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Writing a Haydn Menuetto

A good way to really get inside the style of a composer is to try and recreate the experience of composing one of their pieces. This is of course impossible, but you can get a taste by trying the pastiche exercise suggested here.

These pages take you through the composition of a quartet extract that uses the structure of the first eight bars of the Menuetto from one quartet with motifs stolen from another. Below is a step-by-step method for doing this sort of exercise which you should then try yourself, perhaps with a slightly longer extract. The model here is Haydn's Op. 33 no. 4.

Step One
Choose a model for your Menuetto - Haydn's Op. 33 quartets offer some good examples that are also not too long. Photocopy and annotate thoroughly, marking the following on the score:

  • harmony - one chord per bar and a few more running up to cadences is probably enough detail most of the time (label the harmony on every beat and it will be almost impossible to copy with different motifs)
  • phrase structure (e.g. the first section of a menuett might be 2+2+4 bars)
  • motivic structure - break down the main melodic material into short motifs of around a bar in length and mark where they appear with X, Y etc. You can also mark where variants are used.
  • accompanying figures - some figures may be melodic and deserve a label (A, B etc) others may be an arpeggio figuration, a held chord etc. in which case describe them.
  • texture - show who is playing with who (e.g. violin I in thirds with violin II or lower three parts in rhythmic unison)
  • dynamics - make a note of the dynamics, you may decide to do something different but it is good to be aware.
An example of eight bars marked up in this way: Menuetto from Op. 33/4.

Step Two

  • write a out blank template for a string quartet marked up with the details noted in the step one
  • write closed position triads according to the harmonic structure in thecello line for reference when you are composing (to make life easier you might want to transpose the whole harmonic structure into C major).
  • find some motivic material in another Haydn quartet to use as a basis for your Menuetto. Do not choose anything too elaborate.
  • work out and label the harmonic implications of your motifs so you are ready to transpose them to fit the harmonies of your template where necessary.

Example of Step Two.

Step Three
This is the hard bit where you learn the most and this web page can help you the least! Try and follow as many details of your model as possible - you will have to play around with your material to make it work.

  • put in main motifs (and appropriate) where they are marked in the score, transposing them to fit the harmonies. If two parts are playing the motifs in thirds, unison or octaves, do the same in your version
  • write melodic accompanying figures where marked - these will have to be written to fit the motifs you have chosen
  • fill in other accompanying parts such as chords, held notes or arpeggiated figurations.
An example of Step Three

Step Four
Now step back from your Menuetto and check it. This last step is just as important as the first three. You need to check carefully for voice-leading and any other mistakes and also for anything that feels awkward or un-Haydnesque. Don't be afraid to change it freely until you feel it works.

The finished product!

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