Book Review: Haydn (The Master Musicians)

Haydn (The Master Musicians), by Rosemary Hughes

It is a great shame that Haydn, a man who was immensely creative even if his creativity developed later in life and was a slow-building sort of mastery of his art of composition, lacked a great deal of happiness in his personal life.  If his pupils and musicians, aware of his concern for their well-being, considered him Poppa Haydn, and if he was able to achieve a great deal of success at cultivating elite patronage as well as dealing in a friendly way with other musicians and composers, he had no (confirmed) children of his own and had a disastrous degree of failure in his marriage as well as his various amours.  Reading a biography of Haydn fills one with a great deal of complex feelings, as he was a person who was not a great prodigy but rather someone who was able to recognize the achievements of his peers and to adapt it to his own approach, even far beyond the age when most people are assimilating new insights into their creative arts.  It is fortunate that Haydn lived long, for we owe our appreciation of his works and their staggering range to the fact that he lived long enough for his slow-building creativity to flourish in a way that creators like Purcell and Mozart simply did not have time to do.

This book is about 250 pages long if one includes the appendices and really one should because they provide a lot of useful context to Haydn’s life and career.  The author begins with a discussion of Haydn’s early years (1) and his time in the choir school in Vienna (2) where some pranks and his changing voice ended that career.  The author discusses Hadyn’s school of experience as a street musician (3) and his experience of life in a princely household (4) as well as his growth in isolation (5).  Gradually he was able to widen his horizons in middle age (6) and to travel between Vienna and England with appreciative fans in both areas (7, 8).  Finally, returning to Vienna he was able to compose some final works that further increased his historical legacy (9) and then suffered a decline in health before his death after the disaster at Wagram (10).  The author then turns to look at the musical characteristics of Hadyn’s compositions (11), vocal works excluding opera (12), his keyboard works (13) and chamber music for strings (14), as well as his symphonies and other orchestral works (15) and his operas (16).  The appendices include a calendar (i), catalogue of works (ii), personal information (iii) and a bibliography (iv) and an index.

The author makes note of the luckiness of Haydn’s time in being able to live long enough to fully assimilate the classical period and be able to provide music that others can appreciate still to this day [1].  Not all people have the fortune of a long and productive life.  Still, many more people have a long life and do not do enough with it to leave behind a productive record that can stand the test of time.  Haydn used the time he had well, and by the end of his life, this scion of sturdy Swabian commoners had managed to enjoy his appeal in England, encourage generations of composers through education and example, and manged to serve the patriotic efforts of the Austrian monarchy through his writing of the Austrian (and later German) national anthem, the Kaiserreich.  Haydn’s life and music live on to this day, whether you enjoy his music directly, whether you enjoy the music of those he taught and influenced, or whether you appreciate the flourishing of Viennese culture of which he was so conspicuous a part.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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