JMM 8, Winter 2009, section 6
HAYDN’S SECRET ‘DODECAPHONIC’ ART
Imagine an intrepid musicologist coming upon an unknown, dust-covered Schubert manuscript in the attic of a small Austrian monastery – and finding in it a series of unmistakable twelve-bar blues. Or a manuscript of Monteverdi in the basement of an old Mantuan villa containing an operatic overture written in sonata-form – Beethovenian sonata-form, at that. Or a Mass by Ockeghem, complete with figured bass.
These examples seem absurd, and it’s a solid bet they will never be encountered. Yet no less absurd (on first glance) would be finding something akin to 20th-century dodecaphonicism at work in the music of Franz Joseph Haydn. Yet this last instance of “absurdity” is not a flight of whimsy. It is demonstrable fact.
The dodecaphonic principle I am speaking of is chromatic completion – the use of all twelve notes of the chromatic scale in a systematic way. For 20th-century dodecaphonic composers, such as Schönberg and Webern, “systemization” meant taking these twelve notes and forming them into a row – giving them a unique melodic order in which each tone is only heard once. Then, in an actual musical composition, this twelve-tone row is unfolded again and again in ever-changing designs. It is heard in its original form as well as upside-down; it is heard backwards, as well as upside-down and backwards. It is heard sometimes just as melody, sometimes as the constituent members of complex, dissonant chords. And all of these designs are capable of being transposed up or down.
The basic rule holds, however: not to use any note again until we have heard from all the others! And this rule has an iron-clad corollary: don’t depart from the fundamental order of the row. The twelve tones are put into a certain intervallic relation, and they must retain that relation.
6.2. Haydn, the Dodecaphonist
What he does do is to unfold the twelve members of the chromatic aggregate in such a way that when the twelfth note finally does arrive, it falls at a moment of clear musical significance. If he unfolds that aggregate more than once in a piece (as he often does), while the order in which the twelve notes appear will almost always be different, the purpose in unfolding them is unwavering: the last tone will always arrive at a crucial moment in the composition.
Evidence, of course, is in order; and whenever a seemingly outrageous historical theory is presented, the evidence ought to be as comprehensive as possible. This being a short essay, I can only hint at the abundance of evidence which does exist, but I hope it will be enough to whet the appetite: to send readers on their own search! I’ll begin with three very modest illustrations of the principle of chromatic completion in Haydn; later, I will follow with examples from compositions by him that are far better known, and also more imposing.
6.3. Three Modest Examples
In 1795 Haydn published a collection entitled Twelve Sentimental Catches and Glees. These are hardly earth-shaking pieces, and they have often been dismissed as mere “incidental” music. Yet they were not too slight for Haydn to make use of this radical compositional procedure in them.
The second number – “O say what is that thing called light?” – is only nineteen measures long. The chromatic aggregate (the full set of all twelve tones) is completed in the twelfth measure of this composition with the arrival of G#. To prove this, here is the order of arrival for the five tones that lie outside G major, the key in which this piece is written: C# (m.6); Bb (m.8); F (m.9); Eb (m.10); G# (m.12). Notice that once the aggregate is complete, the music is entirely diatonic thereafter.
Through this modest example we can begin to understand the appeal to Haydn of chromatic completion, for it was a means not only of defining musical form, but also – and especially in vocal music – of making technique and emotion one. The moment at which all twelve possibilities of the tonal universe have finally been unfolded is simultaneously the moment at which the text reaches its emotional fullness. In this short quatrain, written by Colley Cibber, a blind boy calls out for knowledge of the world – through light – which he tragically will never possess.
O say what is, that thing called light
Which I must ne’er enjoy;
What are the Blessings of the sight,
O tell! your poor blind boy?
Haydn completes his chromatic cycle precisely where the poet places his exclamation point.
Though ever-so-brief, this composition illustrates several important technical aspects of Haydn’s general dodecaphonic procedure. First, it is used to define a musical unit – in this case, the entire piece. Second, in order to make that unit clear, Haydn (by contrast) concludes with pure diatonicism. Third, when words are involved Haydn almost always aligns the conclusion of a chromatic cycle with a point of textual significance. Often, it is the end of a sentence, or another grammatical phrase; even more frequently it is the climactic word: the one which would be emphasized by anyone sensitive to the poetic power of words.
Another example from this 1795 set can now be given: number twelve – “The envious snow comes down in haste.” Again, the piece displays the unfolding of a single chromatic cycle followed by a diatonic coda. Here, however, the moment of completion does not fall in coordination with an important aspect of the text, but instead during the piano’s “epilogue.” Nevertheless, that moment is highlighted since Haydn gives it the only dynamic accent in the entire composition: fz. If, in the earlier piece, Haydn had followed the poet’s visual exclamation point, here he provides his own – an auditory one.
Then there is a composition of 1796 – the part-song “Der Greis” (The Old Man). The text is by J.W.L. Gleim, and its opening lines are notable for their biographical meaning. Approximately a decade later, at a time when he felt he was too old to continue composing, Haydn would have the first four bars of the soprano part printed on his visiting card, together with their text: ‘Hin ist alle meine Kraft, Alt und schwach bin ich’ (Gone is all my strength, Old and weak am I.)”
For this work Haydn unfolds the chromatic aggregate twice. The first cycle concludes with the arrival of F natural in m.17, during the first appearance of the intense phrase “der Tod klopft an meiner Tür” (Death knocks on my door). The second cycle ends with the simultaneous arrival of Bb and C# in m.38, on the word “harmonischer” – part of the deeply affirmative phrase which ends the text: “Ein harmonischer Gesang war mein Lebenslauf” (A harmonious song was the record of my life). With the exception of a G natural in the alto voice for the first two beats of m.39 (a carry-over, really, from the diminished seventh chord in which the Bb appeared), the music is entirely diatonic thereafter.
Death and Life: the most dramatic opposites imaginable! Yet here they are joined by means of Haydn’s subtle compositional technique. They are made symmetrical: each falling in perfect coordination with the completion of the chromatic aggregate.
6.4. Technique and Aesthetics
This essay quite obviously is a technical one, but technique can never be separated from human feeling. And to clarify the aesthetics I am dealing with, let me quote from an essay by American philosopher Eli Siegel (1955). Its title is a question: “Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?”. It is an important document, and provides something of an introduction to the philosophic methodology of Aesthetic Realism, which he founded in 1941. Central to Aesthetic Realism is an understanding of how art and life explain each other. “All beauty,” stated Eli Siegel, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.” (Siegel 1949, p. 8).
In each instance, the music cited in this essay exemplifies this idea. In the three modest examples I’ve already presented, one can clearly observe opposites at work: the complete and the incomplete; presence and absence; complexity and simplicity; strictness and flexibility. Even, as I just suggested - since in vocal music abstract sonic designs are joined to words with very tangible, earthy meaning - the showing by Haydn of a kinship between the frighteningly contrary ideas of Death and Life.
Abstract or no, all these opposites are crucial in human emotion. Who is not affected by feelings of incompleteness and completeness? By the desire for strictness and the equally strong desire for freedom and flexibility? Who doesn’t want his or her life to have richness, complexity, and yet also a deep unity and simplicity? As Aesthetic Realism sees it, the impulsion towards art everywhere in human history has come from the fact that we want our emotions to be beautiful, and the only way they can be coherent and beautiful is for opposites to be felt together, working as one.
Another important dialectical drama present in the technique of chromatic completion concerns the opposites of continuity and discontinuity; the flow and the brokenness of experience. These are among the fifteen pairs discussed by Eli Siegel in the 1955 essay – and about them he asked this question:
Is there to be found in every work of art a certain progression, a certain indissoluble presence of relation, a design which makes for continuity? – and is there to be found, also, the discreteness, the individuality, the brokenness of things: the principle of discontinuity? (Siegel 1955, p. 283).
As one studies Haydn’s music – especially the late vocal music – it is clear that he gave careful thought to this dialectic: how to delineate separate “numbers” in a large-scale vocal work, and yet join them so that our ears are constantly led forward. A fine example of a “bridge of expectation” binding one movement to the next through the principle of chromatic completion can be found early in the oratorio, The Seasons.
It begins with an orchestral depiction of the “passage from Winter to Spring.” Immediately following this, there is a recitative, “Behold where surly Winter flies.” This recitative encompasses three chromatic cycles. The first two are for Simon, the bass. The third begins on the fortissimo octave scale passage that introduces the tenor, Lucas – and continues through the music for the soprano, Jane. Yet this third cycle is incomplete; there is no E natural. This missing element then prominently appears as the melodic apex of the orchestral introduction to the next number: the chorus, “Come gentle Spring.”
Bridging techniques, such as we observe here, are an important means by which Haydn gives his late vocal compositions musical (and psychological) integrity. The ferocity of winter and the gentleness of spring are made one.
Having reached the word “integrity,” it is worthwhile to pause, and to consider the relation between integrity and completeness. The relation, once one considers the matter, is obvious. What perhaps is not so obvious is that the terms are central, simultaneously, to both art and life. They point to what makes a life successful, and also a work of art. As Eli Siegel noted so kindly in his 1951 lecture: “There is not one thing that music does that does not say something about how a person should organize himself, too” (Siegel 1951). It is very likely that Haydn was deeply affected by the ideas of integrity and completeness – as a man, and equally as a musician. All the biographies point to that. One can surmise he gave great thought to these concepts. That is: how might “completing” a musical form (an artistic matter), also express something of the idea of “integrity” in terms of life? My next examples will comment on this.
6.5. Ethics and Aesthetics
As is well-known, in the “Classical Era” philosophers and artists were keen to assert the relation between ethics and aesthetics. As Leon Botstein noted in his essay “The Demise of Philosophical Listening: Haydn in the Nineteenth Century,” (1997) to understand the intent of this great composer we need to acknowledge how truly “of his time” he was – which, Botstein points out, means how actively philosophic he was in his thought about music and in his purpose with music. He was engaged, as Dr. Botstein puts it, “with the relationship between aesthetics and ethics.” And this fact, so crucial if we are not to misjudge the magnitude of Haydn’s achievement as artist, is now increasingly recognized by scholars.
One of these is Maria Hörthwathner, best-known for her careful investigations of Haydn’s personal library. In an essay about this subject (Hörthwathner 1997), she writes of the large number of philosophic works owned by Haydn, and concludes: “It is more than probable that particularly Haydn’s later work rests on a solid base of philosophical and aesthetic culture.” (Hörthwathner 1997, p. 447) Of course, in Haydn’s day philosophic and theological thought deeply interpenetrated each other.
After this brief digression, we go to the promised musical examples. In traditional Catholic theology, Christ is held up as having led a perfect human life – a life without flaws. He completes God’s plan for the salvation of humanity by being the only instance of humanity who is “complete,” Adam and Eve having forfeited their perfection through sin.
In keeping with this idea, Haydn, in nearly all his late Masses, sets the words “Christe eleison” in such a way that the aggregate is completed in a manner which marks these words off as a self-standing unit. For example, in the Theresienmesse, the “Christe” portion of the opening takes fourteen measures (mm.52-65). Sure enough, the final two constituents of the aggregate, Ab and B natural, appear in m.63. Once the aggregate completed, it is now time for the “Kyrie eleison” to reappear. And note: Haydn sets this section off in yet another way. It is the only portion of the Allegro scored for a quartet of solo voices, the remainder making use of the full choir.
6.6. Was the Decision to Employ Chromatic Completion a Conscious One?
While my research leads me to the conclusion that Haydn used chromatic completion most regularly (and most consciously) in the final years of his compositional career, he had plainly been interested in something like it a good deal earlier. Consider the Finale to Symphony #23, composed in 1764. It is in G major, and is ninety-six measures long. Where does the aggregate complete itself? In m.55. With the lightning-fast exception of m.56, which presents a swift F natural and C#, the music is entirely diatonic thereafter.
In the last paragraph I alluded to the idea of consciousness. To my mind, there is overwhelming evidence that Haydn often worked quite deliberately to achieve chromatic completion. For example, in the “Chaos Prelude” to The Creation the very first cycle falls in perfect coordination with the very first modulation. The pitch Db is the last of the twelve tones to arrive, it does so on beat three of m.20 during the cadence which establishes the new key on the downbeat of m.21. What is this new key? Db major. And when one studies the sketchwork for this Prelude (cf. Robbins Landon 1977, pp. 356-373), one observes how, sketch by sketch, the composer reworks his music so that a perfect coordination might emerge: one cycle, one modulation.
Meanwhile, the greatest moment in this Prelude, in terms of both technique and emotion, and in terms, too, of the opposites of surprise and inevitability, occurs with its seventh and final cycle. That cycle begins at measure 67 and does not fulfill itself until measure 86 where, with maximum theological, dynamic, and tonal force, we at last hear its completing tone: E natural.
Where does this tone arrive? With the great fortissimo outburst on the word Licht. And notice: the very note which makes for the overwhelming, sublime brilliance of that chord – its major third – is precisely this E natural. And to make its impact all the greater, Haydn has withheld that pitch for a very long time; we last heard it in m.54. This is thirty-two bars later, at quite a slow tempo. It might even be said by analogy: just as the universe longed for God to utter the “creative word” – Licht – so we have longed for that dazzling pitch.
All this points to conscious planning. For another example, perhaps even more compelling and even harder to explain as anything other than the deliberate design of a master composer, consider the Kyrie of the Theresienmesse. It has a central, fugal Allegro – (itself made up of several cycles of chromatic completion) – flanked by two Adagios, which are homophonic. The first Adagio makes use of the diatonic tones in Bb major, and three chromatic tones: Db, E, Gb. The second Adagio is, essentially, a recapitulation, but with a striking difference. It does not present any of these chromatic tones, but does give precisely the ones which are absent: B natural and Ab. Though separated by this central Allegro, the two Adagios, when joined, thus display a single unfolding of the chromatic aggregate. And – yes! – there is a purely diatonic conclusion.
Incidentally, were one to perform the two Adagios minus the Allegro, it would sound just fine. The earlier one ends on a half-cadence, the later one follows, seamlessly, on a tonic chord. Stravinsky has written of how he would do that: compose a complete piece, and then cut it up, and separate its parts with contrasting music. Well, it seems Haydn not only presaged Webern and Schönberg, but the greatest Russian modernist, too.
Returning to the question at hand: how conscious was Haydn of all that has been mentioned here? I’ve given evidence that he could be intensely conscious in his application of the technique of chromatic completion. Yet conscious intent need not have been present for Haydn to have felt, instinctively, the value of this compositional procedure. After all, how is a composer to create tonal interest except by bringing in new pitches, not previously heard? And might not a composer sense – in an instinctive, subconscious manner – that having made adventurous use of every possibility of the chromatic aggregate at least once, it was now time to conclude? And if not for an entire piece, then perhaps for a section within it?
My own, rather more modest, experience as a composer confirms this. Having discovered chromatic completion in Haydn (and then in others composers), I went back and took a look at several of my own pieces, and found that quite without consciously intending it, I had used the procedure as well. I assume, of course, that readers will realize I am hardly equating my own music to that of Haydn, but merely pointing to the fact that an “instinctive” desire to parallel the completion of a formal unit of music with the completion of the chromatic aggregate seems a natural enough thing once one works in a musical language that recognizes the chromatic scale as a fundamental structure. Ever since Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, there has been that recognition among composers.
I am not the first scholar to ponder these matters, nor to find examples of chromatic completion from the Classical Era. Special honor goes to James M. Baker, and Henry Burnett; they were the first to unearth this “secret dodecaphonic art” – though they preferred the term chromatic saturation, which, to my mind, doesn’t bring adequate emphasis to the moment at which the twelfth tone arrives: the moment of completion. As I’ve been showing, that moment of completion matters very deeply; matters aesthetically; matters emotionally.
Drs. Baker and Burnett dealt largely with Mozart. I think some of the Haydn examples I am presenting would surprise them. I also imagine they might be surprised at the chronological scope of the phenomenon. It goes back, as I just implied, at least as far as J.S. Bach, and was likely an uncodified (and largely unconscious) tradition among German-speaking composers. Were this a Mozart essay – or even one on Glück – dozens of other examples could easily be cited. Yet having mentioned Bach, I ought to give at least two swift illustrations. The first is from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I. Notice: the subject of the culminating fugue – the fugue in B minor which “completes” the collection, is designed in terms of chromatic completion: the subject embodies the unfolding of a single chromatic aggregate. And second, for an example of an entire work structured as a single such cycle of unfolding, consider the twelfth of the two-part Inventions: the Invention in A major. The first chromatic tone, D#, appears in m.2. E# arrives in m.7; B# in m.10; A# in m.13; and the tone of completion – G natural – in m.15. Moreover, in keeping with the characteristic procedure we’ve already noticed in Haydn, the concluding measures of this piece are purely diatonic.
6.7. Some Further Examples from Haydn
At this point, it seems good to give examples from some of Haydn’s larger-scale compositions. Let us first consider the Largo which opens the 1796 Paukenmesse. It is ten measures long, and gradually introduces every diatonic and chromatic degree. Only then, when the full potential of the chromatic universe has been expressed, does Haydn begin his Allegro.
If this reminds one of the opening of that other work by Haydn to have received the “drumming” moniker – Symphony #103 – it should. The “Drumroll Symphony” follows exactly the same procedure. Incidentally, Mozart does the same thing in the slow introductions to his Linz Symphony and also the Overture to Don Giovanni, the only difference being that in each of these instances he traverses two complete cycles of chromatic saturation, before the change to Allegro.
Returning to the late Haydn Masses, let us consider now a longer musical unit: the eighty-three measure opening D major portion of the Credo in the Nelson Mass (Missa in angustiis) of 1798. As Martin Chusid (1970) explains, this musical unit can be thought of as a symphonic movement in its own right – the equivalent of an opening movement of a three movement “vocal symphony.”
Whether one regards it as a complete movement, or just part one of a three-part Credo, this much is clear: during its course, there is a gradual revelation of all twelve constituents of the chromatic aggregate. D# arrives in m. 13; G# in m.14; A# in m.40; E# in m.51. The arrival of C natural in m.78 completes it. As a result, the unfolding of the aggregate corresponds to (and helps define) this portion of the Mass – clarifying and confirming its existence as a self-sufficient musical unit. Again, there is a diatonic coda.
Let’s now consider the very next section of the Nelson Mass: the “Et Incarnatus.” Set in G major, its opening cycle requires thirty measures to unfold, and its final constituent is Bb: the “dark” minor third. Where does that depressive tone arrive? In the thirtieth measure of this section, just as Haydn arrives at the terribly painful words, “Crucifixus etiam pro nobis.” (D# had arrived in m.1; C# in m.2; F in m.5; and G# in m.24).
Haydn could not have chosen a more expressive moment to conclude this cycle – expressive both in terms of human feeling, and theological import. And once again, note his interest in the relation of Life and Death – for in a composition that begins with Birth (“incarnatus est”) it is notable that the first completion of the chromatic aggregate occurs at the moment of Death.
It seems clear that Haydn wished to mark this point of arrival strongly for a listener’s awareness. Not only is there that very dramatic shift of modality from G major to G minor, immediately afterwards (in m.31) he makes equally dramatic gestures in his orchestration. The timpani and the trumpets (clarini) suddenly arrive fp in a rhythmic pattern which clearly was designed to remind the listener of the very opening of the Mass. And there is a sudden hush in the chorus as they sing “sub Pontio Pilato.”
6.8. Concluding with The Creation
I close this essay with another example from The Creation, “Mit Würd' und Hoheit angetan” (“With worth and honor clad”). It is an aria which once again eloquently suggests that Haydn thought of the technique of chromatic completion as capable of being employed for a deeply symbolic purpose. Set in C major, its very text celebrates the notion of completion by describing the creation of mankind as the culminating point of God’s activity.
Beginning with its recitative, “Und Gott schuf den Menschen,” there are four cycles of unfolding. The first completes itself in m. 20 of the aria, just as Uriel’s opening phrase reaches its cadence. This, plainly, is a use of chromatic completion with structural significance.
The next two cycles are more extraordinary in their design. Cycle II completes itself at m.38 with the arrival of the pitch C#. Structurally, this falls just in time to mark the cadence in the dominant (on the downbeat of m.40). More significantly, it falls on the word “Hauch” (“breath”) – the means by which God brings life to man; soul. It seems no coincidence then that the second cycle of chromatic saturation completes itself in m.49 with exactly the same word and by means of the same pitch, only now spelled enharmonically as Db.
Orchestration is also used to highlight these moments of chromatic completion. After the point of aggregate fulfillment at m.38, Haydn presented a passage for the orchestra alone. He does so again after the next such point. It is here, beginning in m.51, during that second orchestral interlude, that Haydn commences his final cycle. Where does it end? In m.97, with the arrival in the orchestra of Bb, immediately after Uriel sings the word “Glück.” From this moment on, the music is entirely diatonic.
Here, with a text telling of “Liebe, Glück,” and “Wonne,” (“Love, Happiness,” and “Joy”) Haydn reflects a crucial, and very human emotion. Namely, how love for another is the authentic completion of ourselves. As Eli Siegel observed in his classic text, Self and World (1981), love is an emotion of “proud need.” In love, the world as different from ourselves completes ourselves.
And that final cycle is a long one. It began in m. 51; its fulfillment is forty-six measures later. The listener has been yearning all this time for that completing tone – nearly half the length of the aria. By this means, we are made to feel what Adam felt: a powerful yearning for completion, in his case, through Eve.
The unity of technique and emotion, of form and content, is characteristic of the greatest works of art. As I hope has been clear in this last example, and in the other examples cited in this essay, by means of the technique of chromatic completion, Haydn achieves that unity. Was it the only technique he employed to achieve this end – an end necessary for all successful aesthetics? Hardly! But it was an important technique for him, and one which, as I indicated earlier, was something of a norm in his late music. These are facts which, hitherto, have scarcely been recognized. When they are better known, our respect for the greatness, and the daring, of Haydn’s compositional art will only grow deeper.