Haydn's Op. 50 Quartets and the Search for "A Really New Minuet"

Samantha Inman, University of North Texas

In dismissing Albrechtsberger's prohibition of fourths in certain contexts, Haydn remarked, "I would rather someone tried to compose a really new minuet." On one hand, this quote mocks the theoretical proposition by juxtaposing it with the simplest of the classical forms. On the other hand, Haydn's comment hints of the compositional potential latent even in the conventional minuet and trio. This paper uses Schenkerian analysis to trace the staging and resolution of compositional problems in the minuet movements from Haydn's op. 50 string quartets, particularly as they pertain to modifications in the reprise of each nested binary form.

While each minuet and each trio in this set constitutes a rounded binary form, few follow the expected path toward completion. Expansions, omissions, and rewrites frequently enliven most of the nested binary forms, moving beyond the basic modifications required for continuous forms and habitually avoiding literal recapitulation even in most sectional forms. Far from arbitrary, radical revisions to a reprise often arise from an understated irregularity earlier in the movement, such as the tonal under-determinacy and aversion to the dominant in the no. 2 minuet and the difficulty in supporting a descending line in the no. 2 trio. Schenkerian sketches significantly aid in specifying the role and significance of a given alteration. This study of the six minuet movements from op. 50 illustrates the breadth of approaches Haydn employed in his own quest for "a really new minuet."