The Necessary 100: Picking two jewels out of Joseph Haydn's musical diamond mine
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was the most respected composer of his day and wrote for pretty much every form. He knew how to keep his patrons, performers and listeners happy with a rare combination of style and invention. An analysis of any piece of music or opera he wrote shows off the careful work of a consummate craftsman endowed with an incredible sense of humour.
Yet, despite all this wonderfulness, Haydn's works do not appear on any classical Top 40 list. Posterity has let Mozart and Beethoven overshadow Haydn's music from during and immediately after. But there is a lot to love and appreciate nonetheless.
If nothing else, we owe Haydn a huge debt for laying the foundations of the string quartet repertoire. He cast the four string instruments as equals and developed the musical structure of the pieces well beyond the standard sonata form.
His last two complete quartets, Op. 77, dedicated in 1799 to Bohemian Prince Joseph Lobkowicz, are masterworks. Haydn was tired after writing The Creation, but was inspired enough to procude some intimate magic. For sheer musical verve, I've chosen the first one -- Haydn's 66th -- in G Major, in four movements.
Here is Germany's Signum Quartett performing the piece very elegantly at the 60t anniversary Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2008:
I also have to put one of Haydn's piano sonatas on the Necessary 100 list. I played my way through them in 2009, and found a couple dozen which I continue to dip into, because they're such a pleasure to play.
Haydn was writing at a time of innovation in keyboard instruments. The fortepiano was so much more expressive than a harpsichord, and Haydn just couldn't resist. I'm a big fan of Mozart, but, in the solo keyboard repertoire, his sonatas can't hold a candle to Haydn's, which laid the foundations for Beethoven.
Here's a brief (and very shaky) BBC 3 interview with composer John McCabe from 2009, where he talks up the virtues of Haydn's piano sonatas:
Now, which one to pick. I think we should leave the choice open, but that's not allowed on lists, is it? So I'm choosing one I've highlighted here before -- A-flat Major, Hob XVI:46. As No. 31, it is smack dab in the middle of Haydn's piano sonata catalogue, written in 1765, if I remember right.
Here are the first two movements -- Allegro moderato and Adagio -- expressively rendered by Paul Barnes in 2009, followed by a 1983 Japanese performance of the closing Presto by Ivo Pogorelich: