New Hayden Biography Illuminates the 'The Father of the Symphony'
In this new book, author David Hurwitz sets out to rectify the neglect composer Josef Haydn has generally suffered, especially compared to his younger contemporaries Mozart and Beethoven. Like the other titles included in Hurwitz’s Unlocking the Masters Series, it is intended for listeners who seek to reach a deeper understanding of a specific composer. Addressing his readers directly and informally, Hurwitz guides them through Haydn’s vast body of work, focusing on selected instrumental compositions. He describes the salient characteristics of Haydn’s style, his genius for portraying both tragedy and comedy, and his capacity for constant surprises.
Often called “The Father of the Symphony,” Haydn is credited with perfecting, if not inventing, sonata form during the 18th century, which profoundly influenced the development of Western classical music. Here, Hurwitz offers a detailed analysis of its principles, uses, and modifications, as well as its other forms, like dances, songs, and variations.
His erudition is matched by his love for Haydn’s music, and perhaps the most appealing aspect of the book is his unbridled enthusiasm. He loves superlatives: everything is described as “the most,” “the best,” “the greatest,” or “the first.” (He also loves lists, tables, and diagrams, using them throughout the text and in three separate appendices.) Haydn, the man, is brought vividly to life by quotes from his friend Georg August Griesinger’s Biographical Notes, and through Haydn’s own words as well, taken from letters and recorded conversations.
What the book lacks, however, is more information about the heritage upon which Haydn built his innovations and the soil that nourished his genius. Even more important, it lacks printed musical examples: a few notes could replace a page of text. For musically literate readers, this would be enormously helpful, and even those unfamiliar with musical notation could follow the contours.
Instead, the reader is offered two CDs, featuring performances of the works discussed in the book. This seems like a bonus, but to read Hurwitz’s often very personal, always striking descriptions of the music and to try to listen to it at the same time, even if one knows it well, can be distracting. Moreover, neither the playing nor the recorded sound are of the best quality.