Tuesday, September 02, 2008

First thoughts on Haydn

There are always things you have on a list of things to do that you'll probably never get around to: Read big important books, do Significant Acts, that kind of thing. Occasionally it's good to gird your self and set out to conquer one of these cultural Everests. In the last couple of years I've ticked a couple of musts off my list: Ulysses and The Gulag Archipelago (Which I'm crawling through at the moment). But this is a blog about music (well, most of the time), and so I've embarked on an aural quest. Listening to Haydn's 104 Symphonies in order probably isn't on most people's lists. Ever since I first started listening to Haydn (and I started young - he's my dad's favourite composer, so I've been indoctrinated from an early age) I've always been amazed, and slightly intimidated, by the sheer amount of music he produced. It somehow seems more extraordinary than, say, Bach: his genius lies in seeing the harmonic and contrapuntal potential in a theme, so once you've done that it's a matter of writing it out. But Haydn's era was one that raised originality to the peak of what was expected from a composer. As I crawl through one of my own compositions at a tortuously slow rate I feel a bit jealous of old Joe, churning out a symphony every week. Fortunately the machinations of economics mean that I can now do something that would have been prohibitively expensive until not all that long ago, and buy myself a nice big box of 33 CDs containing all 104* of them. (I got it rather cheaper than that link, but the Grauniad shop doesn't seem to have it anymore.) I considered for a moment blogging each and every one of them, but decided that would be too much like hard work, so I'll content myself with popping up with random observations every now and then as I work through what must be just about the least known body of hugely important and influential music there is.

I'm always surprised how dismissive some musicians are of him; something along the lines of "well, it all sounds the same doesn't it?" - which is a sure sign they can't have listened to very much of it. I find it amazing, and inspiring, that anyone could produce such a huge amount of music, with such constant innovation, coupled with equally consistent quality and no hint of routine at all.

*Some count 107, but they're nit-picking.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Haydn was a great composer, actually i´ve got in my mp3player his symphony no. 104 and bach´s brandenburg concertos (which I really love) and after hearing bach and than haydn, haydn comes much more personal for me...