Benjamin Korstvedt

About the Participants

Benjamin Korstvedt


Benjamin Korstvedt is the George N. and Selma U. Jeppson Professor of Music in the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at Clark University (Worcester, MA).  The Vice President of the Haydn Society of North America, he has also recently completed Listening for Utopia, the first full-length study in English of Ernst Bloch’s musical philosophy (coming in 2010 from Cambridge University Press). In 2007, he was a senior fellow at the Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften in Vienna, working on the project “Reading Music Criticism beyond the ‘fin-de-siécle Vienna’ Paradigm” (two scholarly articles based on this research are forthcoming).  Other publications include: a monograph on Bruckner’s 8th Symphony, a critical edition of the 1888 version of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony (Bruckner Collected Works Edition), and articles on Bruckner scholarship under the Third Reich, issues of textual criticism, and Wagner reception by the German left.

Conference Paper: “The Fate of Haydn’s ‘Sham Recapitulations’ in the 1780s: Refining and Extending a Critical Category”

  • Abstract:
    • Haydn’s use of “false recapitulation”—or, as Landon more colorfully termed it, “fausse reprise” or “sham recapitulation”—is a much-remarked element of his symphonic practice.  In its strict form the “false recapitulation” restates primary thematic material in the tonic, with apparently deceptive intent, during the development section well before the “real” recapitulation.  Despite its wide familiarity, which is due in large part to Landon’s avid discussion of it, this form of the device effectively disappeared from Haydn’s symphonies in the early 1770s.  As Landon and others have recognized, starting with several symphonies composed in the mid-1770s (nos. 50, 51, 54, and 56), Haydn began to make increasing use of a related “surprise technique” that largely replaced the “false recapitulation,” namely the restatement of primary thematic material in a non-tonic key (the subdominant, the supertonic, or the submediant) in the development section.  Classic examples are found in the first movements of Symphonies nos. 85, 96, and 102. 
      Less widely recognized is another formal procedure that began to appear occasionally in Haydn’s symphonies at this time as well.  It adapts the other side of the “false recapitulation” equation; instead of restating the primary theme in the development section, this procedure involves introducing the tonic in the medial portion of the movement, where of course it ordinarily does not appear.  In such passages, which involve no attempt at deception, the tonic key is not brought back with full tonal definition, but rather in a musical context and/or harmonic guise that countermands any sense of strong tonal return.  In the 1780s, Haydn executed these medial tonic returns in a variety of increasingly subtle ways. 

      This study examines some salient examples drawn from works (including Symphonies no. 69, 70, 83, and 90) composed during a pivotal and misunderstood period of Haydn’s symphonic career, the years between the mid-1770s and late-1780s.  Although this procedure remained exceptional, critically examining how Haydn handles the appearance of the tonic in the development section of symphonies from this time can shed revealing light on his developing sense of the tonal design of symphonic sonata form during a crucial period.