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Beautiful Haydn

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Several late eighteenth-century aesthetic ideas, notably the sublime and conceptions of humor, have been extensively discussed with respect to Haydn, but beauty has garnered only passing mention. Yet the beautiful was a key aesthetic category in Haydn’s day, theorized by leading philosophers of the late eighteenth century such as Immanuel Kant and Edmund Burke. Moreover, Haydn himself considered beauty as fundamental to good composition, and as a goal of the best performance. This essay first considers the idea of beauty in Haydn’s day: How was it defined with regard to music? And how do theories about the beautiful relate to Haydn? It then argues that Haydn could invoke “beauty” as a musical topic or topos (as in “A Pastoral Song,” Hob. XVIIa:27), and even crafted a work that is in some important sense “about” the beautiful (“O Tuneful Voice,” Hob. XVIa:42). In these songs, as well as in larger scale works such as the symphonies and oratorios, especially The Creation, Hob.XXI:2, musical beauty, and its capacity to beget sympathy (or not) becomes an important part of Haydn’s musical argument.