Rapturously received at its London premiere and still regarded by critics as one of Haydn's finest symphonic works -- perhaps even his best symphony -- this is, curiously, one of the least performed of Haydn's last 20-some symphonies. It lacks a nickname and broad musical jokes, but that's a superficial reason for its neglect. Though it is the Symphony No. 96 that bears the nickname "Miracle," it was actually at the premiere of this work that a chandelier crashed to the floor of the hall -- inspiring shouts of "it's a miracle" when it became clear that no one had been hurt.
As is almost always the case in Haydn's "Salomon" symphonies, No. 102 begins with a slow introduction. A soft, solemn chord for full orchestra complete with timpani roll announces an equivocal Largo string theme that seems unsure of its direction; the chord is repeated, and then the theme returns at greater length, finally displaced by an exuberant Allegro vivace that is essentially an elaboration of the introduction. Unusually for Haydn during this period, the movement's second subject is completely independent, rather than a variation of the first; though punctuated by two loud chords it is comparatively subdued, and hints at the minor. The development is one of Haydn's most extensive and dramatic, with the two themes trading off quickly and sometimes overlapping. The straightforward recapitulation is topped off with an unusually stormy coda.
After this, the Adagio brings a long moment of repose. Here appearing in F major, it can also be found in an F sharp transposition in the middle of Haydn's Piano Trio, H. 15/26. With its involuted main theme, which undergoes several metamorphoses, this movement carries a light melancholy that hints at something deeper in its very few brass-reinforced climaxes. The Minuet lightens the mood again, with its insouciant theme speckled with grace notes at the beginning of almost every bar. The trio section, carried mainly by the oboe and bassoon, just barely suggests the wistfulness of the slow movement, but this is swept away by the return of the first section.
The Presto finale has no room for melancholy. It's built on one of Haydn's typical quick string tunes, here interrupted by little sputters from the woodwinds. The melody enjoys a thorough development through the course of the movement, with strenuous, proto-Beethovenian moments scraping against witty episodes that could have been easily transplanted into any French opera overture written in the next five decades. Commentators, in fact, stress the junctures at which this symphony forecasts the coming of Beethoven: the forceful unisons that stop the motion of the opening movement, the conclusion of the second movement which is unusually muscular for such a gentle movement, the rather rowdy minuet, and the frequent balance between loud and soft statements in the last movement.