Cassation (music)

Cassation is a minor musical genre related to the serenade and divertimento. In the mid-to-late 18th century, cassations commonly comprised loosely assembled sets of short movements intended for outdoor performance by orchestral or chamber ensembles. The genre was popular in southern German-speaking lands. Other synonymous titles used by German-speaking composers and cataloguers included Cassatio, Cassatione and Kassation.[1] An equivalent Italian term was Cassazione. The genre is occasionally alluded to in the titles of some twentieth-century compositions.

Eighteenth-century genre

Works titled cassation were especially common in southern Germany, Austria and Bohemia in the mid-to-later part of the eighteenth century.[2] Some early works by Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart bear the title cassation; other composers of the classical and pre-classical era who produced cassations include Franz Joseph Aumann, Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Michael Haydn, Leopold Hofmann, Antonio Rosetti, Joseph Schmitt, Johannes Sperger and Johann Baptist Wanhal.[1][2] Leopold Mozart's Toy symphony was a reduction of his earlier Cassation in G.[3] The Italianized term, cassazione, appears to have been used by Antonio Salieri.[4]

It is hard to discern any substantive formal characteristic that could distinguish cassations from other serenade-like genres, such as the divertimento, notturno, or Finalmusik.[n 1][1] It seems likely that the term cassation was used to refer to the intended social function of the music as outdoor entertainment rather than any particular structural features.[6] Breitkopf's thematic catalogues of the time tended to apply titles such as "cassation" and "divertimento" rather interchangeably, as did the composers themselves.[2] This terminological overlap makes it difficult to distinguish formal characteristics of the cassation as a musical genre.[2] Both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Michael Haydn seem to have used the term only to refer to orchestral pieces, whereas Joseph Haydn called his op. 1 and op. 2 string quartets "cassations".[2] Instrumental and orchestral cassations seem to be stylistically linked to the divertimento and serenade, respectively.[2] By the end of the eighteenth century, the term had fallen out of fashion.[2]

Twentieth century usage

The term was also sporadically adopted in the twentieth century.[2] Malcolm Williamson composed a series of ten mini-operas involving audience participation (especially aimed at children), which he called "cassations".[7] Cassazione is the title of a divertimento-like orchestral piece in a single movement by Jean Sibelius,[8] and of a string sextet by Riccardo Malipiero.[9]


The etymology of the musical term is uncertain.[2] Mozart’s cassations K. 63 and K. 99 open with marches, and the term has been speculatively linked to the Italian word cassa, meaning "drum".[6] Hermann Abert was among those who thought that the term derives from the Italian cassare, meaning "to dismiss",[n 2] implying a musical farewell, or Abschiedsmusik.[2] The French word casser (to break) was also invoked, based on the notion that the movements could be freely broken up into any order.[2] A more likely derivation, reflecting the outdoor character of the genre, involves a transformation of the Austrian dialectal word gassatim: specifically, gassatim gehen was an expression commonly used by local eighteenth-century musicians to refer to street performance.[2][6][11]


  1. Finalmusik was the performance name given to serenade-like compositions, including cassations, written by Mozart and other composers for the summer graduation ceremonies of the University of Salzburg.[5]
  2. The legal usage of the term "cassation" (Italian, cassazione) does derive from the equivalent Late-Latin word, cassare.[10]


  1. Webster, James (1974). "Towards a History of Viennese Chamber Music in the Early Classical Period". Journal of the American Musicological Society. 27 (2): 212–247. doi:10.2307/830559. JSTOR 830559.
  2. Unverricht, Hubert; Eisen, Cliff. "Cassation". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 11 August 2013. (subscription required)
  3. Kennedy, Michael; Bourne, Joyce, eds. (2004). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. Oxford University Press. p. 494. ISBN 978-0-19-860884-4. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  4. Della Croce, Vittorio; Blanchetti, Francesco (1994). Il caso Salieri (in Italian). Eda. p. 564. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  5. Unverricht, Hubert; Eisen, Cliff. "Finalmusik". Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Retrieved 11 August 2013. (subscription required)
  6. "Cassation". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  7. Meredith, Anthony; Harris, Paul (2007). Malcolm Williamson: a mischievous muse. Omnibus. p. 215. ISBN 978-1-84772-102-0.
  8. Tawaststjerna, Erik (1976). Sibelius: 1865-1905. University of California Press. p. 289. ISBN 978-0-520-03014-5. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  9. "Riccardo Malipiero (1914-2003) - Cassazione (String Sextet)". Earsense chamberbase. Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  10. "Cassare". Treccani (in Italian). Retrieved 11 August 2013.
  11. Ulrich, Homer (1966). Chamber Music. Columbia University Press. p. 122. ISBN 0-231-08617-2.
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