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The Toy Symphony, formally known as “Cassation, for Toys, 2 Oboes, 2 Horns & Strings in G Major”, is a work that was long attributed to Joseph Haydn, but has now come to be attributed to Leopold Mozart. It was first published in 1820, but discovered in a manuscript copied by Leopold Mozart in 1759. There is still some debate as to the authenticity of the authorship of this work, however, it is clearly from the early classical era.
Regardless of the authorship of this work, it can be firmly placed in the early classical era, the reasons being because of its style and instrumentation. It is a brief piece, consisting of three short movements, the typical slow-fast-slow. Technically, it is not a symphony, as it was referred to as a “cassation”, which is a type of divertimenti. It is very simply written, and features several “toys” such as cuckoo, rattle, drum, and triangle. Harmonically it is in keeping with the style of the era, with its simple chord progressions and few modulations.
It is easy to see why this piece could be attributed to Haydn, as it seems to be in keeping with his famous sense of humor and joie de vivre. However, it is much shorter than any of his symphonies, and while there is still speculation on the work’s composer, it may be safe to assume that Haydn did NOT write this piece.
My personal thoughts are that Haydn did not write this piece. While whimsical in many ways that reflect his personality, it seems to be lacking in the overall polish that Haydn showed in his works. It is still a very charming work, and it seems to have stood the test of time. I don’t know that we can ever really know who wrote this piece, but perhaps it doesn’t matter. We can still enjoy it as an example of music from the early classical period.