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MUSIC ‣ Musicians of the Month, January - February, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Phil Cartwright, Founder, HorizonVU Sound Movement

No, your eyes do not deceive you. We have decided that our Musician of the Month column should not be reserved exclusively for the living. Of course, we continue on the lookout for today's musicians and we will be recognizing those talented individuals along with composers and performing musicians from the past. We hope that you find the change and our articles interesting.

Haydn and Mozart…or Mozart and Haydn: A Comparative View toward String Quartets

Phillip Cartwright

This essay aspires to provide a brief comparative analysis of Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart with particular focus on string quartets of the two composers. Before proceeding to define the genre itself prior to consideration of selected composition, a few prefatory remarks are in order. First, even after narrowing the genre to string quartets, humility is a necessity in order to put forth a brief comparison or contrast of works of Haydn and Mozart. As pointed out by Kempfert and

J. Haydn

Wong, the music and history of Haydn and Mozart have been compared and contrasted over centuries resulting in vast number of both critical and scholarly publications (458).

Second, difficulties in comparing and contrasting the composers’ works are confounded as one attempts to untangle sources of influence and

causality in compositions. As pointed out by pointed out by Dawson, the timing of history tells us that Mozart (1756 – 1791) was raised subject to

W.A. Mozart

Haydn’s (1732 - 1809) influence and Mozart’s influence on Haydn preceded the former’s death (502). Further, it is true that both composers lived in Vienna during a period when patronage was prevalent, but during which their was intellectual unrest, although nowhere near as severe as in France, Despite sharing this socio-political-economic environment, it cannot be overlooked that Haydn was born into the class of smallholders and agricultural workers, which no doubt accounts for an element of folk influence in his composition (Schmid, 148). Mozart was brought up in German fashion as a child prodigy. Nevertheless, evidence indicates that Mozart had exposure to native folk music (Schmid, 145). his compositions although. His father was highly educated, a court musician and the young Mozart lived immersed in a world of musicians (Dawson, 504).

Turning to the string quartet, reference is to a type of musical composition for two violins, a viola and violoncello. It stands as the predominant genre of chamber music since the mid-eighteenth century. Understanding chamber music requires knowing the outline of the classical sonata and the usual four movement structure. Briefly, the form may be summarized as follows.

I. First Movement in Sonata Form

1. The sonata's primary thematic material is delivered in the exposition. The tonic is the first key, or root. The key changes as the exposition draws to a close, usually ending in a different key than it began in.

2. In the development, one or more expositional themes are changed, and added information might be included. The development frequently comprises the most change.

3. The opening material is replayed in the recapitulation, but it is entirely in the home key, providing a resolve and completion. In most cases, the recapitulation starts with the tonic's opening material.

II. Slow Movement often composed as Theme and Variations

III. Minuet and Trio

IV. Rondo or sonata form (possibly a mixture)

Prior to consideration of specific works, it is important to mention two works of particular significance for the interested reader. With respect to qualitative analysis, the exhaustive 2005 publication by Harutunian, Haydn's and Mozart's sonata styles: A comparison, is highly recommended. Essentially, Hartunian’s research question asks, “What, makes Haydn's music so perceptively different from Mozart's?” While, comprehensive, the book does not require a music education of the reader. A second source of importance is the highly quantitative approach taken by statisticians Kempfert and Wong. The research applies Musical Information Retrieval (MIR) considers variables found in Hartunian. The results are confirmatory. The article is highly technical and understanding requires advanced statistical training.

Summaries differentiating Haydn’ and Mozart’ quartets can be found in Burkholder, J. P., D. J. Grout, and C. V. Palisca (528-530, 541). For purposes of comparison between Haydn and Mozart string quartets, this essay focuses on Haydn’s technique of pervasive thematic development introducing equality between the four instruments (Burkholder, J. P., D. J. Grout, and C. V. Palisca, 541).

Early string quartets were regarded as an accompanied violin solo. S. Kim points out that this was not just a matter of compositional technique, but of practical importance. Quartets frequently involved a professional musician playing first violin and carrying the melody, while three amateur musicians performed accompaniment (Kim, 27) .

Haydn’s early string quartets left the melody to the first violinist. According to Kim, the first instance of Haydn’s democratizing a quartet by using the first violin as accompaniment is Op. 9, No. 5, 1st Movement (28). The Poco Adagio is a set of strophic variations with the first violin playing the dominant role. For the entire second variation, the second violin, viola, and cello take on the roles of melody, while the first violin adds occasional sixteenth-note accompaniment. The interested reader can find the score at IMSLP. The score show that while the second violin leads with the melody, the instrument stays below the soprano range associated with the first violin.

In 1770, a young Mozart started his own innovation of the string-quartet repertoire. Twenty-three string quartets were written by Mozart in all, ten of which were written between 1782 and 1784, while thirteen were written before 1774. While by no means a mature representation of his work, during the sixty-seven measures of the opening Adagio, there are eight textural changes. The readers is referred to S. Kim delineates the variety as follows (50-51).

1. mm. 1–4: first-violin melody over eighth-note ostinato accompaniment in viola and cello.

2. m. 3: second-violin “intrusion” over the trio (first violin, viola, and cello); recurs three more times in mm. 11, 35, and 50. 3. mm. 5–8: the two violins are paired playing the melody (in thirds) while the viola and cello are paired as bass; reappears in mm. 24–28, 44–48, and 63–64 (mm. 5–8 is the only instance where the second violin is playing a third higher than the first violin).

4. mm. 15–16 and 54–55: first violin and viola are paired while cello has the bass line.

5. mm. 17–18 and 56–57: second violin and viola are paired while cello has the bass line. 51

6. mm. 19–21 and 58–60: first-violin melody over bass provided by all three other instruments.

7. mm. 22–24 and 61–63: passing of motives, or dialogue among the instruments (cello and viola paired).

8. mm. 29–31: canonic entrance of voices in the order viola, second violin, and first violin over an eighth-note bass in the cello. (50-51)

In addition to the Adagio, in a number of important ways, this movement breaks with convention of the time. In the opening eight-measure phrase, the second violin enters above the first violin's melodic line. Even when a voice other than the first violin plays the melody, that instrument’s melody line remains with within its normal register and does not cross-voices into the first-violin range. In this adagio the second violin maintains the higher register for three measures after it makes its entrance and at some points , the first and second violins swap melodic lines making a single, continuous sound.

This essay has focused on string quartets of Mozart and Haydn pointing out a specific instance where the two composers broke with convention in order to achieve some sense of musical democracy with respect to instrumentation. While similar experimentation was introduced at different points in time in time, notably, both composers made use pervasive thematic development thereby achieving significant balance between instruments and changing the character of the string quartet. Personally, does one composer have more appeal than the other? Consistently, no.


Burkholder, J. P., D. J. Grout, and C. V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. International

Student Edition, Tenth edition. New York, N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2019, Print.

Dawson, R. “Haydn and Mozart.” The Musical Quarterly , Oct., 1930, vol. 16, no. 4,

Oct., 1930, pp. 498-509.

Harutunian, John Martin. Haydn's and Mozart's Sonata Styles : A Comparison. E. Mellen

Press, 2005.

Haydn, J. “Quator pour deux Violons, Alto et Violoncelle.” Berlin chez Trautwein & Comp.,


Kempfert, K. and S. Wong. “Where does Haydn End and Mozart begin? Composer

classification of string quartets.” Journal of New Music Research, vol. 49, 2018, pp. 457 - 476.

Kim, S. “Emergence of the Second Violin in the Classical String Quartets of Haydn, Mozart,

and Beethoven.” Ph.D. dissertation submitted to the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Music, Indiana University, 2018.

Schmid, E. “Mozart and Haydn.” The Musical Quarterly, April, vol. XLII, 156-161, pp. 145-



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