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Haydn’s London and Beethoven’s Vienna Essay

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Updated: Feb 25th, 2022

18th-century London and Vienna were leading musical centers that attracted both renowned and aspiring composers from all over Europe. The cities differed in their concert scene and attitude to music, as well as the cultural and economic factors that shaped their musical culture. Both Beethoven and Haydn worked in Vienna, and Haydn spent several years in London, where he created some of his most well-known symphonies.

18th-century London was one of Europe’s most thriving capitals, where the wealth and power of the British Empire were concentrated. It led the world in trade and manufacturing and in the banking and insurance industries, on which trade depended (Rice 88). In 1714, the new Hanoverian dynasty was established that presided over London’s growth and prosperity and, to some extent, shaped the city’s cultural life (Rice 89). London’s musical scene, however, although mirroring the court in its multiculturality, was not under the king’s control. Numerous cultural institutions were sponsored by rich benefactors and did not rely on the government’s money.

Haydn was invited to London in 1791 by the German impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who conducted concerts that attracted the audience with the novelty of the programs and the popularity of the featured musicians. According to their agreement, Haydn was to write six symphonies and direct the performance of a new work for each of the 12 concerts presented during the season (Rice 238). The audience loved novelty, and Haydn strived to please their tastes. In his Surprise Symphony, the most celebrated of his twelve London symphonies, he included a fortissimo chord reinforced with a drumbeat in the otherwise placid slow movement, supposedly to attract the audience’s attention. Both the joke and the symphony itself won the public’s admiration and contributed to the composer’s popularity in England.

In Vienna, music flourished throughout the entire 18th century, attracting a steady stream of composers striving to establish themselves in the European musical scene. The French influence on Vienna, which was initially significant, deteriorated after the French Revolution when Parisian aristocrats disappeared from musical life. However, the revolution itself has a significant impact on the Austrian compositional style, with the nobility focusing on “a self-conscious promotion of “greatness” in music, at the expense of music that is perceived as merely entertaining or pleasing” (Rice 255). Composers found inspiration in the events that took place in Europe during the Napoleonic era, and the figure of Napoleon.

The city’s artistic climate was primarily created by Viennese noblemen who commissioned musical pieces from composers under the terms of exclusive ownership for a certain period of time. Beethoven, who moved to Vienna in 1792, quickly found patrons and established his reputation as a composer. His musical style reflected the tendencies of that time, combining “Mozart’s universality and wild, extravagant audacity with Haydn’s humorous caprice” (Rice 256). His works during the 1800s were described by his biographers as “heroic,” shaped by his own personal struggles and the general vibes of the Napoleonic era (Rice 264). The Sinfonia Eroica, originally dedicated to Napoleon, is considered to be the musical illustration on the subject of heroism, influenced by French Revolutionary music. Full of raw, wild dissonances and rhythms, it was a groundbreaking piece both in style and manner that changed the history of European music.

Overall, 18th-century London and Vienna were cultural capitals that differed significantly in their approach to music. London’s aristocracy was primarily focused on music for entertainment, and the ability to engage the audience was the most valuable quality for a composer. In Vienna, influenced by the events of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars, music strived to reflect the political struggles, revolutionary ideas, and patriotic spirit of the city’s aristocracy.

Formation of the musical canon in the 19th century

The 19th century was marked by the establishment of the musical canon that denoted a major shift in how people thought about music. Over the course of the century, the individual performance canons of 18th-century Britain and France transformed into an integrated, international canon that established a stronger authority in cultural and aesthetic terms. It was shaped by the changes in the performance culture and the role of an individual composer, as well as economic, cultural, and social developments of that time.

Symphony, suite, concerto, chamber music, and piano sonata originated in the 18th century in private venues owned by the aristocracy who constituted the primary consumers of music. A specific concert culture was developed that was incorporated into the nobility’s social life (McVeigh 60). The performance culture defined the canon, as the repertoire and the presentation of works was the primary source of authority with regard to musical taste (Frisch 174). Over the course of the 19th century, this has changed towards public performances in concert halls that included both the classics and new works.

The role of each individual composer also changed significantly. By the end of the 18th century, musicians were no longer thought about as in service to extra-musical institutions (Goehr 206). In the 18th century, musical pieces were primarily commissioned by the aristocracy, and composers depended on their patrons in their work (Rice 264). This has gradually changed towards musicians sharing in the revolutionary freedom claimed by the rising middle class and being seen as “independent masters and creators of their art” (Goehr 206). The idea of a musical classic emerged from respect for the master composer, and the musical canon was developed to include the great musical pieces created in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The further development of the musical canon can be illustrated in the examples of Johannes Brahms, Aaron Copland, and John Cage. Brahms was a 19th-century composer whose music was rooted in classical traditions and counteracted the rapid growth of romantic individualism. Aaron Copland, the 20th -century American composer, is seen as a liberator of indigenous American music, who freed it from European influence. John Cage, also an American, was a pioneer of indeterminacy in music and electroacoustic music, whose reaction to the traditional canon was the creation of music that illustrated the blurred line between art and life. In his piece “4:33,” he included the noises of the audience breathing, coughing, and shifting in their seats to show that the sounds of life can also be considered as music (Burkholder 130). He went against all the boundaries of the traditional canon, making music that was more often talked about than played.

The program for a concert by the Santa Barbara Symphony includes the works of composers from different time periods. The program adheres to the traditional canon in featuring Johannes Brahms’s musical piece in the final part of the program. It was customary for 18-century concerts to perform the highlight of the program in its second part because many members of the audience arrived late for the performance (McVeigh 60). The program contradicts the tradition of not having an interval, which was typical for traditional concerts.

London theater and cultural values

The 18th century saw the flourishing of theater in London, with the scene mainly dominated by dramas and Italian operas. At that time, London’s theater operated under government control and was governed by the Licensing Act of 1737, which allowed only two theaters, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, and the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, to present dramas in English (Rice 90). Another one, the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, specialized in the production of Italian opera (Rice 90). The theater was one of the most popular forms of entertainment, and its popularity reflected the cultural values of that time.

The success of the Italian opera on the London stage was explained by the fact that many British aristocrats developed their musical tastes during travels in Italy. They brought with them Italian singers and composers who significantly contributed to London’s musical scene (Rice 93). Opera dominated the repertory, with individual pieces performed in the King’s Theatre varying accordingly to the tastes and strategies of the impresario in charge and the abilities of singers (Rice 93). Having a taste for opera was a symbol of cultural prestige and refinement.

In 1724, George Frideric Handel’s Giulio Cesare was performed at the King’s Theatre and was an immediate success. Handel, a German-born Baroque composer who settled in London in 1712, wrote Italian-style operas that gained him widespread recognition. Sung in Italian and featuring music in the modern Italian style, his works catered to the audience’s tastes while at the same time astounding it with compositional innovation.

Although the appreciation for Italian opera was considered as a sign of good taste, the performances were primarily valued for their entertainment qualities. The consumers of the Italian opera admired virtuoso singing, dramatic acting, and declamatory. The audience flocked to see foreign star singers who were considered exotic. Operas were often performed partly in Italian and partly in English, which made it difficult for the general public to follow the plot. The critiques of the opera pointed this out to expose the unrefined nature of the London theater public: “At length the audience grew tired of understanding half the opera, and therefore to ease themselves entirely of the fatigue of thinking, have so ordered it as a present that the whole opera is performed in an unknown tongue” (Addison 5). Many members of aristocracy came late for performances, regarding them as a part of social life rather than a cultural event.

In 1728, the impresario John Rich presented The Beggar’s Opera at Lincoln Inn Fields, which was an immediate success and was performed 62 times during its first run. The Beggar’s Opera defined and established a new genre of musical theater, a ballad opera, which was a spoken play interspersed with existing songs sung to new words (Rice 90). To some extent, it was an answer to the critiques of the popularity of the Italian opera, undermining and making fun of theatrical conventions in general and operatic conventions in particular (Rice 90). The Beggar’s Opera turned the world of Italian opera inside down, using familiar characters and songs in unexpected contexts and making fun of Italian opera’s fondness for happy endings. It led to the production of other ballad operas and the gradual deterioration of Italian opera traditions.

Works Cited

Addison, Joseph. “On Italian Opera.” The Attentive Listener, edited by Harry Haskell, Faber and Faber, 1995, pp. 3–6.

Burkholder, Peter. “Museum Pieces: The Historicist Mainstream in Music of the Last Hundred Years.” The Journal of Musicology, vol. 2, no. 2, 1983, pp. 115–134.

Frisch, Walter. Music in the Nineteenth Century. W. W. Norton and Company, 2012.

Goehr, Lydia. The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works. Oxford University Press, 2007.

McVeigh, Simon. Concert Life in London from Mozart to Haydn. Cambridge University Press, 2006.

Rice, John. Music in the Eighteenth Century. W. W. Norton and Company, 2012.

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