Earlier this year there was a talk at the South Bank with the title "Haydn : deeply unsexy ?" The idea was that Haydn doesn't sell the way Mahler or Mozart sells to audiences that don't normally listen to classical music. It's not Haydn himself but the way he doesn't fit the temper of modern times. "Who does he think he is writing baroque!" as someone said of Handel.
Andrew Clark in the Financial Times takes the Farewell Symphony as his starting point. Why do the musicians quietly remove themselves? Clark hears it as an elegant, but forceful response to the overbearing Prince Esterházy. Fortunately the Prince was astute enough to get the message. A suppressed rebel, then FJ Haydn ? But consider the times, when men could get disappeared for life if they upset the powers that were. And have things really changed so much?
Harrison Birtwistle did much the same thing in his Tree of Life (2008) but with less pointed portent.
Clark recommends Richard Wigmore's new book, The Faber Pocket Guide to Hadyn. Wigmore needs no introduction, he's original and perceptive. "...the Faber guides are a more substantial undertaking than the “pocket” appellation suggests. Wigmore’s lightly worn erudition is deceptive: without over-simplifying he has a knack of clarifying and contextualising all the relevant material, and is not afraid to give us the benefit of his own opinion. In his magisterial guide to individual works, he offers more insights than any other Haydn authority, signing off his chapter on The Seasons with the observation that the work “is killed by an excess of solemnity in performance”.
"Wigmore demonstrates that it is not enough for today’s scholars to know the territory through and through. They have to be able to sift and communicate it in a way that makes the reader drop the book and run to the music." Of course that presupposes people read to learn, not necessarily a given in this day and age.
Full article HERE