In 1784, the Board of Directors of the Concerts de la Loge Olympique in Paris asked Haydn to write six symphonies for their concert series; this was the composer's first foreign commission, having spent most of his professional life in service at the Esterházy court. The Loge Olympique concerts, instituted in 1780, were among the most prestigious in France; Marie Antoinette was an occasional attendee, as were various officials from the court at Versailles. Over the next two years Haydn composed the Symphonies Nos. 82 through 87, now known collectively as the "Paris" Symphonies, for the large orchestra -- the largest Haydn ever had at his disposal, featuring up to 40 violins, ten double basses, and as many as four of each woodwind -- of the Loge Olympique. Despite its numbering as the first of the six, the Symphony No. 82 was in fact the last of these works to be written; it was completed in 1786.
The first movement (Vivace assai) alternates between the festive, extroverted mood of its opening theme, and the more thoughtful, graceful tone of the second (which makes its first appearance in the strings over a quiet drone from the bassoon). Development section and recapitulation are especially inventively blurred, even by the high standards of this period of Haydn's career. The second movement isn't a true slow movement but rather an Allegretto -- a theme and variations based on a theme in two parts, the first flowing, the second with a tinge of agitation.
The Menuetto third movement opens and closes with pomp and ceremony; this music frames a playful, graceful trio section in which Haydn's colorful woodwind scoring comes to the fore. The final movement is the one that provides this work its nickname, "The Bear." It features a rustic tune played over a comical drone, which suggested to its early listeners the sound of bagpipes and the dancing bears which frolicked to their sound at village fairs. Haydn moves from these rustic sounds into some exciting contrapuntal development that builds up to a false ending, giving him the opportunity for one last exciting drive to the real conclusion.