September 9, 2009

Gone but not forgotten: Commemorating Haydn

PBO staffer and musician David Wilson guest blogs this week. Here is the first installment of three blogs about Franz Joseph Haydn:

The year 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). A much-loved and highly influential composer, Haydn was born in the Baroque period, wrote primarily in a Classical style, and ultimately helped point the way to Romanticism.

Haydn biographer James Webster writes, “Haydn’s character was marked by a duality between earnestness and humour,” and the same can be said of his music. He was fortunate enough to have a job which allowed him to be musically innovative and to experiment without having to worry about getting bad reviews or getting fired, to indulge his imagination and his moods in his music. He is called the “father of the symphony,” and while this nickname is not entirely accurate, his 106 symphonic works are musically brilliant and did a great deal to define the genre. It would be more accurate to call Haydn “the father of the string quartet,” a genre he pioneered and which became a cornerstone of chamber music writing.

Webster writes, “Haydn’s public life exemplified the Enlightenment ideal of the honnĂȘte homme: the man whose good character and worldly success enable and justify each other.” Although he is often remembered for his clever and witty music, Haydn’s goal was to move the listener, and his music is as often profound as it is witty. An audience member at the first performance of his oratorio The Creation wrote, “In that moment when Light broke forth for the first time, one would have said that light-rays darted from the composer’s blazing eyes. The enchantment of the electrified Viennese was so profound that the performers could not proceed for some minutes.”

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