It is ironic that art music in the royal courts of Europe reached a peak of creative expression during the final period in which monarchs in many European countries wielded absolute power. But the Classical Period (1750-1825) was just such a time. The Classical Era was the final historical period of the “patronage system” in which musicians worked as servants to powerful noblemen. During this time three great revolutions took place: the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution. Classical Period music was the “swan song” of autocratic powers among most European nobles, and it was the era that gave birth to the great democracies of the New World.
Some of the important historical events of this period include Benjamin Franklin’s discoveries of electricity, the emergence of factories using water and steam powered machinery, Napoleon’s ultimate defeat at Waterloo, the first steamship crossing of the Atlantic, the discovery of medical vaccination, and the invention of the cotton gin. At the same time these events were taking place, a music of great elegance, refinement, and beauty was being created by resident composers in the courts of European noblemen.
Musicians moved away from the heavily ornamented Baroque styles and embraced a clean, uncluttered style they thought reminiscent of Classical Greek art. Noble patrons were demanding an impersonal, but tuneful and elegant music. Dances such as the minuet and the gavotte were provided in the forms of entertaining serenades and divertimenti. At this time the Austrian capital of Vienna became the musical center of Europe, and works of the period are often referred to as being in the “Viennese style.” There are those who would deny that a “Viennese School” of composers ever existed during this epoch, but it is certain that the lives of Haydn and Mozart were closely linked, both through music and through friendship in Vienna. Additionally, Haydn’s influence as Beethoven’s teacher for a short period is also a fact. So the existence of a “Viennese Classical style” is self-evident.
Classicism is based on the artistic principles of the Ancient Greeks and Romans, emphasizing idealizing beauty, clarity, simplicity, and balance. Compositions of the Classical Period contain a very well defined sense of proportion. Perfection in the structure or form of a piece of music was very important to composers of this era, and once the piano had fully replaced the harpsichord as the primary keyboard instrument, an aspect that was essentially characteristic of mature Classical style in all genres was the sudden, dramatic shifting in dynamics throughout a composition which became a hallmark of the music from this era.
Composers came from all over Europe to study in and around Vienna, and gradually they developed and formalized the standard musical forms that were to dominate European musical culture for the next several decades. A reform of the extravagance of Baroque opera was undertaken by Christoph von Gluck. Johann Stamitz contributed greatly to the growth of the orchestra and developed the idea of the orchestral symphony. The Classical Period reached its majestic culmination with the masterful Symphonies, Sonatas, and String Quartets of the three great composers of the Viennese School: Franz Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. Other notable, but minor composers included Mozart’s father, several of J.S. Bach’s sons, Johann Hummel, Muzio Clementi, Friedrich Kuhlau, and many others.
Unlike the previous Baroque Era, there were not any major events that represent a starting point of the Classical Era. As often happens, a new style of music began to be composed by the younger generation. At first, it began to show promise and eventually dominated as the older generation began to die off. For example, J.S. Bach was composing his masterpiece “The Art of Fugue” while his sons were composing symphonies in the early Classical style. The leaders of the Neo-Classical Era drew inspiration from Classical Greek ideas, which were themselves concerned with perfect proportion. The writers, artists, and architects of the modern Classical era took many leads from the ancient Classicists. However, Viennese Classical music did not take many ideas from ancient Greek music because this was not possible. Following the collapse of the ancient Greek civilization, most of the surviving musical documents from the Classical Greek Age were stored in the library at Alexandria, Egypt. Unfortunately, numerous conquering armies destroyed the library at Alexandria, burning the ancient Greek manuscripts, and much knowledge of past civilizations was lost as a result. In all, less than two dozen pieces of music from Classical Greece survive to this day. Along with most of the music, the directions on how to decipher the remaining manuscripts were lost. There is very little indication of how these surviving manuscripts might have sounded, and so we can only imagine the true nature of Classical Greek music.
Composers of the Classical Era based their music on what they knew: the common ideals found in many of the disciplines. In reality, they created a new kind of music, based primarily on a clear homophonic texture that stressed emotional restraint, perfection of form, and balance of quick-changing dynamics. The sound of Classical music can be described as having relatively uncomplicated, clear, singable melodies that are supported by chords. The orchestral sound is much heavier than the small Baroque orchestra, but the homophonic texture of Classical music is much “lighter” in feeling than the weighty polyphonic sounds of the Baroque. Classical composers strove to create a balance between emotion and intellect. Baroque music is much more intellectual than emotional and much more complicated than the Classical sound.
Listeners to Classical symphonies, concerti, and string quartets should remember that these works were composed for the purpose of entertainment of royal patrons and their courtiers. Classical composers were musicians who generally got paid for what they did. This was the popular and contemporary music of the time. And like musicians today, composers in past eras often wrote for the markets available, albeit for monarchy, the church, etc. To the ears of an Eighteenth Century listener, this music sounded new and emotionally liberated from the older Baroque style. It had an enlightened expression, clearly a medium for the thoughts of a new era. The piano gradually replaced the older harpsichord as the most widely used and important keyboard instrument of the time, and all noteworthy Classical composers produced Piano Sonatas as a major portion of their creative output along with much other chamber music. The piano’s mechanism, which permitted a flexible dynamic range, had been perfected at the end of the Baroque era. While the organ was still in use, the church became a less powerful entity in the lives of musicians, and the composition of new organ music dropped off considerably.
Opera continued to grow in the Classical Era, remaining a popular form of entertainment. Gluck, Haydn, and Beethoven all composed operas that were highly regarded, but it was primarily Mozart and Rossini who composed the most beloved operas of the time. Both were experts at the form of opera buffa (comic opera) and elevated the status of it from low-class entertainment to a very respected art form. One of Mozart’s last operas, “The Magic Flute” helped to start an important line of German opera, later culminating in the gigantic works of Wagner. Undoubtedly, the most important musical invention of the Classical Era was “Sonata Allegro Form.” It was used as the basis for the Symphony, the Concerto, the String Quartet, and the solo Sonata. In Church Music, the Mass and Oratorio continued to be important forms, but vocal music was slightly secondary to instrumental genres in the productive output of most major composers of this era.
The first of the three great Classical composers was greatly responsible for the invention and refinement of Sonata Form in the Classical Period. Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was born into an ordinary Austrian family. Haydn was blessed with an unusually long life for someone of his time, as well as the good fortune of being employed for some thirty years by the Esterházy family, some of the richest musical patrons in Europe. Haydn was also blessed with a great musical talent. In the short autobiographical sketch (1776) that he was asked to write for inclusion in Das gelehrte Oesterreich, Haydn gave the following account of his career: “I was born anno 1732 the last of March in the hamlet of Rohrau in Lower Austria, near Bruck on the Leytha River. My father was a wheelwright by profession … and had a natural love for music. Without being able to read music he played the harp, and when I was a boy of five I was able to repeat all of his short and simple songs. This caused my father to send me to Hainburg in the care of the school director, a relative, so that I might learn there the rudiments of music and other elementary general subjects. Almighty God gave me musical talent so that in my sixth year I was able to sing along with the choir during Mass and to play some on the violin and piano. When I was seven years old the Imperial Kapellmeister von Reutter came through Hainburg. He happened to hear my small but pleasing voice and accepted me at once for the Kapellhaus [in Vienna]. Besides being instructed in academic subjects I learned from excellent teachers how to sing and had instruction in piano and violin. Until I reached the age of eighteen I sang there, with much applause, soprano parts, both at St. Stephen’s Cathedral and at court. When my voice finally changed I barely managed to stay alive by giving music lessons to children for about eight years. In this way many talented people are ruined: they have to earn a miserable living and have no time to study. I had this experience myself, and I would never have reached this moderate degree of success if I had not continued to compose diligently during the nights as well. I wrote a great deal, but I lacked solid grounding until I had the good fortune to be taught the fundamentals of composition by the famous Mr. Porpora who lived in Vienna during this time. Through the recommendation of Mr. von Furnberg (who showed me special kindness) I eventually was given a position as music director to Count Morzin, and following this as Kapellmeister to His Highness Prince Esterházy; there it is my desire to live and to die.”
Haydn was fortunate to have such patrons as the Esterházy princes who allowed him to compose a vast amount of music over a long career. Even if his music was not as emotionally intense and radical as that of Beethoven (who was his pupil at one point), or as profound and probing as Mozart’s (who was his good friend), Haydn’s music shows a very solid structure that was an important part of the Classical Era. Haydn was quite an innovator. History has given him the titles of “father of the symphony,” “father of the orchestra,” and “father of the string quartet.” Over the course of his life he was instrumental in the development of the sonata cycle and helped to establish the tradition of modern orchestral playing.
During his long tenure with the Esterházys, Haydn was the director of an ensemble of about twenty musicians, with responsibility for the music and the instruments, and he was required to compose as his employer (from 1762 Prince Nikolaus Esterházy) might command. At first he lived at Eisenstadt, about thirty miles South-East of Vienna. By 1767 the family’s chief residence, and Haydn’s chief place of work, was at the new palace at Esterháza. In his early years Haydn chiefly wrote instrumental music, including Symphonies and other pieces for the twice-weekly concerts and the prince’s Tafelmusik, and works for the instrument played by the prince, the baryton (a kind of viol), for which he composed Trios. There were also cantatas and a little church music.
Around 1766 church music became more central, and so did opera after the opening of a new opera house at Esterháza in 1768. Some of the Symphonies from around 1770 show Haydn expanding his musical horizons from occasional, entertainment music towards larger and more original pieces, for example Symphonies 26, 39, 49, 44 and 52 (many of them in minor keys, and serious in mood, in line with trends in the contemporary symphony in Germany and Austria). Also from 1768-1772 come three sets of string quartets, probably not written for the Esterházy establishment but for another patron or perhaps for publication (Haydn was allowed to write other than for the Esterházys only with permission); Op. 20 clearly shows the beginnings of a more adventurous and integrated quartet style.
Among the operas from this period are Lo speziale for the opening of the new opera house, L’infedeltà delusa (1773) and Il mondo della luna (1777). The Empress stayed at Esterháza in 1773, and she was so impressed by Haydn’s L’infedeltà delusa that she remarked that if she wanted to hear good opera, she would go to Esterháza. In this environment Haydn could barely keep up with the demand for new compositions of all kinds. The manuscript of a Concerto for Horn, dated 1762 carries the remark “written in my sleep.” We can assume that the proverbial midnight oil was burned for many other works as well. The Prince, pleased with a new composition, might give orders to pay Haydn a bonus, at the same time requesting “six more pieces like the ones just sent” -to be delivered, of course, at once. The Prince was an enthusiastic player of the baryton (a string instrument related to the viola da gamba, with sympathetic strings plucked by the left thumb). And the Prince constantly demanded new music for his instrument. Haydn provided his employer with well over 150 baryton compositions.
In spite of visits by distinguished artists, traveling virtuosos, and theater troupes, Haydn felt artistically isolated; while admittedly this forced him “to become original,” he often wished for greater opportunities to travel. Nicholas valued the services of his Kapellmeister (since 1766) so highly that he rarely granted him even a few days’ leave to go to Vienna, to say nothing of the journey to Italy which Haydn, quite active as a composer of operas, was most anxious to undertake. Operatic activity became increasingly central from the mid-1770s as regular performances came to be given at the new opera house. It was part of Haydn’s job to prepare the music, adapting or arranging it for the voices of the hf]resident singers. In 1779, the opera house burned down; Haydn composed La hf]fedelta premiata for its reopening in 1781. Until then his operas had largely been in a comic genre; his last two for Esterháza, Orlando paladino (1782) and Armida (1783), are in mixed or serious genres. Although his operas never attained wider exposure, Haydn’s reputation had now grown to an international status. Much of his music had been published in all the main European centers; under a revised contract with the Esterházy prince, his employer no longer had exclusive rights to his music.
Haydn’s early keyboard Sonatas can be performed on a harpsichord, which allows for only certain changes in dynamics. Undoubtedly, Haydn’s early piano works were influenced by his ensemble music. There are many sections that seem as if they were really intended for the violin and continuo. It is not at all surprising that some of the Sonatas were also printed in alternate versions “with the accompaniment” of a violin or violin and cello. Some passages were inspired by the technique of the violin, and the frequent changes between high and low registers suggest the arrangement for pianoforte of an orchestral composition. It is reasonable to state that Haydn may have first conceived his early works in the context of the string ensemble and then subsequently, he adapted his ideas to the keyboard.
At the same time, these Sonatas are not lacking in clear indications of future trends. In addition to the imitations of string instruments, there are freely-modulating passages, especially in the development sections, that exhibit a true pianistic character. More important, however, Haydn demostrates even in his hf]early keyboard works the unity and concentration of form so characteristic of his later works, as evidenced in his Sonata in F Major, No. 38.
His later Sonatas, however, require the performer to realize dynamic markings such as sforzando and crescendo, sudden accents, and other variations of touch that require a pianoforte. Haydn is known to have used a clavichord in his early years, but by 1780 he had a piano available. The authorized contemporary printed editions of the Sonatas written after 1780 give “fortepiano” or “pianoforte” as the first option, along with “clavicembalo” (usually meaning harpsichord) as an alternate instrument.
Haydn’s Piano Sonatas follow the same lines of development observed in the symphonies and quartets. Notable among the Sonatas of the late 1760s and early 1770s are Nos. 19 in D major, 44 in G minor, and 46 in A-Flat. In the first movement (Moderato) of No.44, Haydn skillfully exploited the opening ideas in the transitions and in the secondary and closing sections of the exposition. At the same time, the great rhythmic and textural variety and the delicate chromaticism in the movement betray the empfindsam approach. Sonata No. 20 in C minor, begun in 1771 but not published until 1780, is a tempestuous work that characterizes this expressionistic period in the composer’s career.
The Piano Sonatas Nos. 21-26, written in 1773 and dedicated to Prince Esterházy, show a general relaxation and lightening of style compared to the style of the symphonies and quartets of the same period. All of the keyboard works of this group are in major keys, but the first movements often turn to the minor mode during the dominant key sections.
Among the late Haydn Sonatas, No. 49 in E-Flat merits special attention. Haydn composed it in 1789-1790 for his friend, Marianne von Genzinger, telling her that it “may be given out to no one else.” But to his surprise, the sonata leaked out and found its way into print. He later wrote to her, “What a pity Your Grace does not own a Fortepiano by Schanz since everything is expressed better on it.” The music is indeed more suited to that instrument since it demands quick changes of dynamics and marked accents which are impossible to perform on a harpsichord.
The Adagio cantabile movement, in B-Flat Major, has a stormy middle section in B-Flat minor in which the right hand continues its arabesques while the left hand must cross from deep in the bass to the upper reaches of the keyboard. This is a feature that Frau von Genzinger asked Haydn to change because it exceeded her technical ability.
The Sonata in E-Flat, No. 52, a long-time favorite of recitalists, was written in 1794 for the virtuoso, Therese Jansen Bartolozzi, one of Clementi’s outstanding pupils. This work was published in England around 1800 as a “Grand Sonata for the Piano Forte,” and grand it is in every way. It begins in the manner of the French overture, with full chords in dotted rhythm, and here also Haydn thoroughly exploits the power and scope of the new pianos. In the development section of the first movement, Haydn lingered for a while in the Neapolitan-related key of E Major, which is also the key of the Adagio movement that follows.
Haydn’s last Piano Sonatas demonstrate how much in touch he was with the latest musical fashions and developments of his time. Equally important as a contribution to piano literature are the series of brilliant Piano Trios that Haydn composed during the second London visit and immediately thereafter.
Haydn’s works of the 1780s that carried his name further afield include Piano Sonatas, Piano Trios, Symphonies (Nos. 76-81 were published in 1784-1785, and Nos. 82-87 were written on commission for a concert organization in Paris in 1785-1786. Among the many categories of Haydn’s compositions, only the keyboard Sonatas were published nearly completely during his lifetime, in the Oeuvres complettes issued 1800-1806. The 49 Sonatas cover a long span of the composer’s life, from 1760 to 1794. As can be expected, they show great variety of style, and they vary as to the intended medium of performance: clavichord, harpsichord, and pianoforte. Only gradually did the piano, with its hammer action, replace the two other instruments, so that titles of publications, aimed at the largest possible market, may specify another instrument than that intended by the composer. Thus the autograph of Haydn’s Sonata No.49 of 1790 is marked “per il Forte-piano”, and the version published the following year is entitled “pour le clavecin ou Piano-Forte.”
In the earliest Sonatas, most of which are composed in major keys, Haydn employs a mood of simplicity, rendering gallant, but not overly ornate or sophisticated music. Like Wagenseil, Haydn uses the terms “divertimento” and “sonata” interchangeably in these early Sonatas. Three-movement form is most common: a minuet appearing as the second or third movement. All movements are frequently written in the same key, justifying the use of the term “partita,” also used by Haydn. Melody and simple accompaniment is the normal texture, with many uses of Alberti bass patterns. Certain movements from early piano works show the strong impression which Emanuel Bach’s music had made, among these the Largo in C minor of Sonata No. 2, bringing an expressive melody in the right hand with elaborate rhythmic subdivisions, while the left hand maintains a steady eighth-note pulse. Sonatas Nos. 44-47 also are early works, in spite of their high number in the complete edition. Among these, No.46 with an extensive modulatory middle movement is outstanding. The Sonatas from the 1770’s still reflect indebtedness to Emanuel Bach, coming from a period in Haydn’s development variously referred to as his years of “storm and stress” or “romantic crisis,” the latter a somewhat misleading term for which no evidence can be found in Haydn’s personal life. The C minor Sonata, No.20, with its constant dynamic changes and irregularly shaped melodic lines and cadenza, belongs here. Serious and complex melodic writing extends to the minuets and trios- a seriousness not typical of Haydn’s symphonic minuets from this period.
His influential String Quartets, Op. 33 issued in 1782, were said to be “in a quite new, special manner.” This is sometimes thought to refer to the use of instruments or the style of thematic development, but it could refer to the introduction of scherzos, or it might simply be an advertising device. More quartets appeared at the end of the decade, Op. 50 (dedicated to the King of Prussia and often said to be influenced by the quartets Mozart had dedicated to Haydn) and two sets (Op. 54-55 and Op. 64) written for a former Esterházy violinist who became a Viennese businessman. All these show an increasing enterprise, originality and freedom of style as well as melodic fluency, command of form, and humor. Other works that carried Haydn’s reputation beyond central Europe include concertos and notturnos for a type of hurdy-gurdy, written on commission for the King of Naples, and The Seven Last Words, commissioned for Holy Week from Cadíz (Spain) Cathedral and existing not only in its original orchestral form but also for string quartet, for piano and later for chorus and orchestra.
In 1790, Nikolaus Esterházy died, but Haydn, unlike most of his musicians, was retained by his son, but the composer was free to live in Vienna (which he had visited many times) and to travel. He was invited by the impresario and violinist, J.P. Salomon, to go to London to write an opera, symphonies, and other works. Haydn went to London twice, in 1791-1792 and 1794-1795. He composed his last twelve symphonies for performance there, where they enjoyed great success, among these being Symphony No. 100 in G Major. He also composed a symphonie concertante, choral pieces, piano trios, piano sonatas and songs (some with English words) as well as arranging British folksongs for publishers in London and Edinburgh. But because of intrigues, his opera, L’anima del filosofo, based on the Orpheus story, remained unperformed. He was honored with an Oxford Doctor of Music degree, and he played and conducted before the royal family. He also heard performances of Handel’s music by large choirs in Westminster Abbey which undoubtedly inspired his composition of the celebrated Mass in D Minor (Lord Nelson), which remains his most widely performed choral work.
Upon his return to Vienna, he resumed work for Nikolaus Esterházy’s grandson (whose father had now died). His main duty was to produce Masses for the princess’s name-day. He wrote six works, firmly in the Austrian Mass tradition but which were strengthened and invigorated by his command of symphonic technique. Other works of these late years include the String Quartets, Op. 71 and Op. 74 between the London visits, Op. 76 and the Op. 77 pair after them. These works showing great diversity of style and seriousness of content; yet they retain his vitality and fluency of utterance; some have a more public manner, acknowledging the new use of String Quartets at concerts as well as in the home. A good example is the String Quartet in D Minor, Op. 76, No. 2. The most important work created after visiting London, however, is his oratorio The Creation in which his essentially simple-hearted joy in Man, Beast and Nature, and his gratitude to God for his creation of these things to our benefit, are made a part of universal experience by his treatment of them in an oratorio modeled on Handel’s, with massive choral writing of a kind he had not produced before. He followed this with The Seasons, in a similar vein but more a series of attractive episodes than a whole.
Franz Joseph Haydn died in 1809, after twice dictating his recollections and preparing a catalog of his works. At the time of his death, Haydn was mourned as one of the musical giants of his time. His long career enabled him to produce a vast quantity of works that defined the Viennese Classical style. On June 15, 1809, Mozart’s Requiem was performed in Haydn’s honor at the Schottenkirche. Among the mourners were many French officers of high rank from Napoleon’s invasion force, and the guard of honor round the catafalque was composed of French soldiers and a detachment of the civic guard. He was buried in the Hundsturm churchyard, outside the lines, close to the suburb in which he lived. In 1820 Haydn’s remains were exhumed by command of Prince Esterhazy and solemnly reinterred in the upper parish church at Eisenstadt on November 7. A simple stone with a Latin inscription was inserted in the wall over the vault to inform the passers-by that a great man rests below.
It is a well-known fact that when the coffin was opened for identification before the removal in 1820, the skull was missing. It had been stolen two days after the funeral. The skull that was afterward sent to the prince anonymously as Haydn’s was buried with the other remains. But the real one was retained and subsequently bequeathed to the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde (Society of the Friends of Music) in Vienna. Over a century later, in 1932, the reigning Prince Esterhazy made great efforts to obtain the head for burial with Haydn’s body in the mausoleum that he had erected in the Bergkirche at Eisenstadt, but he was not successful, and the skull still remained with the Gesellschaft until 1954, when it was finally entombed at Eisenstadt on June 6, 1954..