Compare two orchestral crescendos, composed about half a century apart:
The slow introduction to Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 (1761)
The transition to the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (1808)
With the aid of the symphony’s title, Le Matin (The Morning), the first crescendo becomes a vivid representation of sunrise. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, by contrast, has no programmatic title, and for generations of listeners has represented the pinnacle of purely musical logic. For Beethoven’s contemporary E. T. A. Hoffmann, however, the symphony conjured “shadows that draw closer and closer in upon us.” The image also characterized a form of entertainment called the phantasmagoria, in which a hidden image-projection apparatus made approaching ghosts seem terrifyingly real. Where Haydn’s crescendo paints the ascending motion and growing brightness of sunrise, Beethoven’s suggests a spirit emerging from a great distance and finally looming towards one; where Haydn’s effect draws an analogy between sound and light, Beethoven’s deploys a shared technique for creating the illusion of three-dimensional motion in space, and with it a heightened sense of immersion in another world
Haydn’s Sunrise, Beethoven’s Shadow: Audiovisual Culture and the Emergence of Musical Romanticism is about the transition from Haydn’s sunrise to Beethoven’s shadow. During this period – roughly 1760 to 1810 – optical devices such as magnifying instruments, peepshows, shadow-plays and magic lanterns became widely available. They were the subjects of operas and popular scientific literatures, purveyed by street entertainers and scientific demonstrators, used at home and in public performances. These optical technologies did not only produce new forms of spectacle and practices of looking; they also gave rise to new spaces for music-making, practices of listening, and ultimately to a new set of terms for describing and thinking about music. Through their particular processes of dissemination, these devices fostered the changes in musical perception illustrated by the comparison of Haydn’s rising sun and Beethoven’s approaching shadow. Whereas naked-eye observation of nature and painting provided primary reference frames for “seeing” the crescendo at the start of Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 as a sunrise, the world-making powers of optical technologies framed otherworldly experiences of Beethoven’s symphony. While mimesis of nature and emotional expression furnished the main conceptual bases for making sense of music in the eighteenth century, notions of extending the senses and mastering invisible forces increasingly came to supplement or supplant them.
Published articles related to this book include: “Haydn’s Creation as an Optical Entertainment” (Journal of Musicology, 2010) and “Magnified Vision, Mediated Listening and the ‘Point of Audition’ of Early Romanticism” (Eighteenth-Century Music, 2013).