Incorporating Haydn’s Minuets: Towards a Somatic Theory of Music

DSpace/Manakin Repository

Incorporating Haydn’s Minuets: Towards a Somatic Theory of Music

Citable link to this page


Title: Incorporating Haydn’s Minuets: Towards a Somatic Theory of Music
Author: Fort, Joseph Giovanni
Citation: Fort, Joseph Giovanni. 2015. Incorporating Haydn’s Minuets: Towards a Somatic Theory of Music. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
Full Text & Related Files:
Abstract: This dissertation addresses a repertoire and an issue that have both been somewhat neglected in musicological studies—the minuets of Joseph Haydn, and the somatic experience of dance. Of all Haydn’s compositions, his minuets have received less attention than perhaps any other movement or genre—despite the fact that his output includes more than four hundred of them. My basic hope is that equipping ourselves as musicologists to deal with somatics and dance will allow us to find something to say about this particular repertoire, to engage with it more thoroughly than we do at present.

In this dissertation I argue that a man or woman in the upper levels of society in Vienna towards the end of the eighteenth century would know the dance steps for the minuet. They would be in possession of this somatic knowledge; these eighteenth-century bodies would contain the minuet. And when sitting down to listen to a concert performance of a quartet or symphonic minuet by Haydn, they would still do so in a body that knows how to move to the sounds of the minuet, and perhaps has moved to some by the very same composer. This, I would argue, is perhaps the main difference between an audience member in Haydn’s day and one of our own time, whose (typical) lack of any knowledge of the minuet as a dance posits a gulf between him/her and the audience member of two hundred years ago. The question I ask, then, is this: what does it mean to experience Haydn’s minuets, whether those written specifically to be danced to or those written to be listened to, in a body that contains the movements for this dance?

Chapter 1 lays out the historical context for the dissertation. It examines the social events at which the minuet was danced in Vienna in the 1790s, focusing in particular on the annual charity balls held at the Hofburg Redoutensäle by the Gesellschaft bildender Künstler. Drawing on contemporaneous descriptions and ticket lists preserved in the Wiener Stadt- und Landesarchiv, I show that members of the nobility, the bourgeoisie, and the artistic community were all present at these balls, and argue that the dance hall constituted a vital mixing ground for eighteenth-century Viennese society. I claim that Jürgen Habermas’s three criteria for the emergence of a public sphere (1962)—disregard of status, accessibility of culture products, and inclusivity of the space—are met in this setting.

Chapters 2 and 3 ask: what was the minuet in late-eighteenth-century Vienna? Chapter 2 examines choreographies, outlining the steps and figures that dancing masters detailed in German-language treatises around the end of the eighteenth century. Chapter 3 outlines the patterns and norms that theorists identified and prescribed in minuet music. Examining hundreds of (mostly unpublished) minuets written for dancing, I assess how well the rules proclaimed by the music theorists are actually borne out across the repertoire, and build a composite picture of the minuet’s choreography and music.

Chapter 4 grapples with the ‘tenacious doxa that physical sensations must irrevocably elude language’, as Isabelle Ginot described it in 2010. Drawing on the burgeoning field of ‘somatic studies’, and in particular Suzanne Ravn’s (2010) theorisation of sensing weight, I attempt a somatic enquiry into Haydn’s minuets composed for a ball held by the Gesellschaft bildender Künstler in 1792. The analysis theorises ways in which musical features would have been felt by dancers enacting the steps of the minuet to them.

Chapter 5 constitutes an attempt to extend the somatic approach to the minuet movements of Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphonies. I ask how investing the body into the experience of listening to this music changes one’s engagement with it. I argue that learning to invest the body into the listening experience, actively and deliberately, will not only reveal facets of the music to which we have hitherto been desensitised: it will vitalise our engagement with the music.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at
Citable link to this page:
Downloads of this work:

Show full Dublin Core record

This item appears in the following Collection(s)


Search DASH

Advanced Search