Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Music

Music Research Seminar: Clive McClelland

Seminar Title: Haydn, Tempesta and the Myth of Sturm und Drang



Lecture Theatre 1, School of Music

The speaker is Clive McClelland (University of Leeds)


Tempesta is a term I have recently coined to apply to music that exhibits agitated or violent characteristics in order to evoke terror and chaos. Features of the style include fast tempo, rapid scale passages, driving rhythmic figurations, strong accents, full textures, and robust instrumentation including prominent brass and timpani. Music of this type was used for storm scenes, which in operas of the 17th and 18th centuries are almost invariably of supernatural origin, and other frightening experiences such as pursuit (especially by demons or furies), madness, and rage. The term tempesta can therefore be seen as a fast counterpart to ombra, the style associated with horror and awe.

This kind of ‘stormy’ music has acquired the label Sturm und Drang, implying a relationship to German literature which is erroneous. Haydn’s so-called Sturm und Drang symphonies exhibit characteristics that are no different stylistically to the depictions of storms in his operas and sacred music, and there is no evidence of Haydn suffering some kind of personal crisis. Moreover, there are many topical references to tempesta in his subsequent symphonic output, not to mention the instrumental works of many of his contemporaries. Storm references appear in programmatic concertos and symphonies by composers such as Vivaldi, Vanhal, Dittersdorf, Knecht, and Beethoven.

Sturm und Drang is therefore a term that was never really fit for purpose. A more appropriate aesthetic context is the emergence of Gothic literature and art, and of ideas about the ‘sublime of terror’, as promulgated by Edmund Burke. ‘Stormy’ music was capable of producing an emotional response of some magnitude, and was therefore a powerful tool in the composer’s expressive armoury. Unsurprisingly, this was of great interest to the Romantics, and the popularity of storm references in stage works and programmatic instrumental pieces remained strong well into the next century.

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