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Thread: Haydn’s true place in music history – once lost, now regained

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    Default Haydn’s true place in music history – once lost, now regained

    I think that Haydn was a composer who got a raw deal as regards to his position and importance in the history of music. Well, until fairly recently, that is.

    At the turn of the turn of the 19th century in 1800, Haydn’s reputation was at its peak. With his series of twelve symphonies premiered in London behind him, as well as some superb late quartets and the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, he was seen by many to be the greatest living composer of that time. His trip to the UK could be no more successful, he was granted an Doctor of Music degree by Oxford and the King of England invited him to remain permanently there. Back home, a monument was unveiled to him at his birthplace at Rohrau, which is a rare thing since monuments of that sort usually appear only once the composer is dead!

    Haydn died in 1809, and in his final days with the invasion of Vienna by the French, Napoleon ordered the dying composer’s house to be guarded against looting amidst the general chaos and anarchy engulfing the city. I also find this amazing, since Napoleon of course was fighting against the Austrian Habsburgs, so technically he was an enemy of Haydn.

    Things began to go awry once Papa was dead. Of course Haydn’s old pupil Beethoven had already begun to make his mark, with music that was much more in tune with the heroic and revolutionary spirit of those times.

    As the 19th century wore on though, the situation as regards to Haydn’s contribution got worse and worse. His contribution to music was downplayed by many writers on music, and that of Beethoven and the Romantics coming after was upgraded. Haydn was seen as nothing much more as a jokester playing tricks with Eszterhazy’s court orchestra for something like forty years. Some saw him as nothing much more than a kind of midwife to the ‘real’ composer who he taught, Beethoven. Even Mozart’s reputation seems to have fared better during that time, and again Haydn had taught him as well.

    One critic, Adolf Marx, said that Haydn’s music was merely “the childlike blissful play…[that] enabled Beethoven to unlock the spiritual depths.” Brahms groupie Eduard Hanslick said Haydn was nothing much more than a composer who pandered to public tastes and was too frightened to take the bold steps that Beethoven did.

    The late 19th century saw somewhat of a turning of the tide. Composers such as Saint-Saens, Bizet, Grieg, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky began an enquiry into the Classical Era (listen to the latter two’s Serenades for strings, which are basically homages to Mozart). I see them as keepers of the flame until Neo-Classicism proper came into force in the 20th century. The 'back to Bach' movement around the same time is also of importance to all this, that was of course instigated by Mendelssohn in the mid 19th century.

    By the mid 20th century, the legacy of Haydn and Mozart came to be more respected. More composers and writers on music saw them for what they where – great composers with their own unique aesthetic and ways of doing things, and as amongst the most important innovators of Western classical music. It seems their only ‘sins’ in the eyes of the Romantics and some Modernists was that they belonged to a bygone era that valued restraint, gracefulness and charm above angst, overt emotion and a near obsession with profundity and depth.

    Getting back to Haydn, after about 1945 it was recognized that his late symphonies prefigured in embryonic form what Beethoven was to do later. Not only in terms of using 40 to 60 piece orchestras which had immense sound and had the most intricate writing to date for instruments such as the wind sections – especially the then new clarinet and also the bassoon – and also treating things like counterpoint in a totally fresh way.

    These works also displayed levels of thematic unity and highly flexible treatments of sonata form that had only been previously seen in Mozart’s late symphonies. Haydn also greatly downgraded the role of the harpsichord in keeping time and the often tonally vague openings of his symphonies again look forward to not only Beethoven but also Schubert, Bruckner and even Mahler. Haydn’s incorporation of sounds garnered from nature, his replication of instruments found in taverns and on street corners (from zithers to bagpipe drones and more) and incorporation of music drawn from vernacular and folk sources are also of importance here.

    Another important element in all this is that in effect, Haydn worked as a freelance in London. His concerts where amongst the first public concerts there, certainly amongst the first concerts of orchestral music, of symphonies. A similar thing could be said of Mozart in his final years. Previously, historians had glossed over this and promoted Beethoven to be the first ‘true’ freelance to successfully break away from serving the aristocracy (yet most of his patrons where in fact aristocrats, albeit enlightened ones – but so was Papa’s, no?).

    I can go on (and here, I have mainly focused on his symphonies!). By the time Antal Dorati committed a complete survey of Haydn’s symphonies to disc in the 1970’s, it seems that the injustices of the past had been rectified. But more was to come. Haydn’s music, like Bruckner’s, had a big problem in terms of the inconsistencies between various editions of scores. So Dorati’s – and indeed Beecham’s, Klemperer’s and other illustrious conductors interpretations – where often based on erroneous editions. These where not dealt with fully until the late 1970’s, and since then the HIP (Historically Informed Perfomrance) brigade have made great strides in this area too.

    One other thing, if I may further indulge, was Haydn’s missing skull. Only days after he died, his head was decapitated by a former friend, Joseph Carl Rosenbaum. He was an amateur practitioner of the pseudo science of phrenology – which argued that the size and shape of a person’s skull determined his intelligence. Rosenbaum’s wife Therese, who had been Mozart’s first Queen of the night, kept the skull in a glass case and bought it out for display at her private soirees. Nice!

    When Haydn’s body came to be moved to another cemetery in 1820, Haydn’s former employer Prince Nikolaus Eszterhazy II was shocked that the head was missing. The casket was opened and all they found was an empty wig! The police searched Mrs. Rosenbaum’s house but she hid it under her mattress whilst lying on it, and Rosenbaum himself managed to fool them into accepting a skull that was not Haydn’s.

    The real skull eventually switched hands and was later owned by the Vienna Society of the Friends of Music. In 1954, Paul Eszterhazy succeeded in reuniting the real skull with Haydn’s remains. So after 145 years, Papa got his skull back, but the fake skull is still buried with him!

    Maybe the bizarre story of Haydn’s skull is like a metaphor for the initial negation and subsequent restoration of the man’s music to the pantheon of the great composers? I see it like that, in a weird sort of way, and the dates roughly correspond.

    I hope you all enjoyed reading this article! Comments on it are very welcome! What do you all think?

    Sources:

    Article on Haydn by Cecil Gray (Pelican, 1949).

    Article on “Haydn’s Missing Head” in Limelight Magazine, August 2013 issue.

    Section on Haydn’s London Symphonies by Martin Bookspan in his book “101 Masterpieces of Music and their composers” (Dolphin, 1973).

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    Thanks for sharing, 'Dre! I love me some good Haydn

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    Yes..Thanks for the research. The parts about his assessment by later generations was somewhat new to me, but I had heard about the head before. Bizarre, isn't it?

    The neat thing about Haydn, for me, is that within the confines of what we today see as a very constricted musical language, he still found a way to fascinate. As far as I'm concerned, the very best of Mozart is better than the very best of Haydn. But, the most boring bit of Haydn is infinitely more listenable than the most boring bit of Mozart.

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    A good read!

    Haydn has clearly seen a huge restoration over the past 50 years particularly.

    One figure who was a Haydn fan in the 19th century was Brahms, who wrote a theme and variations on what he believed to have been a theme to him. Various recent writers have tried to make out that the attitude was condescending, but I must admit I don't quite buy it. As a nod to that this famous portrait is in the Haydnhaus in Vienna.

    DSCF1604.jpg

    My tutor complains that there aren't very many good articles on Haydn: instead they all talk a lot about the image of 'Papa Haydn', or 'Sturm und Drang', or use him to attack the Romantics. The recent trend has been to spurn formal analysis, so there aren't that many writings focussing on his works from a purely musical stand point (Webster's book on Haydn's Farewell symphony, and excellent though it is it was written over 20 years ago, remains constantly quoted because it seems to be the only book that actually talks about his pre-late style music in any detail). This means that his works remain under-analysed. This stands in contrast to his contemporary Mozart, and of course his successor Beethoven, both of whom have been analysed exhaustively.

    So I think there is plenty of room for Haydn to ascend even further!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramako View Post
    My tutor complains that there aren't very many good articles on Haydn: instead they all talk a lot about the image of 'Papa Haydn', or 'Sturm und Drang', or use him to attack the Romantics...
    John Runciman wrote a book on Haydn over a century ago. It's a download, free from Amazon and may also be available from Project Gutenberg. It lacks all recent Haydn scholarship but otherwise should be pretty good. Haven't read it yet!

    http://www.amazon.com/Haydn-ebook/dp...runciman+haydn


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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    John Runciman wrote a book on Haydn over a century ago. It's a download, free from Amazon and may also be available from Project Gutenberg. It lacks all recent Haydn scholarship but otherwise should be pretty good.
    I'll add it to the list--thanks for the recommendation. I think Project Gutenberg also has some writings by D.F. Tovey on Haydn, who I've always found worth reading. Also, I just noticed yesterday that they're selling very cheap used copies of Charles Rosen's The Classical Style on abebooks, which has a great tutorial in how to listen to Haydn's string quartets. Neither of these are up to date, of course.

    By the way, Haydn's collected letters are entertaining and well worth the read.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KenOC View Post
    John Runciman wrote a book on Haydn over a century ago. It's a download, free from Amazon and may also be available from Project Gutenberg. It lacks all recent Haydn scholarship but otherwise should be pretty good. Haven't read it yet!

    http://www.amazon.com/Haydn-ebook/dp...runciman+haydn
    I have downloaded it.

    To put things in context, though, I have a 35 page document which simply lists (some of the) things written about Beethoven's Eroica symphony. Haydn just doesn't have that attention. I'm not sure all the things written about Haydn's music adds up to the amount written about the Eroica, although the late works garner a lot more attention than earlier ones.
    Last edited by Ramako; Aug-27-2013 at 23:08.

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    Thanks for all your responses, and for reading my article.

    With this article, my plan was to convey some of the ways in which Haydn lost the respect he had at the end of his life, and how it was eventually regained. I mentioned some things such as the nature of his music and employment which prejudiced the view of people coming after, those believing in aspects of Romantic and Modernist ideology.

    Some other things didn’t help Haydn, nor many composers of the Baroque and Classical eras throughout the 19th century until the mid 20th century. I suppose the idea of art for art’s sake is one. The notion that music is just music, without any purpose and ultimately negating the need for an audience. This idea would have been anathema to Haydn, Mozart and so on. Ironically, Stravinsky’s famous quote about music being about nothing but itself feeds into this. I say ironic because he was one of the foremost Neo Classicists, of course. However it is true that Neo Classicism came about in good part as a reaction against the perceived excesses of late Romanticism. So Stravinsky's line is understandable, he saw Haydn's and Mozart's music as being wholly objective.

    The composers who wrote ‘music made to order’ where acutely aware of the different purposes of different types of music. A divertimento’s length and complexity, for example, could vary according to the occasion for which it was composed. If it was simply as accompaniment to a game of cards played after dinner, it would most likely be short and for a small chamber sized group. If it was for a grand occasion like a wedding, larger forces would be called for, as well as more movements and perhaps soloists.

    This sort of thinking applies to all the genres in which the pre-Beethoven composers worked in. In terms of sacred music, knowledge of such purposes was totally necessary, composers often given a limited time to work with (otherwise the length of the church service, with music plus everything else, would blow out in terms of length). Witness how Bach's Mass in B minor was not performed as part of a mass or as anything else. Art for art's sake in Bach's time had little use, so things like that are wholly unique in that era.

    Generally, there was no such thing as art for art’s sake pre-Beethoven. That came to be known as composers began to conduct other composers’ – often dead composers’ – music rather than their own. Also to teach it. This trend really got going in the late 19th century. Many composers at that time earned their living not from their own compositions, or not so much from performing their own compositions, but from playing and conducting others music (especially that of dead guys). Or teaching it at universities. So music made to order kind of went out the window, if it hadn’t already. So too a composer focusing on his own music.

    So you get what I was alluding to in my opening post. How Romanticism and later Modernism downgraded Haydn’s contribution to music largely for ideological reasons. They looked back upon music of previous eras and said that they where tainted by money, by composers merely being the equivalent of sewing machines churning out music, and of course such music cannot be worth much, can it? It can’t be ‘real’ or profound. It can only be for tricks, for jokes and entertainment. These types of fallacies and distortions, allied with the ivory tower mentality, relegated Haydn to the dustbin of history – to being a relic or museum piece ‘curio’ like his ill-fated skull – for a long time.

    Haydn got the rawest deal here, and also Boccherini, who was called ‘Haydn’s wife.’ In other words, just rehash of Haydn, which isn’t true.

    Another thing is that Haydn’s life wasn’t without some struggle, and neither was Mozart’s.

    Haydn was actually one of the very few composers who grew up in abject poverty (most composers where or are middle or even upper class, in other words born into financially well off or at least comfortable families). Papa’s father was also a bully, he was beaten regularly, and he was one of twelve children. There must have been many mouths to feed and many nights without dinner in that family! It was sheer luck that a better off relative, a cousin, noticed Haydn’s musical talent and sent him to a distant town to study music. Haydn never received a formal musical education, however he sang in a church choir and eventually took up playing instruments as well.

    Mozart was not poor but his childhood was more or less spent traveling from one place to another, entertaining the aristocracy of Europe. Travel in those days was arduous and grueling, not just a matter of getting on a plane or train and traveling in comfort as we do today. Carriages could easily get bogged down in mud, since the roads where often bad, and if you had shoddy suspension you where literally thrown around the carriage like a test dummy. Wolfie’s dad was also a bully in the sense that he pushed his son – and daughter – to perform, thus exploiting them to the max.

    In the early 20th century, as I mentioned, Classical and Baroque era composers contribution to music became more and more recognized, and also became a source of influence for many composers. In some ways, the politically and economically unstable inter-war period slowed down the rapidity of this more helpful assessment of history. Composers, like everyone else, where fighting in an age of extremes – Fascism on the one hand, Stalinism on the other.

    Once World War II was over, things got better. Technological developments such as the long playing vinyl records meant that people could listen to music, including pre-Beethoven stuff, and discover the riches it offered with repeated listening.

    To conclude, I would encourage what people have been talking about above, of getting your hands on analysis of Haydn’s symphonies – or Mozart’s for that matter. The book which the Cecil Gray article on Haydn is from is very good, and the Bookspan one is good too. The former is titled The Symphony (edited by Ralph Hill) and has articles on symphonies from Mozart and Haydn through to composers of the mid 20th century who where still alive when it was published in 1949 – Sibelius, Vaughan Williams and Bax. There is some interesting stuff there, such as the article on Liszt by Humphrey Searle, the British serialist. In his analysis of the Faust Symphony, Searle (in effect) shows how Liszt prefigured Schoenberg's 'invention' of serialism by something like 80 years with that work, incorporating melodies derived from all 12 tones of the chromatic scale.

    So many of the innovations of the 20th century where prefigured in that way by innovations of the 19th century. Same goes for the 19th century, composers like Haydn and Mozart in the 18th century in effect foresaw what came to be done in the next century. But have they been given proper credit for that? Or is innovation something just 'born now,' bought about a heroic composer who nobody understands? This may be good fodder for cult builders or for a movie, but more often than not history and reality as it happened was very different.

    I see the fact that so many people don’t know, or don’t seem to know, the sheer volume of innovation, audacity, creativity in the “warhorse” type repertoire to be a real shame. Its as if, because everybody (or almost everybody here?) knows for example Haydn’s late works, we think they’re free of content, they’re just innocuous ear candy. This ironically is at a time when we got more recordings of the stuff than ever before. My parent’s generation, not to speak of my grandparent’s, had just a fraction of recordings I have. However what they had they tended to know well, there was a genuine knowledge of things there, the basics, which I think gets weaker with every generation.

    I am not speaking as an expert or a snob. You all would most likely own more Haydn than I do or ever did, judging from what many of you regularly post on current listening thread. I have probably listened to more of his stuff on radio over the years compared to what I own on cd. However in recent years I have been increasingly bolstering my collection of his music and other “essential classics” type stuff. I am now slowly going through books and rediscovering them, their content, history and innovations. It is fascinating and I am hearing these things almost as if they’re fresh and new to me. But the thing is, if you don’t read about this stuff, how do you know what amazing things these composers did? That’s what kills the formalist ‘art for art’s sake’ type ideology for me, totally. If you don’t know what is the content of the music – and you can’t know just from listening, not even expert musicians can – then what’s the point of the whole exercise, beyond just providing ear candy?

    But there is hope in that books, liner notes, internet and so on can be very informative about these things. We also have a wealth of recordings and opportunity to go to concerts is another thing. There are many resources out there to discover the music and get rid of the accretions of ideology and agenda-driven thinking which has sadly been a hallmark of classical music and its often divisive history.

    Anyway I will leave you with that point, it is a digression, but goes to explain how I came to write this essay in the first place.
    Last edited by Sid James; Aug-28-2013 at 22:50. Reason: corrected info re Searle

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramako View Post
    A good read!

    Haydn has clearly seen a huge restoration over the past 50 years particularly.

    One figure who was a Haydn fan in the 19th century was Brahms, who wrote a theme and variations on what he believed to have been a theme to him. Various recent writers have tried to make out that the attitude was condescending, but I must admit I don't quite buy it. As a nod to that this famous portrait is in the Haydnhaus in Vienna.

    DSCF1604.jpg

    My tutor complains that there aren't very many good articles on Haydn: instead they all talk a lot about the image of 'Papa Haydn', or 'Sturm und Drang', or use him to attack the Romantics. The recent trend has been to spurn formal analysis, so there aren't that many writings focussing on his works from a purely musical stand point (Webster's book on Haydn's Farewell symphony, and excellent though it is it was written over 20 years ago, remains constantly quoted because it seems to be the only book that actually talks about his pre-late style music in any detail). This means that his works remain under-analysed. This stands in contrast to his contemporary Mozart, and of course his successor Beethoven, both of whom have been analysed exhaustively.

    So I think there is plenty of room for Haydn to ascend even further!
    Brahms was a great admirer of Haydn, actually. In his late life he complained about how misunderstood Haydn was and said that '100 years ago, he wrote all of our music' - I'm not sure if the quote is exact, but that was the sense of what he said. Brahms held the Op. 20 quartets in very high regard.
    Last edited by HaydnBearstheClock; Aug-29-2013 at 13:33.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ramako View Post
    I have downloaded it.

    To put things in context, though, I have a 35 page document which simply lists (some of the) things written about Beethoven's Eroica symphony. Haydn just doesn't have that attention. I'm not sure all the things written about Haydn's music adds up to the amount written about the Eroica, although the late works garner a lot more attention than earlier ones.
    As great as the Eroica is, I enjoy listening to any London symphony more, hehe.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HaydnBearstheClock View Post
    As great as the Eroica is, I enjoy listening to any London symphony more, hehe.
    Well that reflects what is apparently a famous quote in the notes to one of my Haydn cd’s. The French painter Jean Ingres was a devotee of Haydn and said this about him: “Whoever studies music, let his daily bread be Haydn. Beethoven, indeed, is admirable, he is incomparable, but he has not the same usefulness as Haydn. He is not a necessity.”

    That quote feeds into the conversations about Brahms as well. I hear many similarities between Haydn and Brahms. For example, that autumnal quality in Brahms’string writing, I can hear a kind of precursor to that in Haydn’s string quartets. There’s also that kind of vigorous counterpoint, for example in the final movement of Papa’s Emperor Quartet, and that kind of thing can be found all over Brahms’ own chamber music, especially the final movements. There's also the Hungarian gypsy type element (especially in terms of rhythm) that's common to both of them, both of them incorporated it into their music. Haydn growing up on what is now Austria's border with Hungary and Croatia, and of course working at Eszterhazy's palace in Hungary, and Brahms having some musician friends from Hungary, notably Joachim and Remenyi. Brahms evidently liked going to Hungary to perform his music, he loved the culture and the people, and he was feted there.

    Haydn influenced many composers, he’s one of the bedrocks of symphonic and string quartet genres. Mozart is another. Although Haydn didn’t actually invent these – you know the saying that he’s the “father”of these genres – he and Mozart elevated them from being mere entertainments to something more substantial. The string quartet started life as the divertimento, whilst the instrumental symphony as the overture (although its choral precursors go back to the Renaissance, to Gabrieli for example).

    Another thing I’d add is Brahms was another one of those early types of neo-classicists. Mendelssohn was similar in the first part of the 19th century. Brahms’quote about Bach’s chaconne for solo violin bears this out. He wrote to Clara Schumann “On a system for a small instrument, a man writes a whohle world of the deepest thoughts and the most tremendous emotions. If I could imagine that I could have accomplished such a thing, could have conceived it within myself, I know surely that the excitement and the shock would have driven me insane.”

    Notice how Brahms focuses on the emotional qualities of Bach, whilst people like Stravinsky looked at the Baroque and Classical eras as more or less objective, a move away from the emotional qualities inherent in Romanticism. I am kind of conflating that inquiry back to the Baroque and Classical eras because it kind of happened at once, althogh Haydn had to wait longer than Bach to be given his full due as one of the great composers.
    Last edited by Sid James; Aug-30-2013 at 13:16.

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    Those who would downgrade Haydn--and I see this as at last part of the point of this excellent essay--forget that without Haydn's developments in the string quartet and the symphony, Beethoven and Brahms would have had no starting point. Certainly if Beethoven had invented the symphony and the string quartet, musical history, not to mention Bethoven's work itself, would be very different. I am very glad the Mendelssohn resurrected Bach's work which probably--if I am reading the article correctly--paved the way for giving Haydn his proper due.

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    If there is one thing that I never understood is the treatment Hanslick gave Haydn. Hanslick was perhaps the greatest conservative to ever live, and one expects him to praise Haydn. I think Hanslick just didn't know most of Haydn's better works (most were lost for a long time, I believe only 25 of his symphonies were known at that time), because if he had seen all the marvelous works Haydn composed, he wouldv'e used Haydn as his cavalry, not Brahms.
    "In order to achive great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time" (Leonard Bernstein)

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    I don't know if the comment attributed to Hanslick is a quote or paraphrase but I would have thought the prospect of any composer taking 'bold steps' would have given him apoplexy.

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    A book about Haydn and his music, written for the general reader, has just been published, Playing Before the Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn(Eerdmans) by Calvin Stapert, a professor emeritus of music at Calvin College. I read and liked his book on Handel's Messiah, and am looking forward to reading this book on Haydn.

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