The Onstage Instrumental Musician as Theatre Performer
"Nicht mehr." No more. This phrase is strategically written throughout the score of the last movement of Joseph Haydn’s Symphony 45 in F# minor (1772), and it signals the musicians, in groups of twos and threes, to rise, blow out the music stand candle, and walk off stage. This ritual is repeated until only two violinists remain. By the end of the piece the orchestra is gone, and the stage is dark. Haydn’s clever use of both musical and theatrical devices not only made for wonderful entertainment but also served an ulterior purpose. The movement was, in fact, written as a not-so-subtle message to his patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy. The orchestral musicians, most of them family men, had been playing for weeks past their usually limited engagement at the Prince’s summer home. The Prince immediately understood Haydn’s meaning and released the musicians from their duties. By their actions these instrumentalists, in addition to gaining their freedom, had become actors.
From the earliest evidence of instrumental musicians in the works of Homer, through the performers of commedia dell'arte at Renaissance street fairs, in the operas of Mozart and Rossini, and presently on Broadway, onstage instrumentalists have played a unique role in theatre. This paper explores the social, political, and economic significance of these performers in historical context.
Keywords: Onstage, Instrumental Musicians, Theatre, Performance
Dr. Winston Stone
Visiting Assistant Professor, Aesthetic Studies