The face of a musical genius: Thomas Hardy's portrait of Joseph Haydn

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Citation:
Eighteenth-Century Music, 2009, 6 (2), pp. 209 - 227
Issue Date:
2009-09-01
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Haydn's first visit to England in 1791 was accompanied by a publicity war waged between his supporters and detractors. The composer's friends were keen to present him as a musical genius while at the same time defending him against what they saw as reactionary criticisms over rules and taste. One such defence was in the form of a portrait by Thomas Hardy, probably the most famous image of the composer. While readily considered today as a matter-of-fact representation of an urbane Georgian gentleman, the portrait is in fact a sophisticated response to contemporary arguments surrounding Haydn, and presents him as an inventive genius of taste and judgment. By the manipulation of portrait conventions, Hardy created a visual representation of the composer analogous to written accounts by supporters such as Charles Burney. Haydn is shown as a man confident in his contribution to musical posterity, and the image reinforces advice from the time that repeated listening to and study of his music was required properly to appreciate it. The portrait has lost its original force as conceptions of genius changed from the early nineteenth century, reflecting a shift in the aesthetics of both music and visual art. © 2009 Cambridge University Press.
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