Abstract & Prospectus: The Piano Quartet and Quintet in Vienna, 1780-1810

David W. Fenton
New York University

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Although the piano quartet and quintet which emerged in Vienna between 1780 and 1810 exemplify the important stylistic changes occuring in Viennese chamber music at the end of the 18th century, nearly all of these works are unknown today. The purpose of this dissertation is to determine what works formed this repertory and to examine the style of these works, including not only those which originated in Vienna, but also ones from outside Vienna which can be shown through the examination of primary sources and documents (extant manuscripts and prints and Viennse music dealers' and publishers' advertisements and catalogs) to have been available there during the period. After identifying and dating the pieces in the repertory, I will consider the style of the works, including movement types and forms, instrumentation and texture, and the role of the piano, in order to place the Viennese piano quartet in the context of the style of late 18th-century Viennese music and chamber music in general.

Detailed Prospectus

Chamber music has been a topic of investigation central to the study of the Viennese classical style. However, some areas such as chamber music with keyboard have been explored only incompletely -- larger ensembles have been relatively overlooked while smaller ensembles like the piano trio and the duo sonata have received substantial scholarly attention. A new study of the piano quartet and quintet is needed not simply because of neglect, but because these larger chamber ensembles exemplify the broader musical trends in a crucially important period of change for Viennese chamber music as well as for the Viennese classical style as a whole. Around 1780, as the late Viennese classical style which we today know best through the mature works of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven began to emerge, certain chamber ensembles with standardized musical features were beginning to crystallize out of the mixture of varied scorings common in the chamber music of the 1760s and 1770s.

In fact, the terms "piano quartet" and "piano quintet" are not completely appropriate at the beginning of this period. Not only was the piano just beginning to emerge as the dominant keyboard instrument in Vienna, but the earliest works are not really "piano quartets" or "piano quintets" in the modern sense because such works have little in common with each other except the number of instruments. However, during this critical period at the end of the 18th century, the instrumentation, character and form of works for the larger chamber music ensembles with keyboard did crystallize into these two common ensembles, the piano quartet with violin, viola and violoncello (which became standardized by the late 1790s), and the piano quintet with two violins, viola and violoncello (which became common by around 1810). The emergence of these new chamber music scorings from the late 18th-century Viennese musical milieu not only typifies the changes taking place in Viennese chamber music and musical style as a whole, but also represents the context in which Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were writing their own works for these ensembles.

Only two major scholarly works have addressed the subject of these larger ensembles. The first of these was a 1932 study of the piano quartet by Joseph Saam, which is flawed both in its handling of documentary evidence and in its reliance on an evolutionary, pan-European view of musical style.(1) Much more recent is a 1982 study of Viennese chamber music with keyboard up to 1780 by Michelle Fillion.(2) Fillion's documentary work is sound, but the complex interconnections between the documentary and stylistic evidence are slighted. My dissertation deepens and expands this work in two important ways. First, it concentrates on the Viennese repertory instead of attempting to cover the broader European repertory which Saam studied, and, second, it complements Fillion's work by covering the period after 1780 in Vienna.

The dissertation is in three large parts (see the Chapter Outline, below) -- the first evaluates the documentary evidence, the second examines the music itself, and the third considers the larger implications of the previous two sections and their interdependencies. The description and evaluation of the sources and documents related to this repertory must come first because this evidence provides the basis for determining the pieces of music in the repertory. Even though a work of music is an entity distinct from the editions and manuscripts in which it is transmitted, it is often only through an evaluation of the sources and documents that one can construct hypotheses about the origin and dating of the musical work itself. For the purposes of reconstructing this repertory, the chief criterion for including a work is that it can be documented that editions or manuscripts of the work circulated in Vienna during the period between 1780 and 1810. Four categories of works satisfy this requirement:

  1. Works composed in Vienna
  2. Works published in Vienna
  3. Works extant in Viennese manuscripts dateable to the period
  4. Works known to have been available in Vienna regardless of their place of origin

Most of the documentation of Viennese dissemination comes from music dealers' and publishers' advertisements and catalogs. However, when independent dates from these documents are lacking, one must date the sources themselves by evaluating watermarks and copyists in the case of manuscripts, and dates of publication for editions. Where neither of these types of chronological evidence is available, the most important source of documentation is a pair of catalogs published by the Viennese music dealer, Johann Traeg, in 1799 and 1804. These prove that a large group of works was available in Vienna at least by the time of the catalogs' publication.

The second large part of the dissertation is devoted to a study and analysis of the musical style of the works themselves, comparing the characteristics of Viennese works and those which originate outside Vienna. The works fall into three categories:

  1. Works of Viennese origin
  2. Works from outside Vienna
  3. Works arranged from other genres

By segregating the works into these categories I will be able to determine if the Viennese works exhibit characteristic stylistic features distinct from those originating elsewhere.

The last major section will be a consideration of the significant stylistic and historical issues raised in the previous two sections. These include a number of sociological issues which have a broad impact on questions of musical genre and musical life in late 18th-century Vienna such as the implications of the dissemination pattern, particularly the relative balance between printed and manuscript sources; the intended audience, whether it be professional or amateur musicians or men or women; arrangements of works like string quintets, symphonies and concertos into piano quartets and quintets; and, lastly, a consideration of the possible role Mozart's piano quartets and quintets may have had as models for later composers of chamber music with keyboard. It is my hope that my conclusions about the place of the piano quartet and quintet in Viennese musical life will shed new light on the broader fields of both Viennese chamber music and the Viennese classical style as a whole.


  1. "Zur Geschichte des Klavierquartetts bis in die Romantik" (Ph.D. diss., Ludwigmaximilians Universität, Munich, 1932).
  2. Michelle Marie Fillion, "The Accompanied Keyboard Divertimenti of Haydn and his Viennese Contemporaries (c.1750-1780)" (Ph.D. diss., Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1982).


Chapter 1 - Introduction: A critical evaluation of the historiographical context
Traditional views of Viennese classical style and of Viennese chamber music. The literature on chamber music with keyboard. Towards a new history of Viennese chamber music with keyboard.

Chapter 2 - Determining the repertory of Viennese piano quintets and quartets
Primary sources and documents. Dating and chronology. Terminological problems. The Viennese repertory of chamber music with keyboard and three or more instruments in Vienna, 1780-1810. The piano quartet compared with larger ensembles.

Chapter 3 - Musical style in Viennese piano quartets and quintets
Movement types and forms -- number, order, proportion and structure. Instrumentation and texture -- string independence and the role of the piano. Rhythm and harmony.

Chapter 4 - Viennese piano quartets and quintets and genre in late 18th-century Vienna
The increasing fixity of larger ensembles. The rise of the piano. Intended audience: amateur vs. professional and male vs. female. Printed vs. manuscript dissemination. Arrangements from other genres -- instrumentation, form, style and genre. Mozart's piano quartets and quintets in the context of the Viennese repertory.

Chapter 5 - Conclusions: Towards a new history of late 18th-century Viennese chamber music

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