Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Fine Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Karen M. Bottge


It is nearly impossible to read scholarship on Franz Joseph Haydn and escape the mention of musical humor. Scholars have long recognized the presence of humorous elements within Haydn’s compositions. Current 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.

I begin by exploring and defining humor itself. Centuries of literature on the topic are generally parsed into three fundamental categories: Superiority Theory, Relief Theory, and Incongruity Theory. More contemporary approaches combine 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.

The minuet’s roles in eighteenth-century Western European culture as a ballroom dance, an emblem of social propriety, a compositional learning tool, and even a parlor dice game make it a complex genre to explore. Alongside its many cultural roles come various connotations and expectations; even those minuets performed away from the ballroom and parlor thus 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 a musical element (i.e., phrase length, hypermeter, tempo, or surface rhythm) behaved in a way that altered the expected choreomusical interactions, the listener’s response was likely to be strongly embodied. Such heightened physiological reaction to the music, combined with the mental and emotional response to their denied expectations, harbors the potential for multi-faceted humor analyses.

Over the course of ten close musical readings of select Opp. 76 and 77 minuets I explore various devices of musical humor. A large proportion of my analyses focus on hypermeter, as it is strongly related to the minuet choreography; I also explore humor as it relates to stylistic and affective norms. I rely on the expectations of a standard eighteenth-century listener to guide my analyses, and use elements of traditional humor theories to discuss the listener’s responses to the music.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

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Music Theory Commons