Haydn HTML version

Haydn: The Composer
The Father of Instrumental Music--The Quartets--The Symphonies-- The Salomon Set--
The Sonatas--Church Music--Songs--Operas-- Orchestration--General Style--Conclusion.
The Father of Instrumental Music
Haydn has been called "the father of instrumental music," and although rigid critics may
dispute his full right to that title, on broad grounds he must be allowed to have
sufficiently earned it. He was practically the creator of more than one of our modern
forms, and there was hardly a department of instrumental music in which he did not make
his influence felt. This was emphatically the case with the sonata, the symphony and the
string quartet. The latter he brought to its first perfection. Before his time this particular
form of chamber music was long neglected, and for a very simple reason. Composers
looked upon it as being too slight in texture for the display of their genius. That, as has
often been demonstrated, was because they had not mastered the art of "writing a four-
part harmony with occasional transitions into the pure polyphonic style--a method of
writing which is indispensable to quartet composition--and also because they did not yet
understand the scope and value of each individual instrument."
The Quartet
It would be too much to say that even Haydn fully realized the capacities of each of his
four instruments. Indeed, his quartet writing is often bald and uninteresting. But at least
he did write in four-part harmony, and it is certainly to him that we owe the installation of
the quartet as a distinct species of chamber music. "It is not often," says Otto Jahn, the
biographer of Mozart, "that a composer hits so exactly upon the form suited to his
conceptions; the quartet was Haydn's natural mode of expressing his feelings." This is
placing the Haydn quartet in a very high position among the products of its creator. But
its artistic value and importance cannot well be over-estimated. Even Mozart, who set a
noble seal upon the form, admitted that it was from Haydn he had first learned the true
way to compose quartets; and there have been enthusiasts who regarded the Haydn
quartet with even more veneration than the Haydn symphony. No fewer than seventy-
seven quartets are ascribed to him. Needless to say, they differ considerably as regards
their style and treatment, for the first was written so early as 1755, while the last belongs
to his later years. But they are all characterized by the same combination of manly
earnestness, rich invention and mirthful spirit. The form is concise and symmetrical, the
part-writing is clear and well-balanced, and a "sunny sweetness" is the prevailing mood.
As a discerning critic has remarked, there is nothing in the shape of instrumental music
much pleasanter and easier to listen to than one of Haydn's quartets. The best of them
hold their places in the concert-rooms of to-day, and they seem likely to live as long as
there are people to appreciate clear and logical composition which attempts nothing
beyond "organized simplicity." [See W. J. Henderson's How Music Developed, p. 191:
London, 1899]. In this department, as Goethe said, he may be superseded, but he can
never be surpassed.