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Music In The Seventeenth And Eighteenth Centuries


CHAPTER 10 Instrumental Music Lifts Off
Richard Taruskin

Perhaps the most vivid measure of that synergy of capacity and contingency is the fact that Haydn was (like Handel) what we would now call a self-made man—a very modern sort of hero, the story of whose career reads a bit like an inspirational novel by Horatio Alger. Unlike the Bachs, unlike Mozart, and unlike Beethoven, Haydn was not born into an established musical family. His father was a village wheelwright in southeastern Austria near the border of what was then considered Hungary but is now Croatia. Though a master craftsman, the elder Haydn (unlike Handel’s father, a prosperous surgeon) was neither a highly educated nor a particularly well-to-do man, and there was no way in the world that his son’s future career could have been predicted. Haydn was acutely aware of the distance his talent and good fortune had taken him. To one of his several contemporary biographers, Albert Christoph Dies, the venerable composer offered himself as an inspiration to the young, “who may see from my example that something may indeed come from nothing.”3 And his modern biographer, H. C. Robbins Landon, cast his whole enterprise as an enlargement of that remark, tracing “the life of a boy who began in abject poverty, half-trained and largely self-educated, who rose to be the leading musical figure of Europe by the 1790s and achieved greater popularity in his own lifetime than any composer before him,” becoming in the process the wealthiest of all pre-twentieth-century professional musicians (Handel alone excepted), and an expert courtier, at home in high society and even “gently manipulating Princes of the Holy Roman Empire.”4

The immediate result of Haydn’s first sign of talent was his removal from his family. At the age of six he was sent to live with a cousin, Franck by name, who worked as a schoolmaster and church choirmaster in a neighboring town. There he had his only formal schooling—reading, writing, and catechism, besides the rudiments of music. By the age of eight he was earning his own keep as a musician, at first as a choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the main Viennese church, where he had been brought by a passing nobleman who had happened to hear him sing: his first stroke of luck. His solo singing brought Haydn while still a child to the attention of the Empress Maria Theresa, but his success as a church singer was short-lived. When his voice broke (not until the age of seventeen, as was usual in those days owing to a diet that would now be thought of as malnourishing), Haydn lost his place as soloist in the choir to his own younger brother Johann Michael (1737–1806), who also made a distinguished career as a composer, though nothing like Joseph’s.

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fig. 10-4 St. Stephen’s cathedral, Vienna, in 1792.

A rather terrible time followed—years of near-starvation in Vienna, where Haydn studied voraciously, gave lessons to children, and took any musical odd job that came his way, like playing violin for a pittance in street-music entertainments—serenades, cassations, and the like. Among the books he studied were Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum, the bible of the stile antico (that is, strict counterpoint), and C. P. E. Bach’s “Prussian” sonatas, which we sampled two chapters back (Ex. 8-3), and which had a decided influence on Haydn’s style. He also apprenticed himself for a while to Nicola Porpora (1686–1768), a famous Italian opera composer and singing teacher, who lived in Vienna between 1753 and 1760. In return for instruction Haydn accompanied Porpora’s pupils at their lessons and (as he told his biographers) shined his master’s boots.

Haydn’s earliest compositions date from this wretched period, and all of them, a few church pieces excepted, were merry entertainments composed for ready market consumption. They included singspiels of the most plebeian sort, roughly on the order of Punch-and-Judy skits (or Hanswurst—“Johnny Sausage”—shows, as they were known in Vienna). The music for these carnival frolics is lost, or perhaps preserved anonymously, but the titles of two of them are known: Der krumme Teufel (“The foxy devil”) and Der neue krumme Teufel (roughly, “A new foxy-devil show”). First performed in 1753 and 1757 respectively in the Kärntnerthor Theater, the official German-language (i.e., lower-class) house, they became very popular and gave Haydn his first local celebrity.

Another early success came in the form of instrumental works that straddled the nebulous line between orchestral and chamber music, presaging that vast portion of Haydn’s output on which his historical reputation now rests. At various times Haydn called them cassations, at other times notturni, at still others divertimenti. Six were published with a title page that called them “Sinfonies ou Quatuors” (Symphonies or Quartets). The product of the years 1757–58, they are now classified in most lists of Haydn’s works as his earliest string quartets (opus 1 and opus 2), because their four parts are earmarked for two violins, viola, and “basso,” which could mean cello.

There is no reason why they could not be performed, like Stamitz’s “orchestra-trios,” with doubled parts, however; and the designation “basso” could certainly be read as implying the participation of a continuo. Nor is the addition of supplementary wind parts out of the question: manuscript sources of uncertain origin so equip some of them. The only thing one can say with certainty is that these works, along with a few others that are scored in three and five parts, stand at the beginning of Haydn’s production of instrumental concert music, the field that he would decisively transform and standardize, in the process finally distinguishing between chamber and orchestral genres as we know them today.

Haydn’s op. 1 and op. 2 must have been highly adaptable to varying combinations of instruments, because they were best sellers, circulating as far south as Naples and as far north (and east) as Königsberg (now the Russian city of Kaliningrad). They even found their way to North America when the Moravian composer Johann Friedrich Peter (1746–1813), who had copied them out, settled in Pennsylvania in 1770. (Peter himself would make a contribution to the chamber divertimento genre with a set of string quintets, composed in Salem, North Carolina in 1789: the first chamber music composed on American soil.)

Their symmetrical or palindromic sequence of five movements—fast “sonata form”/minuet-&-trio/slow/minuet-&-trio/fast finale—was typical of Viennese street music, but when performed by four solo strings the works were ideally suitable for home recreation as well. Haydn was again showing an understanding of the emergent music market, a business sense that would have marked him out for a successful freelance career if need be.

But he did not need it. On the strength of these early successes, Haydn found a permanent position as music director (Kapellmeister) in (or “to”) a noble household. Such a position—essentially that of a highly regarded and somewhat privileged domestic servant—may appear demeaning to us, with our romantic notion of what an “artist” is. It was, however, the very best fate to which a professional musician in mid-eighteenth-century Vienna could aspire, unless, like Mozart, he was a performing virtuoso (as Haydn was not). In addition to a relatively high salary, a musician who landed such a post was given free lodging and board at the equivalent of an officers’ mess. It was, especially by contrast with Haydn’s former plight, a bountiful, carefree existence.

This stroke of good fortune befell Haydn in 1759, when he was hired by Count Karl Joseph Franz von Morzin (1717–83), a Bohemian aristocrat who maintained a huge residence in Vienna during the winters, as well as a family summer estate called Lukavec, near the Czech town of Plzen (Pilsen in German), famous for its breweries. The title of Kapellmeister originally meant “chapel master” (that is, choirmaster), but in secular courts and homes it meant director of musical entertainments. The post put Haydn in charge of an orchestra, and it was for this band that he wrote (or adapted) his first real symphonies.

There are seven such pieces dating from the Morzin period. They include the first five in the standard list of Haydn’s symphonies, totaling 104, first drawn up early in the twentieth century, since which time two more have been unearthed. With two exceptions these early symphonies are three-movement works on the old sinfonia avanti l’opera model: a fast “symphonic binary” movement, a slow movement, and a dancelike finale, usually a gigue (less often a minuet). Of the two four-movement symphonies, one (no. 3 in G major) is cast in the format that Haydn would later establish as the norm: (1) symphonic binary, (2) slow, (3) minuet & trio, (4) fast finale. The other (no. 5 in A major) seems to be descended from the old church sonata. Its first movement is an Adagio, followed by an Allegro, both in binary form; then comes a minuet and trio; last a Presto finale in duple meter and binary form. Movement sequence was as yet a fluid affair.

What is already remarkably consistent, though, is Haydn’s personal manner of inflecting the “symphonic binary” or “sonata” form: like the four-movement sequence of Symphony no. 3, it would eventually become standard practice thanks to his example. Let the first movement of Symphony “A” (Ex. 10-4), one of the recently discovered pieces and possibly the earliest of the lot, serve as prototype.

The special Haydnesque features are two. First, the movement’s closing section, beginning with the “double return,” closely parallels or recapitulates the whole opening section to the first double bar theme by theme, with only such truncations and adjustments as are necessary to keep the whole closing section in the tonic key rather than modulating again to the dominant. Second, the lengthy passage (Ex. 10-4a) extending from the first double bar to the double return, embodying the most radical tonal trajectory in the movement (from dominant to FOP to retransition), is quite rigorously, and very ingeniously, based melodically on motives drawn from the themes heard in the opening section. They are recombined, sequentially extended or otherwise paraphrased, using techniques collectively described in German by the term thematische Arbeit (“thematic work”), for which “development” is the word commonly employed in English.

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ex. 10-4a Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony “A,” I, mm. 43–79

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ex. 10-4b Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony “A,” I, mm. 1–4

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ex. 10-4c Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony “A,” I, mm. 31–37

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ex. 10-4d Franz Joseph Haydn, Symphony “A,” I, mm. 23–27

Thus, to pick some examples, the figure tossed back and forth by the two violin parts in mm. 43–49 turns out to be a conflation of the first measure of the opening arpeggio or “rocket” (Ex. 10-4b) and a sixteenth-note turn from the quiet “second theme” in the dominant (Ex. 10-4c). The figure that elaborates the FOP (G minor or vi) in mm. 62–64 is drawn from the earlier transition to the dominant (Ex. 10-4d). The passage leading to the retransition (mm. 68–79) is a paraphrase of Ex. 10-4c.

In terms of its thematic or melodic content, then, Haydn’s version of the “symphonic binary” form is articulated in three distinct parts, the first coinciding with the first harmonic “paragraph” of the binary form (I→V), and the second and third Haydnesque parts together comprising the second binary paragraph (V→I). The first and the last parts being similar in thematic content and sequence, they are often termed the exposition and the recapitulation. The middle part, containing the redeployment of motives originally “exposed” (or is it expounded?) in the first part, is often termed the development section in English. (The corresponding term in German, Mittelsatz, although it simply means the “middle section,” carries the equivalent meaning when used in this context.)

This thematic structure—exposition, development, recapitulation—is obviously related to the old da capo aria form, from which it derives its very satisfying stability. What it amounts to is a sort of flexible “ternary” overlay coexisting with and reinforcing the binary harmonic structure. The relationship between the two elements—the three-part thematic structure and the two-part harmonic structure—could be endlessly varied. Its combination of flexibility and solidity, or (to put it another way) of complexity and clarity, made the resulting “sonata form” or “sonata-allegro form” or “first-movement form” (to give three terms now in common use to denote it) one of the most adaptable, durable, and potentially eloquent formal procedures ever devised for instrumental music in all media, from solo sonata to orchestral symphony or overture. It was largely thanks to this happy synthesis—and to Haydn, the synthesizer in chief—that instrumental music would enjoy a triumphant (and unforeseen) career over the next two centuries that in a curiously fitting way paralleled the course of Haydn’s own life: from poor relation to dominant force. It too was a sort of Horatio Alger tale.


(3) A. C. Dies, interview with Haydn, 15 April 1805; in Dies, A. C. Dies: Biographische Nachrichten von Joseph Haydn (Vienna, 1810), p. 17.

(4) H. C. Robbins Landon, Haydn: Chronicle and Works, Vol. I (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980), p. 11.

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. 19 Sep. 2021. <https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10006.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 19 Sep. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10006.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 19 Sep. 2021, from https://www.oxfordwesternmusic.com/view/Volume2/actrade-9780195384826-div1-10006.xml