The Virtual Haydn: Paradox of a Twenty-First-Century Keyboardist

The Virtual Haydn: Paradox of a Twenty-First-Century Keyboardist

by Tom Beghin

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Haydn’s music has been performed continuously for more than two hundred years. But what do we play, and what do we listen to, when it comes to Haydn? Can we still appreciate the rich rhetorical nuances of this music, which from its earliest days was meant to be played by professionals and amateurs alike?

With The Virtual Haydn, Tom Beghin—himself a professional keyboard player—delves deeply into eighteenth-century history and musicology to help us hear a properly complex Haydn. Unusually for a scholarly work, the book is presented in the first person, as Beghin takes us on what is clearly a very personal journey into the past. When a discussion of a group of Viennese sonatas, for example, leads him into an analysis of the contemporary interest in physiognomy, Beghin applies what he learns about the role of facial expressions during his own performance of the music. Elsewhere, he analyzes gesture and gender, changes in keyboard technology, and the role of amateurs in eighteenth-century musical culture.

The resulting book is itself a fascinating, bravura performance, one that partakes of eighteenth-century idiosyncrasy while drawing on a panoply of twenty-first-century knowledge.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226195353
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 05/22/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
File size: 57 MB
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About the Author

Tom Beghin is associate professor at McGill University in Montreal and an internationally active performer on historical keyboards. He is coeditor of Haydn and the Performance of Rhetoric, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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The Virtual Haydn

Paradox of a Twenty-First-Century Keyboardist

By Tom Beghin

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-19535-3


A Composer, His Dedicatee, Her Instrument, and I

Rhetorical man [homo rhetoricus] must have felt an overpowering self-consciousness about language.... Whatever sins [he] might enregister, stylistic naivete would not be one.... His sense of identity, his self, depends on the re assurance of daily histrionic reenactment. He is thus centered in time and concrete local event. The lowest common denominator of his life is a social situation.

RICHARD A. LANHAM (1976), 3–4

Imagine that we've just opened a copy of the score of Joseph Haydn's Grand Sonata for the Piano Forte in C Major, Hob. XVI:50, which he composed during his second trip to London in 1794–95. Our edition is the authoritative hardcover from Joseph Haydn Werke, by far the best and cleanest Urtext on the market. As an experiment, let us try to describe its opening measures (ex. 1.1) from three different perspectives—those of a musical analyst, of the composer, and of a performer. Each comes with a different response or inner narrative:

Inner Narrative 1

A naked triad, in the simplest of keys, is spelled out as a matter of fact, without any trace of hurry. But gradually, as if adding spice to a bland dish, Haydn throws in a few dissonances. First, a passing tone, D, between E and C. Then, on the downbeat of m. 3, an upper neighbor, F, which resolves to E by the middle of the measure. (This relationship is marked as y.) But this upper neighbor (or appoggiatura, that quintessential eighteenth-century ornament) was itself preceded by a lower one (marked x). To understand this double tension is as essential as it is puzzling. On the one hand, a slur (which, according to mid to late eighteenth-century German sources, turns the first tone into the more expressive one) conveys the message that E is an embellishing tone to F. But here the usual interval of a second (two adjacent tones imitating the inflection of a sigh) has been inverted to a seventh. Does this inversion allow F to emancipate itself, as a dissonance itself, from the preceding E? And, if so, does F challenge the dissonance status of E, which should actually be understood as a consonance? In other words: which should be believed, x or y? With delightful delay m. 6 provides an answer: not only is the interval of the second restored to a dissonance-consonance pair, but the effect of a slur, with its strong/long first note and its soft/short resolution, is materialized by three of the strongest performance directives: sforzando, fermata, and diminuendo. Curious whether this struggle between x and y will be the driving force throughout the movement, we skip a few pages. Our eyes now fall on mm. 120ff, which harmonize this passage. "Y or x" no longer matters: E and F have both become part of a descending chain of suspensions, adjusting to the laws of voice leading and counterpoint, fluidly moving in and out of dissonance or consonance status.

Now imagine putting ourselves in the role of the composer, alone in a private study, sitting down for the first time at an unfamiliar instrument, the musical ideas that will soon become the Grand Sonata already percolating but not yet inked on the page:

Inner Narrative 2

I sit down at the keyboard (an English one by Broadwood or Longman & Broderip) and think how different the whole instrument is to what I am used to (a Viennese fortepiano by Walter or Schanz). Let's try something simple: a C major triad, just one note at the time. I expect to be able to play clean, short notes. But how efficient are these dampers? (My Viennese piano has wedge-shaped dampers, which nestle themselves perfectly between the strings, stopping their sound almost instantaneously after the key is released. But here I see dampers that look like tiny feather dusters, hardly able, I would think, to dampen the vibrations of those thick strings—much thicker than those back home.) Let's start softly: c2, g1, e1. This is different! So much after-ring, no matter how soft and short I play! It's almost impossible to create silences! But what potential! Listen to those moments after the attack, the delightful memory of these single tones! Let's try some dissonances. Back home I've always been able to lean into them, to give distinct attacks on dissonances and connect subsequent consonances all the more softly and crisply. But here I can't. (English hammerheads are thicker than Viennese and are covered with softer leather.) This is interesting ... but confusing. How am I to differentiate between dissonance and consonance? I try again. An experiment. Gain some momentum first, perhaps. Throw in a few slurs and upbeats. Now aim for the high appoggiatura and really go for it: sforzando! Amazing. How long I can hold this note before it even starts to decay! (Viennese pianos, because of their more articulate hammers, thinner soundboard, and overall lighter construction, produce a much faster decay in sound.) I decide to really explore what this piano can do. Since I've already heard the owner of this piano play, I imitate some of the things he's done: full chords, lots of resonance, orchestral sounds. Now I'm getting the hang of it!

Finally, imagine that we're in a concert hall for a public performance. Listeners have just returned to their seats after intermission. The hum of conversation, punctuated by the electronic tinkle of cell phones being silenced, fades as the house lights fall. With sympathetic applause, they welcome the pianist back to the stage, eagerly awaiting the next piece. Putting ourselves in the role of the pianist as she starts to play, we hear her thoughts:

Inner Narrative 3

No need to grab them the way I did at the beginning of the concert. I have their attention. So let me open not with the grandest of chords but with the simplest of triads, which I play ever so softly. In anticipation of my first sounds, I cant my neck slightly toward my left shoulder, and, as I play the first two measures, I gradually lean my right ear further toward the strings (which I aim to brush rather than to hit). With these subtle bodily gestures, which my listeners won't fail to notice, I invite them into my piano, into a space defined by the soundboard and the lid. I add dissonances, accelerate my pace, and increase my sound to a long sforzato. I show them that I'm fully aware of the larger acoustical space that envelops every single person in the room. As I force everyone's ears to follow the decay of the sound all the way to that final moment of release, evaporating almost instantaneously into silence, we momentarily absorb ourselves in no other sound than that of the room itself. It is at this carefully created moment of collective awareness that I surprise my audience and play those thick, grand chords after all, my open lid projecting them fully into the hall. (A few years ago, following the example of an excellent colleague, I made it a habit of mine to turn my piano sideways during public concerts and to use a prop to keep the lid open.) My opening statement may have appeared timid, too slight for a "grand sonata." But, as a skillful musical orator, I will stick with my choice until the very end. I can't wait for m. 120, the point when the recapitulation will have to remain in the home key (instead of wander off to the dominant, as in the prior exposition). At this important juncture my audience will expect big, loud, celebratory music, since I will have set up this very expectation by playing a grand version of the theme in the dominant key of the exposition, in m. 21. But I'm convinced that my listeners will be enchanted when I revisit that intimate space from the opening. They'll hear me mix those soft tones of the opening statement with new ones, pianissimo, legatissimo, in the highest register and with raised dampers (or "open Pedal," as the English call it), in evocation, as it were, of an ethereal-sounding dulcimer. I played some Dussek and Clementi before intermission and spoke to the audience about a late eighteenth-century "English Piano School." By now they should be able to recognize some of the idiomatic effects, this evocation of a dulcimer or pantalon being one of them. To witness all of these reappear, in a masterfully staged way, will utterly impress them. Thank you, Haydn, for writing me such a fine concert piece!

Each of these inner narratives describes an encounter with the same piece of music, yet each differs dramatically in tone, perspective, and circumstance. Each narrative presumes some knowledge of the historical facts surrounding the sonata's genesis: The Austrian composer Haydn travels to London. While there he develops a keen interest in English pianos and pianists. He befriends Theresa Jansen, a rising star on the London scene, and then "compose[s] expressly" for her a "grand concert sonata," a subgenre of piano sonata that Haydn had never attempted before, at least not explicitly and certainly not in comparable sociological circumstances. But none of these three inner narratives is exclusive in time or person. They deliberately mix facts from the past with experiences of the present, and the imagined "I" of narratives 2 and 3, although inspired by Haydn or Theresa Jansen, is not restricted to either of those personages: that "I" is the modern performer of Haydn sonatas, adopting the various personas of analyst, composer, and performer, with the special concerns of each persona coloring her engagement with the score, piano, and audience.

The framework for each of the narratives is assertively rhetorical. They correspond with three key stages in the so-called rhetorical process, a fivestage process rationalized by the classical rhetoricians to teach the writing of an oration that, ever since the rediscovery of Quintilian's Institutio oratoria in 1492, has been keenly applied to many other forms of artistic creation: (1) inventio, or the finding and developing of ideas (res); (2) dispositio, or the ordering of them in an overall structure; (3) elocutio, or the expression of invented ideas through appropriate words (verba); (4) memoria, or the memorization of the words; and (5) pronuntiatio or actio, the delivery of the oration in full awareness of one's body and gestures. Thus, narrative 1 describes and appraises the finished score (the most advanced state of elocutio); narrative 2 goes back to the brainstorming phase (intellectio, or the first moments of inventio); and narrative 3 places us on the pulpit, properly dressed and prepared (actio). If we include, from narrative 3, the hint of a larger structure (dispositio), and if we assume that "I" played from memory (memoria), then all five rhetorical stages are represented here, from the initial creation of the sonata to its eventual performance. Each stage feeds the next, and by completing them the orator/musician produces a "work."

But what is the relation between the invented and the performed work? And who does the speaking? Is it "I," Haydn, his dedicatee, the piano, or some idealized combination? Can persona be separated from work? Does the one define the other? Is there even such a thing as "the work"? These questions have informed my performances, both live and on recording, and they permeate the various essays presented in this book. This chapter offers some preliminary answers as well as follow-up questions under the headings of "the weight of an ideology," "the keyboardist as orator," "dedicatees," and "keyboards." We end with a brief introduction of two historical keyboard types that both complicate and enrich our understanding of Haydn at the keyboard.

The Weight of an Ideology

Arguably no other classical repertoire has suffered more under the modern ideology of "musical works" than Haydn's works for solo keyboard. Despite the genuine efforts of scholars and individual performers, these fifty-plus works have largely remained in the shadow of those by Haydn's younger colleagues Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Why?

Nowadays, when we speak of a "sonata by Haydn," we think first and foremost of a musical score that we gain access to through performing, listening, or, if one feels up to it, simply looking at it. (As Richard Taruskin likes to remind us, Johannes Brahms declined an invitation to an opera, "saying that if he sat at home with the score he'd hear a better performance.") But none of these activities is considered an unfiltered, direct conduit to the true identity of the work, whose "perfect" proportions dazzle us for reasons that keep warranting more study and interpretation. It is from this "imaginary museum of musical works" that musicians borrow scores—reflections of "the work"—to be shared with their audiences. A recent reviewer of a piano recital, which included two Haydn sonatas, describes the pianist as "turning to the audience with a smile after the final chord, as if to say, 'Quite a masterpiece, don't you agree?'" (Incidentally, the piece in question was not a Haydn sonata, but one by Mozart.) All too often the communication between performer and listener begins and ends with this tacit agreement.

Consider again the particulars of our opening example of Sonata No. 50 and the theme of Haydn in London. At first glance we find ourselves relating to Theresa Jansen's gratitude upon receiving a score from Haydn (that great composer from Vienna, that bastion of Classical Music), her eagerness to learn the piece (then and now, the only way to get to either the Hanover Square Rooms or Carnegie Hall is through practice), and her ambition to deliver it onstage (every note exactly as written). But as we look more closely, we begin to realize that, having traveled from Vienna to London and now working for a new and unfamiliar market, Haydn may have needed Jansen more than she needed him. When Haydn met Theresa, both Jan Ladislav Dussek and Muzio Clementi, two major figures on the London scene, had already dedicated sonatas to her. Who better than la celebre Signora Terese de Janson (as Haydn calls her in his manuscript) to advise the famous out-of-town guest on the possibilities of the English instruments (which were fundamentally different from the Viennese ones) and to school him in the demands of a professional concert sonata (a design totally new to Haydn)?

In his second and final attempt, the Sonata No. 52 in E[??] Major, arguably more than in the C Major Sonata (which included a precomposed Adagio brought along from Vienna), we find Haydn enjoying the English realities of instrument, style, and venue. But after composing the sonata in 1794, again "expressly for Mrs. Bartolozzi" (Theresa had married the painter and engraver's son Gaetano Bartolozzi, an event to which Haydn was official witness), Haydn apparently succumbed to the temptation of making the score available to the Continental public, offering it to Artaria, his Viennese publisher, in 1798. Jansen quickly took steps to release her own edition in 1799 through Longman, Clementi, & Company in London (fig. 1.1), emphasizing that the sonata is "new" ("New Grand Sonata") and was "expressly composed" for her. But Haydn also rededicated the Viennese edition to Magdalena von Kurzböck (fig. 1.2). On May 15, 1799, the German reviewer of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung wrote that "it speaks well for the lady named on the title page that the honorable Haydn, who surely has no inclination nor the time to give empty compliments, dedicated such a sonata to her, of all people." Who, then, is the true dedicatee: Mademoiselle Kurzbek or Mrs. Bartolozzi? The two women had strikingly similar profiles—both were in their mid to late twenties, both were accomplished players, and both had studied or were about to study with Maestro Clementi. For Haydn the two personas simply may have been interchangeable. Having returned from London a celebrity and having just written the Austrian Kaiserhymne ("Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser"), Haydn may no longer have felt any constraints of social decorum when it came to his business as a composer. Never mind Theresa or Madeleine—it's his sonata. With the Vienna print Haydn seems to have endorsed, for the first time, a conceptual separation of context and work. From a larger historical perspective, it seems no coincidence that this double edition occurred at a time when from various sides—publishers, biographers, secretaries—he was being encouraged to start thinking about his legacy.


Excerpted from The Virtual Haydn by Tom Beghin. Copyright © 2015 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
The Virtual Haydn: A Recording Project
Companion Website
Abbreviations, Scores, and Translations


1 A Composer, His Dedicatee, Her Instrument, and I
2 Delivery, Delivery, Delivery!
3 Short Octaves müssen sein!
4 “Your Most Humble and Obedient Servant”
5 An Opus for the Insightful World
6 A Contract with Posterity

Appendix A: Physiognomic Analyses of Plate 5 à la Lavater
Appendix B: Biographical Outlines of Theresa Jansen and Magdalena von Kurzböck

Works Cited
Index of Musical Works
Index of Names

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