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Here’s Max Mandel, our co-principal viola, on what you should track down next…
I hate having to defend Joseph Haydn, but it’s a position I find myself in quite often. A colleague of mine asked me in front of a pianist friend to choose, gun to my head, between the string quartets of Haydn and the string quartets of Mozart. I didn’t hesitate for a second with my answer: Haydn.
The pianist complained that he is unable to hear the emotional depth that he hears in the Mozart quartets in the quartets of Haydn. I say he’s listening in all the wrong places. Mozart was trying to be the most Mozarty version of himself he could be. Haydn was revolutionising genres every single time he gave it a go. Each quartet is a big swing for something new. He wasn’t searching for perfection, he was searching for a new path with every piece. I think artists who keep refining, keep pushing in one direction are more easily understood and celebrated than the ones who push themselves by never making the same choice twice.
It happens to me all the time, Haydn lays me a nice little trap of expectation and I fall right into it like a dummy. He’s the master of the “wait- what? Ohhhh I see what you did there!” I think modern audiences can be put off because unless you’re paying close attention you might not get the joke, or catch the reference or the wrong turn that leads you off a cliff. Part of that is our responsibility as performers; I think modern orchestras have been trying to pass off Haydn as Mozart for a long time and it’s taken it’s toll. His textures and materials are closer to Beethoven (who learned everything from Haydn but denied it up until the very end when he conceded Haydn’s greatness). He’s more Lennon than McCartney, more Billy Wilder than David Lean, more Manet than Monet. If those references are out of date, try this:
Haydn is 💣
Mozart is 😚💔
You can’t smooth him out, the music loses it’s edge if you do. I also think you can’t stretch out the heartache moments like you can with Mozart because the form is so important to our expectations as listeners that if you distort it you miss the point. Tender moments are gone in a flash with Haydn, their fleetness giving them a special bittersweet quality.
I can talk about my love for Haydn all day and all night. He’s a revolutionary with a smile, a master with humility. He was deeply loved by all who knew him (if we don’t count his wife…sad story there), the musicians in his employ called him “Papa”. His inventiveness never ceases to astonish me and he is responsible for the one time I was unable to continue a performance because I was laughing uncontrollably.
If you like what you hear tonight and are interested in your brain continuing to explode I recommend:
My mind was blown listening to this record the first time I heard it a couple years after it came out and to me it’s still the gold standard of Haydn interpretation. Gut strings on Stradivari led by pioneering Dutch violinist Jaap Schroeder. Infectious rhythmic vitality, mature Haydn with total mastery of the genre.
Frequent OAE collaborator Frans Bruggen who sadly passed away in 2014 brings the funny with his own period orchestra that he founded in 1981. If you need to put something on repeat to avoid falling into the gaps that Haydn dares you to fall into, this is the record that holds up to repeated listening.
This was Haydn’s biggest hit when he was finally super famous late in life. They had to carry him out in a chair over the audience after the first performance. It remains incredibly popular as the ultimate classical oratorio. The first time I performed it was with Maestro Weil and Tafelmusik so this recording is close to my heart. OAE played it with Adam Fischer in Budapest on New Year’s Day 2017 and there was no better way to close the page on a lousy 2016 and rekindle my hope for humanity.
Tonight’s soloist performs and talks about Haydn Piano sonatas (he’s almost as eloquent a speaker as he is a pianist). Available for free download on Wigmore Hall’s website! You need to hear Schiff play and talk about what this music means to him. It’s as close as you can get to being in rehearsal with him as he revels in this repertoire.
Until someone comes up with the funds for us to record the concerto you’re hearing tonight with Sir András, you’re going to have to make do with this sparkly, exciting performance from Brautigam and our colleagues in Denmark.
Check out our Spotify playlist below, which features some of the recordings mentioned above, and a few more…