Alexander Ludwig.

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Haydn: Playful or Sportive? That's the question.

A famous passage in von Dittersdorf's autobiography is about some stylistic considerations on Haydn's music and on Mozart's music. Evidently as an old friend of Haydn, von Dittersdorf tells the Emperor (year 1786) how good Haydn's and Mozart's music is. Nonetheless at one point the Emperor (whose music considerations are rather influenced by the group of the Imperial Court composers and musicians, like Greybig [sic!], a well known adversary of Haydn and of Dittersdorf), ask Dittersdorf about the playfulness of Haydn's music...

Emperor: But what do you think of Haydn's chamber music?
Dittersdorf: Why, it is making a world-wide sensation, and most justly too. Emperor: Is he not often too playful?
Dittersdorf: He has the gift of sportiveness. But he never loses the dignity of art.
Emperor: You are right there.

Haydn: playfulness or sportiveness? That's the question.
In reality, the English translation here tries to render a subtle shift of meaning that Dittersdorf obtains by working around the same German term: tändeln. And so the English translator tries to render this subtle shift of meaning by using two different English terms (playful and sportive) for the same German word (tändeln) used in two a bit different contexts.
       This question, in reality, is fundamental and, if Mozart Era scholars had read von Dittersdorf's book with more attention, they would have avoided a whole series of rather erroneous positions on Haydn and on his music.
       What is evident, in this dialogue between von Dittersdorf and the Emperor in Vienna 1786, is that Haydn, Mozart and von Dittersdorf share the same adversaries at court and that the comments on Haydn's music as humorous and jocular generally come from people against Haydn's style of composition...
            As Ludwig points out in his article, a similar incident occurred also to Hepokoski and Darcy and their theory on Sonata Form... in their book Haydn's Sonata ended up (even for his masterpieces) as a technical deformation of the default form, due to his excessive playfulness... (!?)
       And that's why Dittersdorf (who was constantly attacked by the same Greybig) changes the term playfulness by wisely adding that Haydn never never ruins the quality of his art (ohne die Kunst herabzuwürdigen), rebuilding thus a clear connection with the noble territory of an intelligent wit!
       ... because in the 18th century Europe there's a rather important difference between wit and humorous...

Ludwig's proposal to reposition Haydn at the right place
The Haydn error in Hepokoski and Darcy is due to their too Mozartian inclination in their descriptive work of 18th/19th century Sonata Form. Three the main authors under examination: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven and their Sonatas. De facto, as Ludwig reveals, practically all the book, in reality, is about the Mozartian form of Sonata seen and perceived as unique possible type of default form... and what different from Mozartian form becomes a deformation, with all his natural baggage of negative impressions: another example of the usual problem that arises when a scholarly descriptive work, in the end, tends to become a normative work...
       Since Hepokoski and Darcy actually cast a very bad light on Haydn's form of Sonata and depict his music only as a series of humorous bizarre deviating formulas (and this without any kind of proper correctness, as far as Haydn's ability as an artist is concerned) and all this had serious consequences in the public perception of Haydn as a great composer, Ludwig suggests two main modifications to the Sonata Theory by Hepokoski and Darcy:
       (1) the introduction of the concept of lower-level default and to totally erase the too negatively connoted term of deformation from the general theory;
       (2) since the so called three-part exposition is structurally prominent in Haydn, and the descriptive formulas used by Hepokoski and Darcy fail to correctly analyse it, it is better to treat the Sonatas expositions as those with or without medial caesuras, by avoiding so to use the too imprecise binary opposition two-part and continuous expositions.
Read the complete article by A. Ludwig (

Hepokoski and Darcy’s Haydn

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