Great Courses: Great Masters: Haydn–His Life And Music, taught by Professor Robert Greenberg
As someone who has listened to a couple of series of lectures by this professor before , this lecture is full of the infectious enthusiasm he has for great composers and their wonderful music that I have heard before. As someone who has played and listened to Haydn’s excellent music , this was a class I particularly enjoyed, not least because I had not been aware of how prolific Haydn’s music was. I mean, I had heard that he wrote a lot, but I had no idea that he had composed more than 100 symphonies, which is a staggering pace for someone as a composer, especially someone who was a late bloomer as Haydn was. Likewise, Haydn’s diverse talents and achievements as a composer are definitely something that is worth appreciating given the fact that his music is still an essential part of the classical repertoire and Haydn’s music forms a bridge between the Baroque and Rococo periods and the Romanticism of Beethoven and those who followed him, making it easy to see why the period was so appealing that there was a neo-classical period after that.
The lectures themselves are generally in chronological order when talking about the life of Haydn. The instructor begins with a discussion about the early life of Hadyn as a poor child from a very modest background and looks at his musical education as a young tenor who avoided the terrible fate of becoming a castrati to preserve his treble voice (1). After this, the instructor talks about the lean years that Haydn faced after leaving an abusive school environment and his early compositions in a pre-classical style (2) and then talks about Haydn’s disastrous marriage and his time in Esterhaza as a composer for a fantastically wealthy Hungarian noble (3), which continues on for the next lecture as well (4). After this the author talks about Haydn’s mastery of the string quarter form as well as the classical symphony (5), which includes a lot of examples of Haydn’s work. His first trip to London and what it meant for him is discussed next (6), after which the instructor talks about Haydn’s difficult relationship with Beethoven, his second trip to London, and a breakthrough made in his professional life at a late age (7). The lectures then close with a discussion of Haydn’s late oratorios “The Creation” and “The Seasons” and the end of his life, including some stories about his corpse and how it was treated (8).
While this lecture is definitely enjoyable in general, it is not a perfect one and there are at least a few comments I feel it necessary to make. The instructor appears in many points to be far too indulgent both to Hadyn’s troublemaking tendencies as a young person as well as to his adulterous relationships, involving at least one likely illegitimate child, as an adult. The instructor seems to believe that if you are a talented composer than you do not need to be loyal to princes who wish to prevent you from finding out how much you are worth or to shrewish and unappreciative wives. I do not think there is an easy way out for talented people to avoid their responsibilities, but it is fairly easy to want to excuse people for less than honorable people when there are excuses that we would want to use to escape our burdensome obligations and duties ourselves. Yet despite these issues, most of the time the instructor wants to talk about Haydn’s music, and that is definitely an enjoyable subject to listen to for me and likely for anyone who finds this course appealing.
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