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Haydn, the progressive

On the occasion of the Haydn Bicentennial in 2009 the Joseph Haydn Conservatory organised a three-year Erasmus intensive programme titled “Haydn, the progressive” with the participation of eleven music institutions from throughout Europe.

Like Arnold Schoenberg’s famous essay “Brahms, the progressive”, which in the second half of the twentieth century sparked a reappraisal of Brahms’ oeuvre, the Joseph Haydn Conservatory wanted its project to make an enduring contribution to stripping away the persistent prevailing image of “Papa Haydn” and raise awareness of the significance of the meaning of his “completely new and special way” of composing.

The special concept of “Haydn, the progressive” consisted of a theoretical and aesthetic examination of the works of Joseph Haydn and the following generation through to Franz Liszt, with direct, immediate reference to practical tonal realisation and in comparison to works of modern and contemporary music.

The artistic boundary between theory and practice was thus lifted, and historical distances on an intellectual and artistic level were seen to be insignificant. The results included the prioritisation of questions relating to progress in the arts and a discussion of the humanistic significance of music which placed the ethical meaning of a work of art on an equal level with its aesthetic meaning – something that was a matter of course for Haydn but appears to be needed in today’s music industry.

2009 Perceptions

The starting point of the project was of course Joseph Haydn’s life and work. His novel way of dealing with musical material was deeply rooted in the spirit of the Enlightenment; through it, Haydn developed nothing less than a grammar for the universal language of music, which simultaneously constituted a basis for the emergence of so-called absolute music. Its far-reaching influence appears not only in the immediately following generations (Beethoven, Hummel, Brahms) but is still operative in modern and contemporary music.

This compositional technique and special musical mentality unlock unimagined possibilities for novel interpretation and reception both of the works of Haydn and of new music.

One area of concentration was therefore the premiere of works by young composers from the participating institutions, works which creatively dealt with Haydn in free association.


  • Haydn – explained: analysis and discussion of works
  • Haydn – in dialogue: comparisons and contrasts (Haydn and …)
  • Haydn – in context: historical environment, intellectual atmosphere and everyday life in Haydn’s time
  • Haydn – in progress: workshops and rehearsals (perceptions and their implementation)
  • Haydn – in concert: concerts

In lectures, workshops and rehearsals, music theorists, historians, composers and interpreters prepared relevant works and programmes which were presented in concert.

Excursions to places where Haydn lived and worked (Eisenstadt, Vienna, Rohrau…) rounded out the programme.

2010 The Next Generation

Central to the second year were the various individual characteristics of the grammatical basis Haydn laid in composition. The examples used were three of his students and successors and the meaning of their works for the stylistic, technical and aesthetic further development of the Classical ideal and its transformation during the transition to Romantic individualism.

The project dealt with the works of Pleyel, Hummel, Beethoven and their contemporaries in chamber music groups and orchestras, accompanied by lectures and workshops.

Two areas of concentration were piano works and vocal compositions (both solo songs with piano accompaniment and works for chamber choir) in comparison to new creations by young composers and their premieres.

The Austrian premiere (!) of Hummel’s Oratorio “The Crossing the of Red Sea” (a work that represents both a thematic and a compositional sequel to Haydn’s “The Creation”) in the Haydn Hall of Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt on 7 May 2010 was the artistic climax of this intensive programme.

Further performances took place in the Festival Room of Savaria University Szombathely in Hungary and in the studio of the Slovak Broadcasting Service Bratislava in Slovakia.

The debate about Haydn’s legacy in the field of contemporary music, of central significance to the project “Haydn, the progressive”, resulted in highly original premieres of works by the participating composers, who in this year felt primarily committed to avantgarde techniques and tendencies. Their various historical, theoretical and comparative approaches to Haydn’s legacy made the events, not least through their individual national impressions, a colourful variety of perspectives and impulses, concentrated through the underpinning of the progressive in Haydn’s music.

The result was a further contribution to the understanding of Haydn’s “universal language” and its meaning for following generations reaching to the present day.

2011 Liszt, the progressive

Appropriate to the umbrella motto of the intensive programme, the central theme of the third year was the year’s regent, “Liszt, the progressive”. Similar to Haydn’s, the innovative meaning of Liszt’s oeuvre is in general hardly known.

Not only did his bold harmonic experiments demonstrably influence Richard Wagner and allow him to “plunder Liszt’s work like a quarry of usable motives”, but in many of his compositions they anticipated the world of sound of the Impressionists.

Liszt’s use of folk music and compositional material (for example, the Gypsy scale) and the resulting expansions of the melodic and harmonic system led in direct succession to Béla Bartók and even further.

The (now poetic and heavily idealistic) monothematic and motivic work (Liszt unconsciously received “Haydn’s spirit from Beethoven’s hands”) also resulted in novel consequences in the formal disposition of Liszt’s work.

The intensive programme also formed a part of the official Burgenland Bicentennial Programme “Lisztomania 2011”; at its centre was a discussion of the effect of Liszt’s innovative impulses on the language of music, their ambivalent realisation in his works and their influence on the development of new compositional methods (Scriabin, Debussy, Schoenberg, Bartók).

Themes and areas of concentration:

  • Folk music as compositional material (piano and chamber music and song): Haydn – Liszt – Bartók – new music
  • Piano laboratory (piano works as a field for experimentation)
  • Word and music (songs and melodramas)


The entire Erasmus intensive programme “Haydn, the progressive” was documented in word, picture and sound in three volumes (each including a CD) in the Joseph Haydn Conservatory’s publication series.

In 2010 the project was ranked one of the top three projects by the Europe-wide “Good Practice of Dissemination and Valorization of Education Projects” and was nominated for the Lifelong Learning Award.