left hand, is play just a single note. So if it’s an F# minor chord, I play an F#. If it’s a B minor chord, I play a B.

Overlapping notes

One more note is that your fingers will be doing some overlapping in this piece. It’s not an uncommon thing to come across, so I figured I’d show you how to do it.

What I mean by overlapping is that the right hand notes will sometimes be the exact same notes that the left hand is playing.

So in that first arpeggio, where the right hand descends: F# C# A, the A overlaps with the left hand chord, playing C# F# A. All you have to do is get your left hand thumb out of the way when your right hand shows up to play that note.

The same thing happens several times in the piece – all you need to do is get the left hand fingers in question out of the way when the right hand demands to hit those same notes.

Conclusion

And that’s all for today’s video on Hadyn’s Farewell Symphony. I hope you liked this tutorial, and have fun trying it out on piano – it’s a little difficult, but I think all the leaping makes it enjoyable.

xo,
Allysia

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.