Haydn the Subversive

There is an interesting piece in Slate magazine today comparing Haydn and Mozart, which is well worth a read.

The author, Erik Tarloff, has some very nice and valid points, however I still think that looking at Haydn primarily as a composer of reason and balance actually misses a crucial aspect of his artistic personality.

We had a wonderfully rewarding rehearsal of the Oxford (#92, which is cited by Tarloff in his article) last night. I’ve spent a lot of time on this piece in the last few months, having conducted it back in June with Lancashire Chamber Orchestra (which was definitely one of the highlights of my musical year- it was one of those performances which just took flight), then taught it as part of the repertoire for the Rose City International Conductor’s workshop in July.

Even after all that exposure to the piece, and all the time studying, I’m still finding wonderfully subversive and mischievous touches throughout the piece. In fact, far from being a kindly source of reason and sanity, I think of Haydn as being one of the great musical trouble makers.

We often refer to other music in relationship to an imaginary Haydn “Beethoven  boldly does this, whereas in a typical Haydn symphony you would get that.” The thing is that there are no typical Haydn symphonies. He’s a master at creating an expectation of regularity and stability, but he almost never lives up to that expectation.

I was having so much fun working on it last night with the RCCO, and they were sounding so good, that I was able to mostly forget about the dodgy back for a couple of hours. I think we were all starting to think that this concert was cursed after the problems with the Bruckner and my back. Thanks to all of you who’ve been in touch with good wishes and helpful hints! I’m still moving very slowly, but I can at least function (thanks in large part to the miracle of painkillers!). Hopefully with a few more days of walking and stretching and some care not to do anything stupid and I’ll be up to speed.

By they way, we decided to order the program with Schubert (Death and the Maiden) first and Haydn 92 last. The Schubert is a much larger and more dramatic piece, but the Haydn is such perfection and gives us a chance to showcase our truly first-rate wind section a bit. What would you have done?

Concert is Sunday- more info here.


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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at www.kennethwoods.net

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