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Haydn's Theater Symphonies

Elaine R. Sisman
Journal of the American Musicological Society
Vol. 43, No. 2 (Summer, 1990), pp. 292-352
DOI: 10.2307/831616
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/831616
Page Count: 61
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Haydn's Theater Symphonies
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Abstract

Although spoken plays in eighteenth-century Germany and Austria frequently included arias, the presence of instrumental music as overtures, entr'actes, and finales is less well documented. Few instrumental pieces appear to have been composed especially for particular plays before 1780. Haydn wrote one of the most celebrated of these pieces-music to Regnard's play Le distrait, performed in German as Der Zerstreute-and then arranged it as a symphony (no. 60, 1774). Theater journals of the 1770s listed Haydn as music director to theatrical troupes in residence at Eszterháza, notably that of Karl Wahr, known for performing serious plays and Shakespeare's tragedies; indeed, references in the same journals suggest that Haydn had even written music to Hamlet for Wahr. Yet no such music nor any other theater music by Haydn has been recovered. This study explores the hypothesis that Haydn's symphonies served as theater music and examines theories of theater symphonies, the flourishing of Hamlet on the Austrian stage in the 1770s, and the relevance of titles of Haydn's symphonies of the later 1760s and 1770s. The author proposes that much of Haydn's symphonic music of the period widely described as exemplifying the musical Sturm und Drang was either originally destined for the stage, or composed with a view to possible later use as overtures and entr'actes, and that important dramatic and rhetorical features of his style can be better understood in this light than in traditional ways.

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