Somewhat surprisingly, he starts his portrayal—titled “The Representation of Chaos”—with a unison C played by the full orchestra. It has no harmony, no dissonance, no melody and no rhythmic pulse, only an extended decrescendo on this single note. It is not nothing, but as Donald Francis Tovey wrote, “here is your infinite empty musical space.” And from this nothing, Haydn ingeniously assembles the fundamental materials of music in a mere 59 measures. Two notes create an interval, joined by another single note to create a chord. But this basic triad exists in a harmonic vacuum, as “Haydn denies the existence of tonal organization.” Skillfully withholding cadences from the end of phrases, Haydn depicts chaos through progressions that do not adhere to the established conventions of his day. Harmonies that do not resolve as expected, and by employing “misguided modulations,” Haydn “uses the means of art to frustrate the effects of art.”
Not everybody was enamored with this “total muddle,” and Hector Berlioz famously suggested that “all these conventionalities put me in such a sour mood that I would like to kill someone.” I hope he didn’t, but Haydn’s visionary treatment of harmony—it took Wagner over half a century to come up with his “Tristan Chord’—is clear testimony of a musical genius of unsurpassed imagination and originality.
Joseph Haydn: “Representation of Chaos,” The Creation