In December 1993 news broke that six keyboard sonatas whose rediscovery was being hailed as “The Haydn Scoop of the Century” were, in fact, not by Haydn at all. It soon emerged that the compositions—initially believed to be the lost Hob. XVI:2a–e and 2g—were not simple misattributions, but rather something that has rarely been discussed in the music world: modern forgeries deliberately constructed to deceive scholars and listeners.
Adapting philosophical and art-historical writing on forgery to music, this article examines the six “Haydn” sonatas in the context of contemporary debates about expertise, postmodernism, and the author concept. Analyzing the stylistic content of the works in question sheds new light on musical forgeries as artifacts of aesthetic prejudice and anti-academic critique. More broadly, it suggests that the long-overlooked phenomenon of forgery poses questions about authorship, authority, and truth itself that have an important place in our shared history as musicologists.
Should our standards of evidence be rooted in historical sources, musical style, or some combination of the two? What kind of relationship do we believe exists between composers and their works? And is there any inherent reason—cultural, ethical, or otherwise—that we cannot write music like Haydn’s today? In posing such questions, the story of the forged Haydn sonatas provides us with a unique opportunity to reflect on the values and future of the field.