Dissertation Index

Author: Salamone, Jennifer L.

Title: Misbehaving Minuets: A Preliminary Theory of Humor and Dance Form in Haydn\'s Opp. 76 and 77

Institution: University of Kentucky

Begun: January 2015

Completed: April 2017


It is nearly impossible to read scholarship on Franz Joseph Haydn and escape the mention of musical humor. Scholarly literature delves into various aspects of humor in the composer’s works; in this project I focus specifically on humorous aspects of the minuet and trio movements from the late string quartets, Opp. 76 and 77. Through ten close musical readings I explore various devices of musical humor. I rely on the expectations of a standard eighteenth-century listener to guide my analyses, using elements of traditional humor theories to discuss the listener’s responses to the music.

I begin by exploring and defining humor itself. Centuries of literature are generally parsed into three fundamental categories: Superiority, Relief, and Incongruity Theories. Contemporary approaches utilize elements of these, creating what I call blended approaches. The burgeoning topic of music aesthetics has invited a wealth of exploration into humor as it specifically pertains to music; I combine traditional philosophical theories with these contemporary discussions in music to develop my analytical model.

Alongside the minuet’s many cultural roles in eighteenth-century Western Europe come various connotations and expectations; even those minuets performed away from the ballroom carry layers of suggested meaning. The ubiquity of the minuet dance suggests that listeners during Haydn’s career would have been exceedingly familiar with the choreographic conventions and stylistic norms at play. When the music engages with and even contradicts these expectations, it has the potential to arouse affective responses—possibly humor—in its listeners.

Because of their familiarity with the minuet dance, eighteenth-century listeners likely subconsciously engaged with imagined choreographic patterns when hearing a concert minuet. If the music behaved in a way that contradicted the expected choreomusical interactions, the listener would likely have an embodied response. Such heightened physiological reaction to the music, combined with the mental and emotional response to denied expectations, harbors the potential for multi-faceted humor analyses.

Keywords: Joseph Haydn, minuet, humor, string quartet, hypermeter, aesthetics


CHAPTER 1. Setting the Stage: Haydn, Humor, and the Minuet
Convention and Expectation in Instrumental Music
Haydn’s Musical Discourse
Wit, Humor, and Haydn’s Music
The Minuet as a Vehicle for Humor

CHAPTER 2. Aspects of Humor within Western History and in Tonal Music
Superiority Theory: Humor as a Moral Compass
Relief Theory: Humor as a Pressure Valve
Incongruity Theory: Humor of the Dissimilar
Bridging Gaps: Blended Approaches to Humor
Humor in Tonal Music

CHAPTER 3. The Minuet and its Roles in Eighteenth-Century Western Europe
The Minuet in the Ballroom
The Minuet as a Compositional Game
The Minuet in Transition
Overview of Minuet Choreography and Notation
Listening to Minuet Music

CHAPTER 4. Hypermetric Disruption Devices
Blurring the Lines: Elisions and Overlaps
Hypermetric Addendums and the Six-Measure Phrase

CHAPTER 5. Exploring Other Humor Devices
Hypermetric Disruption Concurrent with Other Devices
Beyond Hypermetric Disturbance

CHAPTER 6. Conclusions and Looking Ahead


Jennifer Salamone
(845) 313-9531

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