Very little critical attention has been directed toward biographical writings on Haydn and Mozart in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century, following the first wave of work by Friedrich Schlichtegroll and Franz Niemetschek (for Mozart, 1793, 1798) and Georg August Griesinger and Albert Dies (for Haydn, 1809, 1810). Examining varied biographically oriented materials in books, short profiles, anecdotes, and fiction, this article establishes contrasting narratives for the two composers during this period: Mozart was regarded as thoroughly immersed in music from beginning to end, born into it as an infant prodigy and dying in the act of writing it for the Requiem, encapsulating a unified life and oeuvre; and Haydn embraced a rags-to-riches, triumph-over-adversity story—poor at birth and in his youth but eventually feted as one of Western music's greatest figures—with full-fledged life-work alignment at death potentially compromised by a perceived decline in compositional powers toward the end. The article also traces influences of one narrative on the other, especially Mozart's on Haydn, including through accounts of Haydn's Creation and death. By explaining the diverging and converging narratives associated with Haydn and Mozart, I identify the second and third decades of the nineteenth century not as a protracted biographical cold spot but rather as a springboard and inspiration for future scholarly endeavor, including the serious, extended studies of Georg von Nissen, Alexandre Oulibicheff, and Otto Jahn (1828, 1843, and 1856 respectively).
“No kind of reading is so generally interesting as biography”: Establishing Narratives for Haydn and Mozart in the Second and Third Decades of the Nineteenth Century
Simon P. Keefe is J. R. Hoyle Chair of Music at the University of Sheffield. He is author or editor of twelve books, including the monographs Mozart's Requiem: Reception, Work, Completion (Cambridge University Press, 2012), which won the Marjorie Weston Emerson award from the Mozart Society of America, and the 700-page musical biography Mozart in Vienna: The Final Decade (Cambridge University Press, 2017). He was elected a life member of the Academy for Mozart Research at the Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg, in 2005.
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Simon P. Keefe; “No kind of reading is so generally interesting as biography”: Establishing Narratives for Haydn and Mozart in the Second and Third Decades of the Nineteenth Century. 19th-Century Music 1 November 2020; 44 (2): 67–79. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncm.2020.44.2.67
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