Few are more aware of the difficulties of selling Haydn than Franz Patay, an organizer of festivities marking the bicentenary.
“If you show someone a (Haydn) bust they’ll think it’s Mozart,” says Patay, who was also involved in the all-Austrian hoopla surrounding the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth three years ago. Patay says the Haydn budget of around 40 million euros — around $56 million — was about a quarter of what was allocated to the Amadeus year.
I’ve said it here before, but I’m not sure everyone heard me.
Haydn was a more creative, more talented and more skilled composer than Mozart.
More interestingly, I think the generally accepted breakdown of their respective gifts is mostly wrong. We hear that Mozart was the most facile and infallible composer who ever lived, a man who never needed to sketch or to revise, and whose works are infinitely fresh and inspired.
On the other hand, we’re taught that Haydn is the model of all that is normal in music. “In a Haydn symphony, you’d expect the development to do this, but Beethoven does something surprising here.”
In fact, I have yet to come across a single join between phrases or a single harmonic event or a single rhetorical corner in mature Haydn that unfolds in a predictable way. For all that he creates the strongest sense of expectation of any composer who ever lived, he never seems to simply give us what we expect. Simple alternations of 4-square antecedent and consequent phrases are rarer than a hungry fox in a hen house.
On the other hand, for all we hear of Mozart’s divine spark, there are huge stretches of his music that are formulaic and four-square, especially in the orchestral music. For all the wonder that unfolds from it, the opening of the Jupiter Symphony is quite boilerplate. And Mozart did need to sketch- his most perfect works, like the “Haydn” quartets and the Requiem were meticulously sketched. For all that we think of him in terms of elegance and infinite facility, there is plenty of Mozart that is clunkier, more predictable and more formulaic than anything Haydn would ever write.
On the other hand, Mozart wrote a good chunk of the most deeply moving, profoundly poetic, ecstatic and often sad music ever. Of course, regular Vftp readers know that I have a special place in my heart for the Requiem, but think also of the Andante from the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola, which towers above the rest of that piece, but is so, so, so moving. The 40th Symphony is simply the greatest tragic symphony ever written- certainly the most tragic tragic symphony ever written. When Mozart broke a sweat, he could unleash an astonishing, un-matchable facility- think of the Finale of the Jupiter.
Far from being the facile and elegant classicist, Mozart’s genius was really as the first Romantic, experimental composer.
The oft repeated anecdote-
And Mozart’s father, Leopold, cited Haydn as telling him: “Your son is the greatest composer I know.”
Is often quoted to imply that somehow Haydn thought of Mozart as more talented, but Haydn and Mozart both knew that Haydn’s skill, invention and facility far surpassed those of his beloved young friend. That’s why Mozart struggled more with the “Haydn” quartets than with any other works in his output. Haydn had set the bar so high in the quartet genre that Mozart felt he would never be able to measure up.
But Haydn’s statements on Mozart show that he understood better than most musicologists and performers the nature of Mozart’s genius-
“How inimitable are Mozart’s works, how profound, how musically intelligent, how extraordinarily sensitive!” he wrote.
Notice that he stressed profundity and sensitivity. Haydn understood that Mozart was the first Romantic- that his true gift was his ability to take us closer to the absolute centerpoint of the human soul than any other composer.
Haydn was the conductor of the greatest orchestra ever assembled (one has only to look at what he wrote for his principals to know that!), the friend of princes, the master in whose shadow Mozart and Beethoven stood. He also sounds like a hipper and more fun guy than most people think-
A lover of wine, Haydn insisted that a part of his yearly salary be paid in it. He worshipped women — except for his wife, who used to rip up his scores and use the paper as hair curlers. Haydn was a mentor to Mozart, who credited him with teaching him how to write string quartets — and who freely used elements of the elder composer’s music in his works.
And — despite his relative obscurity now compared at least to Mozart — he was BIG in his time.
Mozart died impoverished and with his musical legacy unsecured. Haydn, in contrast, dined at the table of Esterhazy — one of Europe’s most powerful princes — and members of the British royal family bowed to him during his London sojourns.
Beethoven famously refused to defer to royalty, but royalty offered to defer to Haydn. ‘Nuff said.