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HEROIC HAYDN, THE OCCASIONAL WORK AND ‘MODERN’ POLITICAL MUSIC

  • NICHOLAS MATHEW
Abstract

Several compositions by Haydn from the 1790s appear to reflect, both directly and indirectly, the newly martial and patriotic atmosphere generated by the war with France. While this has long been recognized by music historians – in particular with reference to ‘Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser’ – Haydn scholars have yet to describe or explain this trend adequately. Only Beethoven scholars have considered this music in any depth, portraying Haydn as the Viennese progenitor of the so-called heroic style. The paradox of this teleological Beethovenian reading of Haydn’s music from the 1790s is that the type of compositions that music historians have traditionally denigrated with the label ‘occasional works’ are portrayed as the ancestors of some of the most vaunted symphonic masterworks in the canon: historically situated music somehow creates the very pieces that supposedly instantiated the historically resistant ‘work concept’ in the period around 1800. Yet this paradox points to a growing tension within Haydn’s public identity and music in the 1790s – a tension between the emerging ideal of aesthetic autonomy and the reality of political appropriation during the revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Indeed, this very tension allowed Haydn and his music to enter political life and political discourse as never before, articulating a relationship between music and contemporary events that cannot adequately be described by the notion of the ‘occasional work’. Haydn’s emergence as a cultural hero, on a par with contemporary war heroes, and the attribution to his music of a sublime power analogous to worldly, even political, powers meant that his music could be heard as possessing a voice in its own right – a voice that could thus speak independently, and persuasively, on behalf of institutions and ideologies, rather than merely echoing them.

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Eighteenth-Century Music
  • ISSN: 1478-5706
  • EISSN: 1478-5714
  • URL: /core/journals/eighteenth-century-music
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