The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: A major and long overdue revival of Franz Joseph Haydn seems at hand –- and The Ear applauds it.

May 23, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The evidence just keeps on mounting, at least to The Ear’s ears.

What I hear tells me this: We are on the verge of a major rediscovery and revival of the works of Franz Joseph Haydn, who too often seems little more than a token inclusion or an afterthought in so much classical programming. The repertoire usually runs: Lots of Mozart, lots of Beethoven, some Schubert and far less Haydn.

Haydn

Almost all classical musicians, historical and contemporary, concede that “Papa” Haydn -– a more complex personality than it would appear at first, especially if you read the authoritative biographies and essays by H.C. Robbins Landon  — was one of the most inventive and creative, the most prolific and influential composers of all time.

Haydn was more or less the father of the symphony, as we know it; the string quartet as we know it; the piano trio as we know it; and the piano sonata as we know it.

But curiously, Haydn has never received the same intense attention that his more famous colleagues such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, have enjoyed. And this is even despite the fact that he was a teacher or mentor to all of them.

Haydnpiano

And on what does The Ear base his hunch about a Haydn revival?

Well, this past season I heard many more of Haydn’s string quartets and piano trios than usual. I also heard one of his two cello concertos and a trumpet concerto.

The string quartets and piano trios came from the Pro Arte Quartet (below top), plus the Hunt Quartet (below middle) and the Perlman Trio (below bottom, seen with a guest pianist and guest cellist) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music as well as from chamber musicians in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Plus, the annual summer Token Creek Chamber Music Festival often likes to explore Haydn’s piano trios, although I don’t yet know this summer’s programs. (You can hear part of a great Piano Trio in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

Hunt Quartet Mills 2-2014 USE

perlman trio 2014 2 Esposito

I have also heard many more symphonies everywhere, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus concert halls to Wisconsin Public Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio. More importantly, I have heard far more of the 104 symphonies than the usual favorites such as “the Farewell,” “The Clock,” “The Drumroll” and “The Surprise,” including fine performances by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain — which played Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto with soloist Tine Thing Helseth — as well as the UW Symphony Orchestra and UW Chamber Orchestra under conductor James Smith.

WCO lobby

Then take a look at the concertos, which are relatively rare in the concert hall.

Next season the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will feature Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borgrevve), a first-rate and sensitive musician, performing two of Haydn’s many piano concertos, the unheard No. 4 in G Major and the more popular No. 11 in D Major. This season, his Piano Concerto in D Major –- the most famous one — was also featured at Edgewood College, and it will again be programmed this summer by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). That kind of repetition programming means something and bodes well.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

One major disappointment of the revival so far is that local pianists don’t seem to be doing their part. They are not picking up on the 52 piano sonatas that are such a rich field of repertoire.

Too bad!

The Ear finds the piano sonatas of Haydn interesting and varied, and I am not alone: They were favorites of none other than the titanic talent Sviatoslav Richter (below top), who possessed a gigantic repertoire, but always spotlighted Haydn in performances and recordings. Alfred Brendel, Emanuel Ax, Leif Ove Andsnes, Andras Schiff and especially “super-virtuoso” Marc-Andre Hamelin (below bottom) -– all top names currently on the concert circuit –- have also championed Haydn through performances and recordings.

richterwithcross1

marc-andre hamelin

But perhaps those shortcomings will be overcome in time. After all, this past season, Archiv issued an outstanding CD of Haydn’s rarely played violin concertos with Giuliano Carmignola ad the Orchestra of the Champs-Elysees.

Giuliano Carmignola

Another area that needs some catching up with is Haydn’s choral music. It has been quite a few years since we have heard either of his large and magnificent oratorios “The Seasons” or “The Creation.” And I am not even talking about his wondrous, smaller-scale late masses (“Mass in Time of War,” “The Lord Nelson Mass”) that deserve far more performances than they usually receive, maybe from the UW Choral Union.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

Will Haydn ever displace or dethrone the bigger masters and more famous names? Probably not.

The Ear finds Mozart more beautiful, but Haydn more interesting. 

Beethoven (below) is more dramatic, virtuosic and powerful, though much of what he learned about development, he learned from Haydn with whom he studied counterpoint, and whose work he knew intimately.

Beethoven big

And except in some of the “Storm and Stress” symphonies, Haydn seems more formal and objective, and rarely expresses the kind of heart-wrenching empathy and soulful humaneness we find in Mozart (below top)  and Schubert (below bottom), who were supreme melodists.

Mozart old 1782

Franz Schubert big

In fairness, we have to admit that Haydn did have his weak points. He wrote far too many works (123 trios!) for the outdated baryton (below) –- a kind of cello or viol with vibrating sympathetic strings -– simply because his royal patron at the Esterhazy Palace in Austria (now Hungary) played it. One can only imagine what would be the result if such energy had gone into other more important genres where Haydn excelled.

Baryton

Also, Haydn’s many operas seem deservedly neglected when they are compared to Mozart’s. Haydn just didn’t seem to have the flair necessary to combine theater and music in an engaging and insightful or moving way. And perhaps Haydn didn’t really take to vocal music because he subconsciously resented how close he had come to being castrated to preserve his boy soprano voice. Still, it might be interesting to see the Madison Opera do one of the better Haydn operas as its winter offering, or to see the University Opera, which often does neglected repertoire, tackle one. (Below is the English Touring Opera performing Haydn’s opera “Country Matters.”

Haydn's opera %22Country Matters%22 by the English Touring opera

But make no mistake. Haydn’s life and career were very long and his enormous output constitutes an endless vein of precious ore to mine, as these approximate numbers show: 104 symphonies, 60 piano trios, 72 string quartets, 52 piano sonatas, dozens of concertos and operas, a dozen or two major choral works.

Haydn, a humorous and good-natured man as well as a hard worker -– he always composed at the keyboard (below) — was a driving force behind all of them. And even though he developed and changed immensely over long life -– he was born in 1732 and died famous in 1809 -– all stages of his work offer masterpieces that deserve performances and acquaintance, and certainly far more attention than they generally receive.

Haydn_3

That is especially so now that early music, period instruments and historically informed performance practices are the norm. But I personally find that Haydn, unke some other composers, sounds terrific on either period instruments or modern instruments.

Haydn’s early symphonies like the triptych “Morning, Noon and Night;” (Symphonies Nos. 6, 7 and 8) are rich; his middle-period “Storm and Stress” minor key symphonies from his middle period are extraordinary and surprising for a Classical era composer. His sophisticated late work, when he twice took London by storm, includes the “Paris” and “London” symphonies as well as the “Oxford,” to celebrate his receiving an honorary degree. Next season, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform Symphony No. 96, “The Miracle.”

The Ear would love to see WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below)  -– who has shown himself to be a masterful interpreter of Haydn – undertake either a major cycle or at least a major survey of Haydn’s symphonies in coming seasons. Maybe the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet could do the same with the string quartets.

andrewsewell

So rich is Haydn’s work that even if a major revival happens -– if it indeed has already started – it can keep going for a very long time to come, and still keeps surprising us and pleasing us.

Does anyone else sense that a major Haydn revival is at hand?

Why do you think Haydn has been comparatively ignored?

What Haydn works do you like best?

And what Haydn works would you like to get to know better or to see better known by the general public and performed more often?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

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