Magazine article Musical Times

Whose Who?

Magazine article Musical Times

Whose Who?

Article excerpt

Whose who? The Cambridge companion to Haydn Edited by Caryl Clark Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2005); xx, 318pp;£45, $75 / £17.99, $27.99 PBK. ISBN 0 521 833477 / 0 521 541077.

WHO WAS HAYDN? In an approach more focused on probing the creative personality than in any other Cambridge composer Companion, this book sets out to answer the question by stripping out the partial truths enshrined in traditional epithets - 'Papa Haydn' and 'Haydn the merry little peasant ' - besides the representation of a member of comfortable bourgeois society in Hardy's familiar portrait. As Lawrence Kramer, in a thoughtful essay on 'Tovey's Haydn' (yet another persona: Haydn as a composer of unpredictable and inexhaustible originality) warns: 'None of [these images] should be believed, exactly, but all of them should be taken seriously'. The format is inviting. Compact essays that can be read at a sitting (even allowing for the time wasted rummaging for end notes) investigate topics that embrace biography, analysis and reception. Designed to appeal to both 'Kenner und liebhaber', the book puts professionals in touch with some up-to-date scholarship, while introducing amateur listeners to the musical and cultural worlds Haydn inhabited. The resulting study replaces the legend of the benevolent and long-suffering 'Papa Haydn' with a sharper portrait of a shrewd business man, widely-read, intellectually curious, and with a tendency to grumble.

Elaine Sisman sets the tone for the volume by tracing Haydn's relationships with his 'multiple audience' of performers, critics, patrons and the general public. Haydn's skilful management of his musicians is inferred from his letter about the Applausus cantata, his sensitivity to his northGerman critics from the autobiographical letter for Dos gelehrte Oesterreicht, and his growing awareness of wider criticism from the dedication of the Auenbrugger sonatas. In her final section Sisman examines Haydn's comments on direct representation in music, with examples of text setting in two masses and The seasons; she inevitably also includes the 'unrepentant sinner' of the symphonic Adagio (which surfaces several times in the course of the book). It is misleading, though, to claim that there was anything special in the 'widespread sense in Haydn's lifetime that his instrumental music was "about" something', since this was the general perception of all instrumental music in the 18th century. These documents draw a remarkably consistent portrait of Haydn, confident in his music but defensive in the face of real or anticipated criticism. It is all the more regrettable that Sisman omitted to write a conclusion of any sort to bring together the results of her investigation.

Much is made in Haydn biography of the famous letter to Maria Anna von Genzinger in which Haydn deplores his 'forsaken' state in the 'wilderness' of Esterháza. Rebecca Green assesses the reality of his geographical isolation, investigating travel and road conditions and the postal service between Esterháza and Vienna. Her essay would be better served by a clearer map (without railways!). David Wyn Jones tackles Haydn's artistic isolation and discounts it, noting his exposure to operatic and instrumental work by his leading contemporaries. He also traces Haydn's widespread influence over his younger contemporaries, evident not only in their aping of certain superficial characteristics, but also in the large number of works dedicated to Haydn - a new use of the dedication, not to secure patronage, but to acknowledge an artistic debt. It is salutary to be reminded of the degree to which Haydn's 'legacy' was seen as a challenge by Beethoven, the latter as awed by Haydn as he was to awe his immediate successors.

There are two valid approaches to a discussion of Haydn's style and both are represented here. James Webster makes a strong case for the unfashionable view of the centrality of the artist, so that while locating Haydn firmly within his age, he is concerned with the composer's unique musical personality - the profoundly original mind that speaks to audiences today no less than those of his own time. …

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