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Secular Vocal Music
Haydn: My mother bids me bind my hair (p.359)
We are in the world of the English drawing room in the late 18th century when
well-bred young ladies occupied themselves and entertained their guests with
music. The repertoire consisted of piano pieces and songs, well crafted and
sometimes quite intricate, but melodious, easy on the ear and not too difficult
for the competent amateur singer or player. The piano had replaced the
harpsichord as the fashionable keyboard instrument in the last 20 or 30 years of
the century.
Haydn made an unexpected appearance in this society when he was invited to
London in the early 1790s. Nearly 60 years old, he was by then famous
throughout Europe and at the height of his powers as a composer of
symphonies and string quartets. Nevertheless, he found time to set several texts
by a doctor’s wife, Mrs Anne Hunter, specifically for the domestic music
The words
A simple poem in the ‘pastoral’ style in which the well off could imagine the
idyllic life of ordinary people who lived in the countryside – quite remote from
the long hours of work and grinding poverty that were the reality of rural life for
many at the time.
The strophic poem describes a girl sitting around moping because her boyfriend
Lubin has gone somewhere – we don’t know where, and don’t really care that
Compared to the intensity of the lyrics for the songs by Dowland and Purcell,
this is shallow stuff, aimed at an undemanding audience.
Haydn has responded with a few touches of word painting, such as the piano
flourish in bar 26 which reflects the word ‘play’. He does not seem to have been
too bothered that the musical imagery for verse one might not be appropriate
for the words of the second, however: The happy opening melody works well
for sitting around binding one’s hair, but it does not really connect with the
sadness of thinking about days gone by.
The music
Whereas the songs by Dowland and Purcell are amongst the greatest they wrote,
and amongst the greatest laments composed in the 17 century, Haydn’s song is
simple and unaffected
It is written in what is called the galant style – melodious, gently ornamented,
with straightforward harmony and a fairly plain piano part – a sort of Classical
style lite.
So, it is not an important or imposing piece of music, and it is not one of
Haydn’s masterpieces
 Haydn was a great and highly skilful composer, and even his simpler pieces are
finely wrought.
 Notice, for example, how Haydn varies the density of the piano part in the
introduction, starting with full chords, thinning the texture to two lines in bar 5
and bringing back the triads at the cadence in bars 7-8.
 The melodic lines are made up of arpeggio and scale patterns but each phrase is
nicely balanced and varied so that the melody flows easily and naturally without
becoming predictable.
 The harmony is simple and diatonic, for the most part, but there are touches of
chromaticism such as bars 23-4 which stop it becoming too bland (compare the
vocal line in these bars with the ground bass in the Purcell)
 The piano part is simple enough, but there are a few mild technical challenges,
such as the scale in thirds in bars 35-6.
Identify examples of the following stylistic elements:Periodic phrasing
Perfect and imperfect cadences
Chromatic passing notes
Modulation to the dominant
Dominant pedal