Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Year's Music: Joseph Haydn's Symphonies

Continuing my year-long listening to sacred or spiritual music... Haydn's symphonies aren't sacred music per se, but I love to listen to them as I do about my work, and they cheer me up when I'm blue---all of which is close enough for me.

Several years ago I ordered the Adam Fischer-conducted, 33-CD set of Haydn's 104 symphonies, which included two string quartets for which woodwind parts were discovered, and a sinfonia concertante. At least once a year, I've made it a little "project" to begin with the first disc and play the whole set over a period of weeks. Lately, I've listened to the Antal Dorati-conducted set, downloaded from iTunes, although I enjoy Fischer a little more with Haydn's slow movements. I believe that Dorati's was the first complete recording of Haydn's symphonies.

I don't listen attentively to all the music; it's in the background as I write and work. But that's a way to discover favorite music as certain passages and movements stand out in my subconscious mind. Almost inevitably, I "perk up" to a slow movement or a menuetto movement: for instance, the minuets of symphonies 61, 71, and 80. My favorite movement from all the symphonies is the slow movement of 44, the Trauer ("Mourning") symphony. But I also enjoy the entire symphonies 6, 7, and 8--- named Morning, Midday, and Evening---as well as 16, 22 ("Philosopher"), 82 ("The Bear"), and others. Every time I do a "marathon" I discover a few favorite.

So far, on this marathon, I'm up to #20, so I've a ways to go.

The April 2009 issue of Gramophone, page 110, contains this comment from critic Geraint Lewis as he reflected on the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death.

"When he died in 1809, no previous composer in the entire history of music had enjoyed such universal and unanimous acclaim. So something obviously went wrong to turn him into Tovey's 'Haydn the Inaccessible' in 1932 (the bicentenary of his birth) and to become Holloway's 'well kept secret' today. With supreme irony, it was the immediate and subsequent evolution of Western music that unwittingly eclipsed and then proceeded to distort a general understanding of most of the output of its essential progenitor, while none the less retaining his essential DNA deep within his being. Whoa there, you may well be tempted to interject! But just imagine that Haydn had perished in the devastating fire which destroyed his tiny house in Eisenstadt's Klostergasse on August 2, 1767. Where then would have been the grit which gave birth to the pearl in Mozart's oyster-shell? And what would have become of young Beethoven without those pivotal 18 months in 1792-93 spent sitting at Haydn's elbow and looking over his shoulder?"

I also subscribe to Listen: Life with Classical Music. In the second issue (May/June 2009), David Hurwitz writes about “Music’s Greatest Innovator.” Haydn “enlarged the expressive scope of [instrumental] music to include not just happiness and sadness in varying degrees, but also humor, irony, desolation, ambivalence--the entire gamut of emotional expression” (p. 53). Haydn’s music differs from previous music because “it “involves a uniquely musical quality (that branch of harmony called ‘tonality,’ or more commonly ‘key’) that Haydn used as the organizing principal of a large instrumental work--what later became known as ‘sonata form.’ This later term… in Haydn’s hands really means turning a piece of music into a related series of dramatic events moving through time as you listen… His themes have specific personalities or characteristics that we can hear change, evolve and interact over the course of a movement or entire work” (p. 54). Hurwitz writes that “Baroque music tends to explore one basic emotion, or ‘affect,’ at a time” (p. 54), while in Haydn, “each movement shows a whole range of contrasting feelings and seldom restricts itself to just one” (p. 55). Haydn’s discovery of musical development “put abstract music on the same footing in terms of importance as vocal music because in his hands it achieves a similar expressive depth and specificity. And this, by any measure, was a true musical revolution, something that had never been done before” (p. 56). Interestingly, because Haydn’s music was not readily available and because he did not fit the later Romanic conception of the artist, his reputation faded and he was perceived as Beethoven’s precursor (p. 56).

I want to give a shout-out to Haydn's brother, Michael, too. I recently purchased a CD set of twenty of his symphonies. When I log onto Pandora Radio, I often choose the Michael Haydn play list and enjoy most every piece. Both Joseph and Michael were associated with St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, which we were privileged to visit in 2007 when my daughter's choir toured central Europe and sang there for a noon service.

Here is an article, which I just discovered, wherein this listener attempted to put all 104 symphonies "in order of greatness." Whew!

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