Monday, September 19, 2011

Music of the Great Composers – Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Haydn by the English portrait painter Thomas Hardy, not to be confused with the English author of the same name

A few years back, for a time I took almost exclusive refuge in the musical world of Joseph Haydn. Here was music that even when it was troubled was never irrational. The composer was a humble, simple, generally good humoured, thoroughly sane individual with a sense of proportion learned the hard way over an extensive musical career. He was adaptable and eclectic and as well contributed some basic architectural ideas which influenced the music of those who followed him. As a practical matter he certainly seems to have known how to manage people, often difficult people, amazingly well.

It's difficult for most to grasp the enormity of the contributions Haydn made to music, to that which we understand and call “classical” music was given much of its form and proportion due to the almost scientific rationale underlying Haydn's compositional forms, in particular the Symphony, a form he did not invent, but one he perfected in writing a record 106 of them. Some have actually achieved being able to own a copy of a recording of every single one, as they are all known and widely circulated. It is also widely taught that Haydn was “papa Haydn” to the younger generations of composers who flocked to Vienna at the end of the 18th century, including Mozart and Beethoven. Well, Haydn was just getting off the ground at the age in his life when it was fated that Mozart should leave this world. Mozart was the real genius and Haydn knew it. As for Beethoven, the two got along better than most believe and Haydn might even have been put upon by the younger composer and pianist to take him along with him on another trip to London. But Haydn supposedly thought, probably correctly, that Beethoven would steal away all the attention of the admiring women they would encounter there, many who may have been on more than familiar terms with the amiable old man. Ben Franklin wasn't the only one: It is a complicated world enough, but especially among musicians, who likely as not would have become rivals on such a shared tour. The world was big enough for a Mozart and a Haydn to co-exist in because Haydn had his secure position out of town and those in town were trying to ignore Mozart, despite his quite exceptional international reputation, and then of course there was an economic collapse and Mozart died. Haydn was in London at the time and was shocked. It is said by some that Haydn expected there was more to it than just natural causes too. Haydn wished he had been able to be there to help, being actually a very learned man having had a lot of opportunity to spend time among his master's books despite his hectic work schedule.

As for his master, Haydn's Prince was a Hungarian plutocrat / ruler of his day and what this imperious fellow wanted morning, noon and night, was original music. He hired Haydn and as time passed he succeeded the former musical director and spent nearly thirty years in the service of this Prince and then of his brother when he in turn became Prince. It gave Haydn a lot of time to develop himself and his art. He was tremendously prolific and because he stayed in one place most of the time, most of it is still with us.

In 1790 his Prince died and Haydn was offered the opportunity to go to England and there he wrote some of his crowning musical achievements, the London symphonies. Oh yes, before he'd been offered the London gig, he'd dashed off six symphonies for Paris too, to be presented there by a fashionable orchestra. But London picked him up instead and he flourished there, went back a second time and in the process cemented a position among the English who perhaps to this day regard Haydn as very much one of their own composers. Think of that when you hear this Symphony #94 in G Major (The Surprise, a name it acquired later). Yes, that's right, this was Haydn's ninety-fourth Symphony. Beethoven only wrote nine, Mozart, who comes in second, wrote 43 or so.

The Haydn symphony, even in mature form, is a light thing, and notice especially how much is achieved with so little. Haydn greatly admired Mozart for this as well. Beethoven would build upon Haydn's sturdy foundation and many others would follow in a procession leading right into the present time. The version I found had some elements of both old and new performance practice, but this performance strikes a nice balance. They are Camerata Romana conducted by Alberto Lizzio. I know nothing about them. The Symphony is in four movements:

1. Adagio - Vivace assai
2. Andante
3. Menuetto: Allegro molto
4. Finale: Allegro molto

There is music for every kind of occasion, imagine this as music for an occasion to entertain people who took to attending a daytime concert in a large room rather than a concert hall where outside drinks and sandwiches might be served and there might have been less than silence even during the performance itself. This symphony has a gag in it, the surprise in the second movement, and perhaps it is in there to signify the composer's wit to his audience for having better things to do than to be nice enough to listen quietly to his music. Haydn was very fond of jokes and there are plenty of them throughout his music, so why not?


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