Haydn was not the first classical composer. As noted last week, Bach’s son, CPE Bach, Antonio Salieri, and Christoph Gluck, among many, many others, pioneered the slow movement away from the Baroque. Some of these efforts were well underway prior to 1750 and some of these early classical composers–Salieri in particular–continued to soldier on into the 19th century. Some (like Salieri) were important teachers, but there is a reason that their music is seldom performed: What came afterwards was just so much better.
Franz Joseph Haydn is not one of my favorite composers. But his contribution to music history is undeniable. Remembered as the Father of the Symphony is evidence enough. But he also pretty much did the same thing for the string quartet, the backbone of classical chamber music and the format that supercharged post-war jazz. His students also went on to great success–both Mozart and Beethoven studied (the first informally, the second formally) with Haydn. For these reasons, we remember this very prolific composers (108 symphonies, over 200 chamber music compositions, 20 operas, 14 masses, 6 oratorios and the list keeps going) as “Papa” Haydn.
There can be no denying that Papa Haydn was a man of his age–the Age of Enlightenment. His character comes down to us as a man of generous and kind spirt, a natural optimist. His music reflects this core Enlightenment balance between intellect and emotion. Haydn’s music only ever gets so dark; the emotional highs are similarly muted. If I could sum up Haydn’s soundcape in a picture, it would certainly be this:
Much like I do Fragonard, I find Haydn’s music altogether a bit too too. But there is no doubting Haydn’s skill–his development of themes, original modulations and carefully arranged orchestrations laid the foundation upon which the temples of Mozart and Beethoven would be built. And those temples still reside at the summit of muic history.
Let’s begin with my favorite Haydn work, the first movement of his Trumpet Concerto in E-Flat, which strongly recalls Handel’s Trumpet Concertos we heard earlier. Perhaps a minor Conversation here. Once again, we turn to the great Maurice Andre, who lends his golden tone to one of the classic melodic lines in music history.
Franz Joseph Haydn, Trumpet Concerto in E-Flat, Allegro: