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Haydn’s mehrstimmige Gesänge , composed between 1796 and 1799, have mostly been given but scarce attention by scholars. In this paper I strive to re-contextualize the partsongs both as regards Haydn’s own oeuvre and the history of the genre in general. I argue that, while the composer may have been aware of the male quartets by his brother Michael, and was certainly familiar with the English glee tradition, his partsongs consciously seek to redefine the genre by raising its compositional, as well as performing, standards to a uniquely high level (hence the word “utopia” in my title). While the composer’s aim appears to have been to set an example by exploring diverse artistic possibilities of the genre, the reception of his partsongs proved highly selective: the religious songs were praised as worthy models by conservative writers, whereas the comic pieces puzzled critics with their combination of highly elaborate music and resolutely lowbrow texts, which did not seem to deserve, as it were, such compositional care. Thus, the reception of the partsongs reinforces a common Haydn stereotype of the early 19th century: he is seen as a master of outstanding originality and compositional skill, whose achievements can only be admired, but whose example is not always to be followed.

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