The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Ear serves up Thanksgiving leftovers — let’s hear more Haydn symphonies and more major cycles

December 2, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

My home is still finishing Thanksgiving leftovers. Is yours?

There is so much classical music in this city and so many topics to fill up daily posts of The Well-Tempered Ear that some things – especially reviews – sometimes fall between the cracks..

But that doesn’t mean they don’t get noticed, spark responses and or suggest ideas to The Ear.

So in the time-honored tradition of Thanksgiving leftovers, that’s what the some of the coming posts will offer, especially now that the season is slowing down and heads towards its winter intermission.

ITEM: We need to hear more Haydn symphonies.

Too often these gems of historic importance and beauty fall between the cracks. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra doesn’t do very many in its limited winter season and the Madison Symphony Orchestra would have to scale back its playing force for reasons of authenticity, though it could play especially the later symphonies more.

Last year, I heard the UW Chamber Orchestra do the late “Drum Roll” Symphony No. 103 under James Smith, and it was terrific.

Earlier this fall, in early October I also heard the Madison Bach Musicians, under director Trevor Stephenson and UW bassoonist-conductor Marc Vallon, do Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 in D Minor, the “Lamentation,” that also included violin and bassoon concertos of Vivaldi and the Orchestral Suite No. 1 of J.S. Bach. The Haydn was terrific and fit right in. (Below are some moments from the opening movement.)

Haydn wrote 104 symphonies (some experts say more). Even allowing for a success rate of only 25 or 50 percent means a lot of symphonies to go through.

There are early ones (“Morning,” “Noon” and “Night,” Nos. 6, 7 and 8), the “Storm and Stress” middle symphonies (“La Passione” and the “Farewell,” which is probably his most popular along with the late “Surprise” Symphony), and the later  Paris and London symphonies. Almost always, Haydn is amazingly inventive and gives you more than you expect for such a prolific composer.

We need to hear more Haydn symphonies. (The Pro Arte and Ancora String Quartet often do a string quartet and the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has explored the piano trios – both important forms that Haydn (below) invented or perfected and composed in prolifically.)

So here is hoping the next few seasons will find the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Bach Musicians and the UW Chamber and Symphony Orchestras programming more Haydn symphonies.

ITEM: We need to hear more cycles.

Not all that long ago, the UW’s Pro Arte String Quartet did cycles of Beethoven’s 16 string quartets and Shostakovich’s 16 string quartets, drawing terrific attendance and critical acclaim. Next season the Pro Arte Quartet will be busy with their commissions marking their centennial of their founding in Belgium.

The Madison Symphony Orchestra has completed cycles of Mahler and Beethoven. What about a cycle of Brahms’ symphonies and concertos? Of Schubert’s or Dvorak symphonies? Of Mozart’s 27 piano concertos or his last dozen symphonies?

I know that cycles present some problems in terms of timing and staffing.

But I also think they work.

They organize a season or two, or even more.

They generate “customer” loyalty with a sense of history: You think: “At least once in my life I will get to hear ALL the works of a major composer in a major genre.”

And they generate excitement. UW pianist Christopher Taylor (below) performed a cycle of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas season that comes immediately to mind.

What about a cycle of Beethoven’s violin and cello sonatas?

Of Mozart’s violin sonatas or string quartets? Of Schubert’s major song cycles?

Cycles make good sense, good marketing and good music.

Do you have suggestions for cycles you would find attractive?

Would you like to hear more Haydn?

The Ear wants hear.

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