We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more


Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off
Richard Taruskin

For an idea of Haydn at his most “original,” and for a glimpse of that symbiosis between courtier-Kapellmeister and patron (leading to what Landon called the former’s “gentle manipulation” of the latter), we can turn to Symphony no. 45, first performed, under very unusual circumstances, at the summer palace in November 1772. November is obviously not a summer month. That is what was so unusual about the circumstances—and, as a result, about the symphony.

Its key alone—F♯ minor—makes it unique among Haydn’s symphonies and practically unique in the music of its time. (There is no other symphony in F♯ minor among the 16,000-odd entries in LaRue’s Union Thematic Catalogue.) The character of its first movement is worlds away from the “festive fanfare mood” that typified the early concert symphony in keeping with its usual function. In form, too, the movement is famously enigmatic. And the concluding movement is so outlandish that without knowledge of the circumstances of its composition it would be altogether baffling.

The strange and squally first movement, with its uniquely “remote” key and its consequently anomalous timbre (at least when played on the winds and horns of Haydn’s time), is the most extreme representative of a special group of symphonic compositions Haydn produced in the early 1770s, often associated with a similarly frenzied tendency in German drama and literature. The literary movement was known as Sturm und Drang (“Storm and stress”) after the subtitle of a sensational play—Die Wirrwarr (“Turmoil” or “Confusion,” 1776)—by F. M. von Klinger, a close friend of Goethe, whom he influenced with this work. With its glorification of the “state of nature,” its emphasis on subjective, often violent moods, and its portrayals of social alienation, Sturm und Drang (as observed in chapter 8) had obvious affinities with the Empfindsamkeit (“Sentimentality”) of earlier German poetry that was directly reflected in the music of C. P. E. Bach, who as we know had a formative influence on Haydn’s style. The Sturm und Drang movement also led, or fed, into the main stream of Romanticism that would soon engulf European art, and for the first time put German artists at the forefront of European culture.

Norms And Deviations: Creating Musical MeaningNorms And Deviations: Creating Musical Meaning

ex. 10-5a Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp minor (“Farewell”), I, mm. 1–16

Its actual connection with Haydn may be disputed; no direct evidence associates the composer with the actual products of the Sturm und Drang movement or its leaders. But the character of the opening movement of Symphony no. 45 is undeniably one of turmoil, and Haydn was clearly aiming to give something of the impression through it of a Wirrwarr, an emotional confusion. The unremitting syncopations in the accompaniment to the opening theme (Ex. 10-5a) are one symptom of this. A far more significant symptom, however, is the eccentric treatment given the sonata form. The contrasting second theme comes not before but after the double bar and is cast in neither the dominant nor the relative major, the “normal,” therefore expectable (hence expressively neutral), alternate keys in a minor-mode movement.

(Those keys had already had their own little drama in the movement. As a look at the score will confirm, the relative major was deliberately prepared and avoided in mm. 37–38 by a sudden feint: the substitution of C-natural for C-sharp, changing A major to A minor. The actual sectional cadence takes place in C-sharp minor, the “minor dominant,” but is contradicted on the other side of the double bar by another sudden feint: a switch to A major, the key originally expected and deferred.) The key of the lyrical “second theme” in this movement (Ex. 10-5b) is actually that of the FOP (D major, the submediant). This is perhaps the most serious departure from the conventions of sonata form as practiced (and established) by Haydn himself, according to which the FOP is to be reached through thematische Arbeit, not suddenly introduced by way of arbitrarily invented material. (It is true, by the way, that the theme in question bears some small if demonstrable resemblance to a motive in the exposition, and the resemblance has been cited by those who prefer to explain away its strangeness. But one has to hunt for it; the motivic relationship is only putative. By contrast, there is no need to hunt for the strangeness; it stares you challengingly in the face.)

Norms And Deviations: Creating Musical Meaning

ex. 10-5b Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp minor (“Farewell”), I, mm. 108–15

As if that were not enough, this placidly beautiful D-major theme is approached and left not by transitions but by pauses on either side. It has the air of an intrusion, not a development, further set off from its surroundings by its “bassless” initial scoring. And it comes to no cadence: rather, it seems (by the use of an arpeggiated diminished-seventh chord) to dissolve into thin air (like a mirage, as the Haydn specialist James Webster has suggested). There can be no question that this music is deliberately enigmatic. It is so because it departs for no apparent reason from what had become accepted norms of composition (that is, of behavior) by the time it was written—especially at the Esterházy court, where Haydn’s music was especially familiar. As the saying goes, Haydn was honoring the norms he had created “in the breach,” and could only have been expecting his audience to notice the fact and be bewildered.

Norms And Deviations: Creating Musical MeaningNorms And Deviations: Creating Musical Meaning

ex. 10-5c Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp minor (“Farewell”), III, mm. 1–12

From this example one might generalize further about the use and purposes of compositional “norms,” so many of which can be credited to Haydn. One of their main uses—and purposes—is revealed precisely in departures from them like this one. In other words, norms are not laws that must be adhered to simply for the sake of coherence or intelligibility, although that is their primary purpose. Absolutely unchallenged “normality” is perhaps the most boring mode of discourse. One rarely finds it in Haydn, or in any imaginative or interesting composer. Rather it is the existence of norms that allows departures to become meaningful—and thereby expressive. In that sense, rules are indeed made to be broken.

But expressive of what? That is often a teasing question in instrumental music, as we know. An answer must await knowledge of what follows. The idea of leaving a movement “hanging” expressively, to become meaningful only in retrospect, or in conjunction with the other movements, is to create the aspect of a narrative connecting all the movements in the symphony. It both introduces an “extramusical” presence into the content of the work and at the same time binds its constituent parts that much more compellingly into a coordinated, coherent whole. In both of these aspects, Haydn’s symphony was very much a harbinger of a new expressive range, and a new importance, that instrumental music would claim, especially in the German-speaking lands. This, too, was an aspect of German music that tied it to nascent Romanticism, and to Germany’s new position of leadership in European art.

The overall shape of Symphony no. 45 is as strange—and therefore as telling—as that of its first movement. For most of its duration it seems to follow what had for a dozen years been the standard procedure: a fast symphonic binary movement or “sonata allegro,” however eccentric; a slow movement, a minuet and trio, and a finale in Haydn’s favorite meter-tempo combination (Presto in or “cut time”). The keys are closely related to those of the first movement: slow movement in A (relative major); minuet in F♯ (parallel major), finale in the original key.

Norms And Deviations: Creating Musical MeaningNorms And Deviations: Creating Musical MeaningNorms And Deviations: Creating Musical MeaningNorms And Deviations: Creating Musical Meaning

ex. 10-5d Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp minor (“Farewell”), end of the symphony

One noteworthy harmonic touch, in view of what has gone before, occurs at the beginning of the minuet (Ex. 10-5c), where the first tutti blusters in on a boisterous chord of the flat submediant (D major), palpably intruding on the soft beginning of the tune. This, of course, is the key of the enigmatically intrusive “second theme” in the first movement. But where the D-major tonality had dissolved mysteriously in the first movement, here it is allowed to resolve in normal fashion to the dominant, as if to suggest that the wildness of the opening is in the process of being tamed.

The biggest surprise, however, comes midway through the finale, when the movement suddenly fizzles out on the dominant and is replaced, seemingly for no good reason, by what sounds like another minuet, as graceful as its predecessor had been blunt and very richly scored (four desks of violins, each with its own part), that enters in the key of the relative major, thus replaying the sudden harmonic succession—dominant to relative major—that had enigmatically surrounded the double bar in the first movement. It then proceeds, through a resumption of the dominant, to the parallel major (the rare and extravagant tonality of six sharps, at the farthest, i. e., diametrical, reach of the circle of fifths from C, the conventional starting point), where the symphony is finally allowed to end, in a quietly joyous mood uncannily similar to that of the first movement’s mysterious second theme.

Most enigmatic of all is the way in which this concluding dance proceeds through an inexorable composed diminuendo, the instruments of the orchestra dropping out one by one (including a bassoon, relegated in the three preceding movements to doubling the bass line, which enters briefly as a soloist, it seems, just so as to be able to make an exit). Ex. 10-5d shows the end of the movement. Only the strings remain at this point, and then they too bow out: first the double bass (after an extravagant and virtually unprecedented solo turn) and the two “extra” violins, then the cello, eventually everybody. As an extra surprise, the “extra” violins return to finish the movement, having donned their mutes. Their softly beatific murmurings finally fade out into silence.

What can this strange “story” mean? It was a response to circumstances that have been recounted (after Haydn’s own recollections) by all of his biographers. This is Griesinger’s version, first published in 1810:

Among Prince Esterházy’s Kapelle [orchestra] there were several vigorous young married men who in summer, when the Prince stayed at Eszterháza, were obliged to leave their wives behind in Eisenstadt. Contrary to his custom, the Prince once extended his sojourn in Eszterháza by several weeks: the loving husbands, thoroughly dismayed over this news, went to Haydn and asked for his advice.

Haydn had the inspiration of writing a symphony (which is now known under the title of “Farewell” Symphony), in which one instrument after another is silent. This Symphony was performed as soon as possible in front of the Prince, and each of the musicians was instructed, as soon as his part was finished, to blow out his candle and to leave with his instrument under his arm.

The Prince now rose and said, “If they all leave, we must leave, too.” The musicians had meanwhile collected in the antechamber, where the Prince found them, and smiling said: “I understand, Haydn; tomorrow the men may all leave,” whereupon he gave the necessary order to have the princely horses and carriages made ready for the trip.6

This story has lent the name “Farewell” to Symphony no. 45 irrevocably, and probably accounts for its survival in active repertory long after most of Haydn’s Esterházy symphonies had been eclipsed by his later ones. Its fame is well deserved. It casts an appealing light on Haydn’s relationship with his patron, being the prime instance of the “gentle manipulation” to which Landon called admiring attention. Casting Haydn as one of those “self-made men” who could command the personal respect of the nobility by dint of their achievements, it is a model embodiment of the bourgeois work ethic. But there is nothing subversive about such a message: it is just as much a flattering reflection on the liberality of the Prince, who becomes through it a model of “enlightened despotism.”

Such stories about artists have a long history. They were not an eighteenth-century invention, whether enlightened or bourgeois. The one about the “Farewell” Symphony has a direct sixteenth-century precedent in a story, recounted by the theorist Glareanus in the sixteenth century, about Josquin des Prez, the greatest of the Netherlandish polyphonists, and King Louis XII of France, in which the composer gently manipulated his master, reminding him of a forgotten promise by setting some verses from Psalm 119 (“Remember Thy word unto Thy servant”) as a motet. There is an important difference between the stories, however, and one that does indeed set the time of Haydn decisively apart from the time of Josquin.


(6) Griesinger, Biographische Notizen, p. 19; third paragraph follows Dies, Biographische Nachrichten, p. 48.

Citation (MLA):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." The Oxford History of Western Music. Oxford University Press. New York, USA. n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2018. <http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10008.xml>.
Citation (APA):
Taruskin, R. (n.d.). Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off. In Oxford University Press, Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries. New York, USA. Retrieved 13 Dec. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10008.xml
Citation (Chicago):
Richard Taruskin. "Chapter 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off." In Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries, Oxford University Press. (New York, USA, n.d.). Retrieved 13 Dec. 2018, from http://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10008.xml