Wednesday, April 22, 2009

March 29, 2009 Who's Your Papa?



An excerpt from the blog of Albert Imperato on the Gramophone web site:

I’m driving back to the city with Brian (he’s driving; I’m typing) and I’m asking him to help me come up with an intro to my big Haydn blog. He told me that “Great Composers: Haydn” was the first music history class he took at Holy Cross, but beyond that he’s leaving me to my own devices. Even though I’ve never studied music, I was able to read and play some of Haydn’s keyboard sonatas (love those Alberti basses!). And two Haydn symphonies – Nos 87 and 103, Drumroll – were among the first five recordings I ever purchased (Sir Colin Davis with the Concertgebouw on Philips; both symphonies remain favorites, but I tend to listen to Harnoncourt and Brüggen’s Haydn these days).

I suppose I’ve been a bit of a Haydn junkie since first discovering his music 25 years ago. I’ve listened to a Haydn string quartet or symphony almost every morning since I graduated from college in 1984 (lately, I’ve discovered that his piano trios are nearly as entertaining and those are good morning fare as well). The reasons are pretty simple: the world can be a fairly rotten place, but Haydn’s music is exactly the opposite – it’s charming, earthy, (mostly) joyous, imaginative, clever and inexhaustibly fresh. Heck, it’s even fun. Chatting with my dear friend Barrymore Scherer (a wonderful writer on many topics from classical music to antiques) a few weeks back he compared Mozart to a smoothly paved road noting that, by comparison, Haydn’s music was more like a scenic country road – bumps and all. Smart guy that Barrymore! Then, a few weeks ago I Skyped with my friend Isabella de Sabata and we talked a bit about Haydn. We worked together back in our record company days and she is married to John Eliot Gardiner. He popped into the room while Isabella and I were on line discussing the fact that John Eliot would be coming to New York in the fall to conduct the two great Haydn oratorios. When I asked him if The Creation was his favourite Haydn work (seems like just about every musicologist says it’s his best work) he surprised me when he said that he actually preferred The Seasons. How can it be, I thought to myself, slightly irritated, that a Haydn freak like me doesn’t really know The Seasons? But I soon admitted to myself that we are actually very lucky that he wrote so very many works because it made it impossible to get as dangerously familiar with them as we might otherwise: much harder to overplay Haydn’s 104 symphonies than Beethoven’s nine! In any case, since if I had to pick one genre of Haydn works for my desert island I’d go with the symphonies, I decided to poll some classical musicians and writers and see if anyone would be so bold as to choose just one of Haydn’s 100 plus as his or her favourite. I got some insightful replies, which follow below – my small contribution to the Haydn bicentennial celebrations (responses are in alphabetical order, to avoid bruised egos).

Paavo Jävi, conductor (music director, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra): When I think about Haydn I think of my Dad. We played four-hands symphonies since I was ten, paying from the score! I love Haydn and Johann Strauss and both of them make me think of my father. Of all of the Haydn Symphonies that I love – and I love them all – I’ll choose No 82, The Bear, which I recently conducted. I can’t help to think how wrong people are to think of Haydn as slightly gray and not exciting and a bit pedestrian. I can’t understand that reputation! His music is insanely entertaining. His music is like the orchestra bursting out laughing, but, at the same time, it’s perfection! Mozart and Beethoven called him Pape for a reason: you don’t call just anyone Papa!

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