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Haydn Revisited: Compositional Atavism in the Keyboard Sonatas and Trios


The wide-ranging contributions of Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) embody the aesthetic priorities of the stile galant and mark the beginning of a pivotal era in the history of music. However, Haydn’s music, furnishing prototypes for the symphonic, string quartet, and sonata genres as we recognize them today, often falls prey to one of the enduring conundrums of modern reception history: namely, an expectation of his works, tinted by retrospective associations with fellow “classical” composers born up to five decades later, that neglects his compositional roots in an earlier aesthetic.

Invoking the seminal treatise Der vollkommene Capellmeister (1739) of contemporary theorist Johann Mattheson, this study argues for a recontextualization of Haydn in light of the earlier traditions from which he emerged. It explores Haydn’s influences, contemporary keyboard instruments, and aesthetic priorities; his structural and compositional choices in the context of musical genres still very much in flux; and their implications for a historically-informed performative approach to his keyboard sonatas and trios.

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