Der krumme Teufel

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Der krumme Teufel
Singspiel by Joseph Haydn
Joseph Haydn.jpg
Portrait of the composer by Thomas Hardy, in 1791
Translation The Lame Devil
Librettist Johann Joseph Felix Kurtz
Language German
Premiere c. 1751
Kärntnertortheater, Vienna

Der krumme Teufel (The Lame Devil[1][2][3] or "The Limping Devil",[4] ca. 1751), Hob. 29/1a, was Joseph Haydn's first opera. This German-language comic opera in the genre of Singspiel was commissioned by its librettist, leading comic actor Johann Joseph Felix Kurtz. It was forbidden after two acclaimed performances in Vienna due to "offensive remarks in the text",[5] but later revived and probably revised as Der neue krumme Teufel ("The Return of the Lame Devil",[6] ca. 1757), Hob. 29/1b. The music is lost, though a libretto survives for each version.


The title Der krumme Teufel is often translated as "The Lame Devil",[1][2][3] "The Limping Devil",[4] or "The Crooked Devil",[4] and has at times been rendered as "The Stooped Devil"[7] or altered to "The Deceitful Devil".[8]

The opera was in the genre of Singspiel, with spoken dialogue rather than recitative.[9] The music was intended as a vehicle for Johann Joseph Felix Kurz, who wrote the text. Under the stage name "Bernardon", Kurz was a leading comic actor at the time in Vienna, whose troupe performed at the Kärntnertortheater.

The text is often seen as a satire of the limping Italian[7] Giuseppe Affligio (1722–1788),[10] a shady adventurer who established himself in Vienna as impresario and theater director (later involved with Mozart, then arrested for forgery in 1778 and condemned to life imprisonment in 1779),[11] but others dispute that he was already in Vienna around 1751 and also consider unlikely that the revised version's 1770 performance was about him.[12]


Haydn wrote the opera at a very early stage of his career. Having recently lost his soprano voice, and hence his job as a chorister at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Haydn was maintaining a precarious existence as a freelance musician. One way he supplemented his income was as a street serenader, which was how he came to get his first operatic commission. The story is told as follows in the early biography of Haydn by Georg August Griesinger (1810), who based his account on Haydn's reminiscences in old age:

"Once he went to serenade the wife of Kurz, a comic actor very popular at the time and usually called Bernardon. Kurz came into the street and asked for the composer of the music just played. Hardly had Haydn, who was about nineteen years old, identified himself when Kurz urged him strongly to compose an opera for him."[13]

Another contemporary biographer who interviewed Haydn was Albert Christoph Dies (1810). His version of the tale (in which Haydn is said to be 21, not 19) characteristically embellishes that of Griesinger, giving details of how the comic actor conducted the interview:

" ‘You sit down at the Flügel {said Kurz} and accompany the pantomime I will act out for you with some suitable music. Imagine now Bernardon has fallen into the water and is trying to save himself by swimming.’ Then he calls his servant, throws himself flat on the stomach across a chair, makes the servant pull the chair to and fro around the room, and kicks his arms and legs like a swimmer, while Haydn expresses in six-eight time the play of waves and swimming. Suddenly Bernardon springs up, embraces Haydn, and practically smothers him with kisses. ‘Haydn, you're the man for me! You must write me an opera!’ So began Der krumme Teufel {The Lame Devil}. Haydn received twenty-five ducats for it and counted himself rich indeed."[3]


According to Dies, "This opera was performed twice to great acclaim, and then was forbidden because of offensive remarks in the text."[5] However, the work was performed again in 1752, and a revised version, Der neue krumme Teufel ("The Return of the Lame Devil",[6] lit. "The New Limping Devil"), Hob. 29/1b, was successfully performed in 1757 or 1758.[6]

Peter Branscombe reconstructs the musical ensembles from the surviving libretto, indicating it was a fairly ambitious work: there were "32 arias as well as a duet, a trio, three choruses and one ambitiously large-scale ensemble movement".[9] The opera also included a pantomime.[14]

James Van Horn Melton suggests that Haydn went on to compose further works for Kurz, all now lost:

"It is now generally believed he composed the music for numerous other Kurz burlesques as well. Extant scores from Kurz's stage point to Haydn as composer of at least three other farces, Bernardon auf der Gelseninsel (Bernardon on the isle of mosquitoes, 1754), Der auf das neue begeisterte und belebte Bernardon (Bernardon revived, 1754), and Leopoldl, der deutsche Robinson (Leopoldl, the German Robinson Crusoe, 1756?), since they contain passages similar to those found in other Haydn works. The finale of Haydn’s keyboard sonata in A major (Hoboken XVI. 5), for example, has as its theme an almost literal quotation from the aria "Wurstl, mein Schatzerl, wo wirst Du wohl seyn" in Leopoldl, der deutsche Robinson."[15]

Der krumme Teufel, and the collaboration with Kurz more generally, helped the early career success of Haydn, who by 1757 was no longer a struggling freelancer but a Kapellmeister with his own orchestra to direct; see Count Morzin.


  1. ^ a b Butterworth 1978 [1977], p. 23: "In 1752 Haydn composed the music for a burlesque opera called Der Krumme Teufel (The Lame Devil)." [sic]
  2. ^ a b Jurkowski, Henryk, with Francis, Penny, collab. ed. (1996). A History of European Puppetry: From Its Origins to the End of the 19th Century (Vol. 1 of A History of European Puppetry), Edwin Mellen Press, 427 pages, ISBN 0-7734-8803-0, p. 131: "[...], and others such as Der krumme Teufel (The Lame Devil), [...]"
  3. ^ a b c Dies 1810/1968 (tr. Gotwals), p. 97–98, as quoted in Beghin & Goldberg 2007, p. 93.
  4. ^ a b c Barber, David W. (1990). When the Fat Lady Sings: Opera History as It Ought to Be Taught, Sound and Vision, 141 pages, ISBN 0-920151-11-6, p. 54: "Haydn wrote his first opera, Der krumme Teufel (The Crooked or Limping Devil) when he was just 19, and earning some extra money as a street musician in Vienna."
  5. ^ a b Dies 1810/1968 (tr. Gotwals), p. 97–98, as quoted in Beghin & Goldberg 2007, p. 9394.
  6. ^ a b c Beghin & Goldberg 2007, p. 94.
  7. ^ a b Hofmann, Paul (1988). The Viennese: Splendor, Twilight, and Exile, Anchor Press, 346 pages, ISBN 0-385-23974-2, p. 79: "[Haydn] composed quartets and piano sonatas, and a comic opera, Der krumme Teufel (The Stooped Devil), which was a joke on a limping Italian theater manager commissioned by a mischievous actor; [...]"
  8. ^ Robbins Landon, H. C. (1970). Essays on the Viennese Classical Style: Gluck, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, New York: Macmillan, XI-187 pages, no ISBN (OCLC 462206390), p. 5: "Haydn's very first opera was a German comedy for the Vienna Opera entitled Der neue Krumme Teufel (The New Deceitful Devil), [...]"
  9. ^ a b Branscombe 1975
  10. ^ Alternative versions of his name: d'Affligio, Afflisio, d'Afflisio, Afflissio, d'Afflissio)
  11. ^ "Affligio, Giuseppe", article in The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia, ISBN 978-0-521-85659-1, online excerpt.
  12. ^ Badura-Skoda 1973, p. 192: "[...] Affligio was not in Vienna in 1751–3. He could have been parodied only on a later occasion, perhaps a performance of Der neue krumme Teufel in 1770, when he was indeed theatre director. But even then it seems unlikely."
  13. ^ Translations of Griesinger and Dies from Gotwals, cited below.
  14. ^ The libretto says, "The music of the comic opera, as well as of the pantomime, is composed by Mr. Joseph Haydn" ("Die Musique sowohl von der Opera-Comique, als auch der Pantomime ist componiret von Herrn Joseph Heyden"; Branscombe 1975).
  15. ^ Melton 2004, 265


Primary sources

  • Dies, Albert Christoph (1810). Biographical Accounts of Joseph Haydn, Vienna. English translation by Vernon Gotwals, in Haydn: Two Contemporary Portraits (1968), Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press.
  • Griesinger, Georg August (1810). Biographical Notes Concerning Joseph Haydn, Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel. English translation by Vernon Gotwals, in Haydn: Two Contemporary Portraits (1968), Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press.

Secondary sources