If you have been listening to Haydn's music for a while, even a long while, you must certainly have noticed that when all is said and done, you really don't know a whole lot about what followed what in the order of composition. Certainly there are those of you out there who could care less about such esoteric trivia. On the other hand, many of us care much about it, and are rightfully frustrated when we discover we just can't know all the answers.
Here is an example which might illustrate this point. The symphonies are arguably Haydn's best known and popular works. If anything will be well researched and properly listed it will be those. But no. Because of inertia in the world of music, the order dictated by Hoboken in the 1950's, cribbed from the one set out by Eusebius Mandyczewski in 1907, continues to reign supreme over 100 years later, even though a much more accurate order is now known. So, if you still take Hoboken numbers because they are easy and readily available, then consider the actual first 10 symphonies are not Nos. 1 - 10. They are 1, 37, 18, 2, 4, 27, 10, 20, 17 & 19!!
Chances are poor there will ever be an exactly correct chronology of Haydn’s symphonies. This hasn’t stopped a lot of people from having a go at making a good one though.
Among the oldest sources to help this cause are the Entwurf Katalog (ca. 1766) and the Haydn Verzeichnis (1805), both of which Haydn either wrote or dictated. Unfortunately, categorizing the works according to their date of origin was hardly a priority for him. It seems he was only interested in the completeness of the indexes. This circumstance, as well as the fact Haydn often dated his early scores using only the year (if at all), has made Haydn's own catalogs no more than modestly helpful for chronologists. This is only confused further by the individual collectors (all the great monasteries, for example) who cataloged these works at the time of issue, but according to their own arcane systems. And of course, there are the unanswered questions in relation to dating; like ‘how long did it take for a manuscript score to show up at a monastery in Bohemia after it was composed in Vienna or Hungary? One week? Five years? So if a manuscript is dated '1762', is this the date when it was composed? Copied out? Acquired by the owner? The Entwurf Katalog actually has done as much harm as good, since most recording companies and many authors even, not having strong enough feelings on the matter to do the research, simply put "1766 (the year the catalog was written) or earlier" for a date, and down the road even lazier followers simply shortened this up to 1766. So the first time I tried to organize my music this way, my folder for 1766 was HUGE!
Most of the better evidence comes in the form of paper studies (dating via watermarks has gotten to the point of being a precise science) or handwriting of either a composer or his known copyists. And then the most convincing but probably least accurate, stylistic analysis.
So as we have seen, we are left with Mandyczewski, then Hoboken, then Landon and his followers. Landon was the first to diverge from the previous attempts, but even in cases where he is conceded to be exactly correct, the system remains dominated by Hoboken’s numbers and likely always will. Just ask any Mozartian abut Köchel 1 numbers! Why do we care about this? Mostly because accuracy in history reveals things to us, while inaccuracy leads us astray. We often are curious about things like the orchestra a work was written for, or why in this symphony is there such fabulous horn playing yet in this one, not so much. The answers only come when we can say something more than ‘this is #72 so it must be pretty late along’. Then we discover that #72 is really #30, composed in 1763 at a time when Haydn had 4 superb horns in his orchestra.
Keeping Hoboken’s numbering system prevents Haydn’s extensive body of work from the hopeless chaos which would set in if new “more correct” numbering systems were devised every few years. So, that’s what we do. For now.
If you will check this reference link area from time to time, you will soon find more pages subsequent to this one which will present the best known chronology for a great variety of Haydn's music. I hope you will find it useful. Please drop me a comment or an email with any corrections or questions you might have. This is digital, so no hammers and chisels are required to edit.
Thanks for reading!