7/8: Today in Weird Music History: 1791. Oxford University grants an Honorary Degree to Franz Joseph Haydn. Haydn had spent most of his creative life in the employ of the Esterhazy family in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His fame spread throughout Europe and he became somewhat of a celebrity after his retirement, receiving commissions, traveling for concerts and receiving accolades. Two trips to England are highlights of his late career.
The deans at Oxford University decided he was important enough to honor with a degree (and, of course, ask for a performance). Following the investiture, Haydn conducted a symphony, most likely his Symphony No. 92. One would think this might be a work created for the occasion, but that is not the case. As there was no time for rehearsal, the musicians had to play something they already knew. So they performed a symphony he had composed two years earlier for a French nobleman. And in perhaps the first instance of university branding, the symphony became known as the “Oxford Symphony.”
Evidently, university budget problems also existed “back in the day.” The venerable Haydn had to pay for his own travel, academic regalia, and even to have the bells rung after the ceremony.