Humorous Incongruities in Haydn's Symphony No. 60 "Il distratto": Excess and Opposition

James Palmer, University of British Columbia

Haydn's instrumental works contain many humorous passages and events. I define and discuss two strategies Haydn used to create musical humor in Symphony No. 60 Il distratto: excess and opposition. This symphony is a telling microcosm of Haydn's compositional play as it absent-mindedly stagnates on the subdominant, flippantly leaps between radically different topics, and even stops to tune mid-phrase! I focus on how Haydn's bizarre deployment of syntactic and semantic forces (formal functions and topics) defies Classical stylistic conventions.

Excess projects a sense of redundancy and vacuousness through the successive repetition of musical material that appears to have "gone on for too long" (Huron 2004) and is perpetrated most prominently by small-scale repetition and harmonic stasis. Oppositions, conversely, create the impression of a sudden pull in an unexpected direction due to contrast between successive musical ideas. Oppositions usually foreground a local semantic clash between topics with opposed emotional valence and/or social status associations, engaging local-level intraopus expectations.

Interplay between topics and formal functions is crucial for creating humor. I apply theories of form (Caplin 1998; Hepokoski and Darcy 2006) and topics (Agawu 1991; Monelle 2006; Mirka 2014) to forge a productive synthesis between these two areas of music-theoretic inquiry. Throughout my discussion, I address trends in linguistic theories of verbal humor, analogically applying selected methodologies to illustrate how Haydn's unconventional compositional choices create "script oppositions" (Attardo 1994) that elicit humor in a manner similar to verbal joke telling.