40 Haydn Symphonies

I used the top 40 entries in this ranking of all 104 Haydn symphonies, from ClassicFM. Oddly, the one that’s likely my very favorite, No. 45 (“the Farewell”) wasn’t on this list at all.

40. Symphony No. 91
Vivacious–alternately pastoral and balletic; middle movements reminded me of Beethoven’s symphony 6–not very similar, but in the same genre. Ebulliently positive! Grade: B (7/16)

39. Symphony No. 27
Even more energetic than the last one, this little symphony is downright assertive–an in-your-face slice of life adventure that clearly, cleanly illustrates the basic narrative pattern, including a sweet daydream center and a rousing, victorious finale. Simple, but not insubstantial. Grade: B- (7/16)

38. Symphony No. 86
I enjoyed the sprightly, peppy final movement, but even that felt…uninspired. A good listen, but nothing special. Grade: C+ (7/17)

37. Symphony No. 100 (‘Military’)
The ClassicFM reviewer said, “If you played the ‘Military’ as you were going into battle, you’d be more likely to ponder the true meaning of combat, the myriad social and emotional implications for those who partake, the poetry you might write as a result.” Way wrong. The 2nd movement especially is thoroughly martial in spirit, and the whole work is aggressive (but, being Haydn, never quite violent). A solid and rousing piece! Grade: B (7/17)

36. Symphony No. 53 (‘L’imepriale’)
The ClassicFM reviewer called this Haydn’s “most overtly stately symphony. You can pretty much march around the room in a wig to this one for the duration.” I think that’s too limited, too narrow. Only the very beginning and much of the central episodes sound like that to me. I also hear the same dreaming gestation at the core, as well as the bubbling triumph so typical of his final movements–this symphony, as usual, is a hearty slice of joie de vivre. Grade: B (7/17)

35. Symphony No. 14
My reaction here surely shows my illiterate ignorance of music. I didn’t identify the progressive genius in the final movement extolled by the ClassicFM reviewer as well as on the Wikipedia entry for this work. I found this whole piece simplistic, predictable…and often dull. Grade: D (7/17)

34. Symphony No. 99
What a huge difference going from early in his career with the last entry to late in his career with this one! THIS is a masculine symphony, full of controlled strength, and a joyous celebration of it. Great stuff! Grade: A (7/18)

33. Symphony No. 82 (‘The Bear’)
The reviewer’s comments about the manliness of this piece are spot on. I listened to the “Composers by Numbers” version on YouTube at first, and found it pretty blah, but then I tried the live one linked above, and liked it much better. I love watching an orchestra play. The orchestra is one of history’s greatest inventions. Grade: B+ (7/21)

32. Symphony No. 61
The reviewers called this one “bracing,” and I think that’s a good fit, if too stuffy. It’s more like “vivacious.” This is another one full of joie de vivre, bookended by movements so sharp they almost sting. Grade: B+ (7/30)

31. Symphony No. 79
There must be more going on here than my untrained ear picked up on. This one seemed decent and fine–bland, backhanded compliments. The general tone came across as pastoral, and I always enjoy that. Still, nothing here was especially surprising or pleasing. I liked it, but didn’t love it. Maybe if I got to know it better… Grade: B (7/30)

30. Symphony No. 90
Now THIS is a masterpiece! I can’t believe it’s only #30 on the reviewer’s list. I love how perfectly in thematic harmony the slow movements are with the faster ones. And the series of false “Return of the King” endings are a bold joke. Finally, the music itself is simply so superior here–this is quite a dazzling feast of audio excellence. Grade: A+ (7/30) Continue reading

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Haydn

So I’ve spent a lot of this year getting into Haydn. It’s odd–I’ve been courting a taste for classical music for most of my adult life, but I never really listened to Haydn until now. He slipped through the cracks somehow. I read something recently about how Haydn used to be regarded as highly as his younger contemporary Mozart, and was just as popular, until the last generation or so, when we decided Mozart was the be-all and end-all of music. (I enjoy this channel of animated classical music, which has hundreds of videos, but which I just found has zero pieces by Haydn.)

The two men’s styles are certainly similar, but in Haydn I see a man I find spiritually simpatico. His symphonies each sound simple, but developed deeply–each a paean to grace–like Mozart’s–but also direct in a clean, friendly way, as opposed to Mozart’s often overbearing showmanship. A balance of lofty and grounded.

I just watched a lecture by Robert Greenberg about Haydn, and learned that he was a child of the working class, and a late bloomer: another level at which I connect with him. It may be illustrative of pretension, but when I listen to Haydn, I feel the best of both my abilities and aspirations underscored–ambitions for productive contemplation, if you will. I’ve listened to the Sunrise quartet on some Sunday mornings, for example, and find it a perfect fit.

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