Jessica Waldoff

About the Participants

Jessica Waldoff


Jessica Waldoff is an Associate Professor at the College of the Holy Cross (Worcester, MA).  She is the author of Recognition in Mozart’s Operas (Oxford University Press, 2006) and a contributor to The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia (eds. Cliff Eisen and Simon P. Keefe, Cambridge University Press, 2006).  She has published several essays on the operas of Haydn and Mozart, including, “Sentiment and Sensibility in La vera costanza” (in Haydn Studies, ed. W. Dean Sutcliffe, Cambridge University Press, 1998), and “Reading Mozart’s Operas ‘for the sentiment’” (in Mozart Studies, ed. Simon P. Keefe, Cambridge University Press, 2006).

Conference Paper: “Beyond the ‘Chaos’: Understanding Haydn’s ‘C-Minor Mood’”

  • Abstract:
    • “In Op. 13 Beethoven continued a great Viennese tradition in which both Haydn (Symphony No. 52) and Mozart (piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491) had excelled: the Sturm und Drang of C minor, a key which obviously awoke in their hearts the strongest emotions of power, grandeur and tragedy.” H. C. Robbins Landon makes this claim at the end of the “Chronicle” for 1799 in Volume IV of his magisterial five-volume Haydn: Chronicle and Works and in so doing, merely touches on a topic that might warrant a book of its own. The notion of a “C-minor mood” is most familiar to us today, of course, as a concept frequently invoked in discussions of Beethoven, but it is clear that the affective associations and musical characteristics of C minor were already present in the music of Haydn, Mozart, and their contemporaries. “Can it be an accident,” Landon concludes the same paragraph, “that the most powerful piece of late eighteenth-century music, ‘Chaos’ from The Creation, is in C minor?”

      Haydn’s compositions in C minor include symphonies Nos. 52 (1772), 78 (1782), and 95 (1791), the piano sonata Hob. XVII:4 (1771), the string quartet Op. 17, No. 4 (1771), and the piano trio Hob. XV:13 (1789). He also used the key in setting a number of important moments in larger works, including the earthquake in the Seven Last Words of our Savior on the Cross (1786), the depiction of “Chaos” in the Creation (1798), and the storm in the Seasons (1801). The Affekt associated with C minor, of course, is well known—“pathetic,” “gloomy,” and “plaintive” are all terms used to describe the key in the eighteenth century. Haydn’s music in C minor is startling and effective in ways that exploit this key’s expressive characteristics, though the subject has not received much attention. Various claims have been made by Landon and others concerning Haydn’s influence on Mozart and Beethoven in this connection. At one point, Landon even describes Symphony No. 52 as “the grandfather of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.” The extent of Haydn’s influence, however, is still not widely acknowledged. But perhaps Haydn’s compositions suffer as much as they benefit from comparisons of this kind. In this paper, I intend to ask the question such comparisons raise but also forestall: is it productive to think of Haydn’s music in this key as possessing and/or projecting a “C-minor mood”?