Review Summary: Music as we know it.
Make Forgotten Composers Great Again. No. 1.
In a series entitled “Make Forgotten Composers Great Again”, the beginning entry has got to go to Herr Joseph Haydn. Now if I were to say something like this, that Haydn is a forgotten composer, to a classical music veteran, I just might get slapped. After all, they don’t call him “Papa Haydn” for nothing, for the great Austrian not only fathered the string quartet and the symphony, but also the form in which these two eminently popular genres are cast, sonata form. This may not be all that persuasive in and of itself. One may think, “well no one remembers the name of the guy who invented the telescope [Hans Lippershey], and even if he or she did it was the mighty Galileo who took his invention and popularized it,” the argument being that what Lippershey is to Galileo, Haydn is to Mozart, in other words a nobody. But like any argument that is by definition valid yet unsound, the thesis conforms to the dictates of logic and not to the dictates of reality. And here's the thing…
Franz Joseph Haydn, born March 31st 1732, died May 31st 1809, is the single most influential composer in music history. Ever. Herr Haydn damn near single handedly moved the needle of music history from one epoch to another. The fact that the musical world of 1809 is so wildly different than that of 1732 stems from the mind of a single man, and that’s Joseph Haydn. I’ll give it to you in a manner more Ciceronian… If you were to adjust the knobs on your telescope, as it were, and take a broader look at the universe and its expanses, you would see that it is Haydn and not Beethoven to whom every composer born at a later date responds, that it is the questions posed by Haydn that everyone from Mozart to Schoenberg answer, and that it is Haydn and no one else who invented music as we know it today.
Unfortunately, the shameful fact remains that nobody knows and nobody cares. Has anyone outside the ever-dwindling community of classical music lovers ever heard of him？No. To get a sense of how truly shocking this is, I’ll offer a parallel. It would be like if someone had never heard of Beethoven. Even the guy most-most-most uninterested in classical music would undoubtedly raise his brow, “What？You’ve never heard of Beethoven？The
Beethoven？The ‘Da-Na-Na-Naaaaaa’ guy？No？Nothing？？” That’s really what it’s like, and to me, frankly, it disgraces the Papa’s memory. So, in an attempt to make a forgotten composer great again, even if it’s only to a single person, here is the great Symphony No. 93 in D Major.
Haydn’s ninety-third is one in the set of the Twelve London Symphonies eponymously named after Haydn’s two stays in the city in the 1790s. There are two sets of six each. Symphonies Nos. 93–98 were composed during Haydn's first visit to London, and Symphonies Nos. 99–104 were composed in Vienna and London for Haydn's second visit. Like all of the London Symphonies, No. 93 is quite exquisite, an example of perfected sonata form, and representative of the classical age which Haydn ushered in. The first movement, an allegro in 3/4, begins with an adagio introduction that starts with three foreboding fortissimo Ds the orchestra holds in unison. As the first notes that start off the set of the Twelve, they signal the beginning of something grand; the audience has only to wait. Bruckner may as well have written these notes. After the poky twenty-measure excursion, which lasts about a fifth of the movement and deliciously previews the sophistication of the Twelve, the sonata proper begins.
The first theme is quintessential Haydn, who as opposed to the elemental and hyper-architectural Beethoven, presents a theme in full bloom. This is to say that T.1 is not a theme which on its own would sound clumsy or juvenile, think of the opening four notes of Beethoven’s 5th, but stands on its own as complete piece of music. In typical Haydinian fashion the layering of the melody, accompaniment, and bass is crystalline yet full and sonorous. There is also the presence of a rhythm so buoyant we conjure up images of the musical milieu of Haydn’s youth in which one of the foremost purposes of music was to act as an impetus for dance. Like much of Haydn’s music, the theme is full of cheer, optimism and confidence. T.2 bounces in a similar fashion. The development section sees the themes drastically reworked, motifs are inverted and cycled through far reaching harmonic progressions and minor tonalities. Blues and greens shift back and forth and side to side.
I want to pause here to pose a question. Take the last few sentences about Haydn’s treatment of No. 93’s themes in the development. Would this statement not aptly apply to any symphony of Beethoven, Brahms, or Mahler？It would. They all use similar techniques in fashioning a dramatic discourse. Why then did the 19th century look down on the “genial yet superficial” Haydn？I suspect that it is because we are all victims of our own times. The 19th century had no patience for Haydn’s preoccupation with “taste” rather than “expression”. In fact, for most of Haydn’s long life the term “expression” had not yet entered the lexicon of musical vocabulary. Haydn’s music strove for an objective aesthetic, and the 19th century, with its hyper emphasis on emotion and individuality, had no patience for the brilliance and animal spirits of Haydn’s Classicism. And this is the point to emphasize. One needs to come to Haydn’s music with a fresh and open mind. Haydn will not sound like anyone but himself, nor should he, and after the initial shock wears off, you’ll see that his music offers an aesthetic equally as pleasing.
The opening of the second movement, a slow and songlike rondo, is reminiscent of a lovely boat ride down a river in Arcadia punctuated by rocky terrain along the way. The end of the movement introduces us to another aspect of Haydn’s personality. He’s funny. His music is known for its charming wit and humor. The music gradually takes on a more serious character by slowing and softening until a single pianissimo note is passed from the strings to the winds and back again with a full measure of rest before each handoff. Suddenly blasts an enormous fortissimo bassoon “fart”. This kind of hilarity only achieves its effect in a musical environment full of levity. As you can see, Haydn very refreshingly did not take him self too seriously, and no other composer was so conscious of the listener.
The third movement is an allegro Minuetto and Trio. The Minuetto is highly rhythmic, jubilant, and folk-like. The strings, horns, and winds work in concert to bounce the tune back and forth between themselves and drive the music forward. This is another aspect of Haydn’s music; the solo-esque treatment of individual groups of instruments. Unlike any symphonist after him, yes that includes Mozart, Haydn treated the symphony as a collection of soloists. The winds ought to work in tandem with strings etc., yet each group has their own passages that are not only above the rest, as they should be in a solo passage, but are also highly individual in character. The equality of division effects an enormous
variety of musical ideas that is found nowhere else in the symphonic cannon.
The fourth and final movement is another example of Haydn’s consciousness of the listener. In between sections of the main theme, presto ma non troppo, the oboe quotes “Viva la liberta” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. To Haydn, music ought to engage in a dialogue with the listener rather than lecture them about the nature of reality as the Romantics so often liked to do. Cough *Mahler* cough. Leave that to the philosophers and grammarians, right？But this is the greatness of Joseph Haydn. He fathered musical principals so wonderfully malleable that people of various and sundry personalities, time periods, and countries could engage with and adapt to.
Even if all Haydn had ever done was to, you know, be an almost entirely self-taught composer, become the music director for one of the most important noble families in Hungarian history (whose lineage stretches back to the middle Renaissance and continued until the 1940s, the Esterházy) for forty-nine years, establish the First Viennese School, mentor Mozart, teach Beethoven, write one hundred and four symphonies, eighty-three string quartets, sixty-two piano sonatas, forty-five piano trios, fifteen operas, fourteen masses, three oratorios—two of which are unquestionable masterpieces—vie with Mozart for the position of the most celebrated composer in Europe, become undeniably the most celebrated composer in Europe following Mozart’s death in 1791 until his own death in 1809, and be an entirely agreeable and likable fellow who lived his life according to Enlightenment principals, … he would still deserve exponentially more recognition than he does now. But if I haven’t made clear enough the staggering importance of Joseph Haydn in the history of music, I’ll let the famed scholar H.C. Robbins Landon tell it,
“There is no composer in the history of music who achieved the astonishing progression that we may observe in Haydn’s music from the Missa brevis in F (1749) to the Harmonienmesse of 1802. There have been, of course, many composers who went through a similar development in their artistic careers—Monteverdi, Domenico Scarlatti, Gluck and Beethoven are names that spring to mind. But the road that Haydn had to travel is longer than that taken by any of his predecessors, contemporaries, or successors. […] Haydn’s style underwent a metamorphosis so unparalleled anywhere in the arts, let alone music, that it is actually difficult to realize that the same man composed the late Baroque music of the Missa brevis in F (1749) and the prelude to “Winter” from The Seasons (1801). And not only was it composed by the same man, but that creator, starting as an almost anonymous figure in the galaxy of Viennese music c. 1750, invented the string quartet as we know it today, became the Father of the Symphony […] and the founder of what may be called the greatest school in the history of music.”
Long quote but it’s worth it. Great.