Essays in Romanticism

Thomas Holcroft and Joseph Haydn: Mapping an Unlikely Friendship

Essays in Romanticism (2022), 29, (1), 33–49.

Abstract

This essay examines the friendship between the British playwright, novelist, translator, and political activist, Thomas Holcroft, and the Austrian composer, Joseph Haydn. This friendship is explored against the backdrop of the politically fraught 1790s, and the discourse surrounding the French Revolution. Activists such as Holcroft were subjected to legal action; he was arrested during the Treason Trials of 1794 for allegedly taking part in a plot to overthrow the King. Eventually released without trial, Holcroft suffered deeply from the after-effects of his judicial experience. Haydn, conversely, is often seen as a composer who, in his music composed in Britain, exhibited an embrace of militarism and patriotism in works such as Symphony 100 and the canzonetta “The Sailor’s Song.” I argue that this assumed difference in political outlook between Haydn and Holcroft did not impede their friendship and collaboration. The essay concludes with a discussion of their collaboration on the second set of Haydn’s Canzonettas (1795) and Holcroft’s poetic tribute to Haydn published in the London newspapers.

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Author details

Garnai, Amy