If the world was a reasonable place, and our society was one that had a well-rounded sense of values, then all orchestras could rehearse Haydn to their heart’s content.
Haydn’s music is so spectacularly good, so amazingly fresh, so outrageously original, so endlessly surprising, so completely unpredictable, that when one is working on it at even a respectable level, it’s hard to imagine why you’d ever want to bother with another composer.
In fact, Haydn’s music is really almost too good to perform. In any case, it is probably too healthy to perform.
Healthy? There is nothing better for an orchestra’s playing that to rehearse a Haydn symphony (and the same is very much true for string quartets). This is so true that having to actually work toward a performance begins to get in the way. How wonderfully all the world’s orchestras would play if only our governments would pay for us to rehearse one Haydn symphony each year for as long as we felt it was productive.
We’ve been working very hard on Haydn 99 with the Surrey Mozart Players this week. The orchestra is on great form. The players came in to the first rehearsal incredibly well prepared, and read the piece brilliantly. Nonetheless, the more we work on it the more I think we wish we had ten more rehearsals instead of just two. The rest of the program consists of two of my very favourite pieces of all time, yet I’d happily cancel them both (or even cancel the entire concert) just to have the luxury of digging in to this piece as deeply as possible.
What is fascinating about this music is that the more work you put in to it, and the better you play it, the more obvious it is to everyone in the room that we could do more on it. At the first rehearsal it feels like we’ve hardly got to worry about anything with the piece- it is all idiomatic, and accessible, at the second rehearsal, I’m just sort of figuring out how far we could go with the piece with the benefit of the score, and at the third rehearsal the whole band seems to be realizing just how much there is to work on. Just about the time you have to go onstage and perform, everyone seems to know how much work there is still to do. I’ve written before on how studying a Mahler symphony can feel like taking the best conducting lesson ever- rehearsing a Haydn symphony in detail feels like the best orchestra-ing lesson ever.
Just think- after this week, I only have 91 numbered Haydn symphonies left to perform! And I’d happily forsake performing any of them, if only the world would let me really freakin’ rehearse them.
Is it possible for some music to be too perfect to waste on an audience? Maybe we should make the audience come to the rehearsals so they can begin to know what it is they’re hearing in the concert.
c. 2006 Kenneth Woods
PS- When I was 19 (and completely stupid), I thought Haydn’s music was boring crap, when I was 25 I thought it was pretty great, now I think it is mind-shatteringly brilliant. How will I feel about it at 65?