Haydn's Late Oratorios and the Ideology of Musical Greatness
This project examines the relation between Haydn’s late oratorios and a new ideology of musical ”greatness” that emerges in Vienna towards the end of the 18th century. The hypothesis is that Haydn’s oratorio The Creation represents one of the first instances in the history of western music of a composer that self-consciously sets out to compose ”great music”, i.e. a music that aspires toward canonical status. In this sense, The Creation can be said to be a staging of Haydn himself as a ”great composer”, produced with great success as a cultural ”event” in Viennese musical life. What makes this kind of staging possible is the emergence of a new ideology, where certain ”serious” works of (primarily vocal) music are claimed to represent ”great art” in the same way as canonical works within literature and the visual arts.
The project consists of two parts. The first part is an examination of the emergence of the new ideology of musical greatness. The key figures here is Baron Gottfried van Swieten and his network of aristocratic patrons, loosely assembled in the concert organization Die Gesellschaft der associierten Cavaliers. This organization was established in the 1780s to sponsor semi-private performances of great vocal works, mainly by Handel. The great climaxes of the concert series of the Associierte were the choral versions of Haydn’s The Seven Last Words (1796), The Creation (1798), and The Seasons (1801). An important part of this project will be a closer examination and reevaluation of the activities of van Swieten and his circle of aristocratic sponsors, both in aesthetic and political terms. Another important part of the study will be the musical analysis and interpretation of how Haydn staged himself as a Great Composer, self-consciously displaying an almost encyclopaedic knowledge of aesthetic discourses and musical styles. By uncovering the ideological elements of the works, and by untying them from established narratives of the ”social character” of the Classical style, this study also hopes to contribute to a reevaluation of Haydn’s late oratorios as progressive, complex, and complicated works.