Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Playing before the Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Playing before the Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn

Article excerpt

Playing before the Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn. By Calvin R. Stapert. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing. 2014. Pp. xxii, 282. $24.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-8028-6852-7.)

Playing Before the Lord: The Life and Work of Joseph Haydn is a highly informative, impressively documented, up-to-date, and engaging biography of the most famous composer in Europe at the end of the eighteenth century. Its author, Calvin R. Stapert, is professor emeritus of music at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The book's title reflects the devout Catholic faith of Joseph Haydn (17321809) as well as the words "Laus Deo" that the composer usually wrote at the ends of his scores. In addition to discussing Haydn's most important works (including his best sacred music), the biography's twenty chapters offer an open and honest, chronological account of his life, not hesitating to touch upon some of the darker elements (e.g., his few shady dealings with publishers and his melancholy). The biography ends with a chapter of reflections upon Haydn's reception and what his music can do for listeners in our troubled age today (offering a "deeper reality" and a "revelation of grace," pp. 257, 258). For Stapert, Haydn's music is "art that makes [our world] a happier place" (p. 255).

Carefully grounded upon the best secondary literature about Haydn, the book is thoroughly documented with frequent references that cite most of the distinguished Haydn scholars from the past century (e.g., H. C. Robbins Landon, Karl Geiringer, and David Wyn Jones). There are ample quotations from these authors as well as from primary sources on the composer's life. The book also includes a selective bibliography and a glossary of commonly used musical terminology, as well as separate indexes for names/places/terms and for Haydn's works. Curiously, the names of important Haydn scholars C. F. Pohl and Jens Peter Larsen are absent.

Among the book's positive features are the extended analytical discussions of particular compositions. Through carefully selected musical illustrations (with notated examples and formal diagrams), readers learn about the details that have made Haydn's music so successful. Substantive analyses are found for selected symphonies, keyboard sonatas, string quartets, art songs, oratorios, and operas. …

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