Music reviews for music published during the decade of the 1790s.
1. Joseph Haydn: Die Schopfung (10/10)
This appears to move the great oratorios or Handel into the classical era. The immensity of this is on par with his music but there’s no escaping how much more modern this work sounds in comparison.
I thought I had a distaste for the classical era, but Haydn’s music is making a huge impression on me so far. It’s a lot more complicated than I would have thought, given the era’s reputation for relative simplicity.
This is an incredible work – I would (will?) be shocked to discover a greater classical-era oratorio.
2. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 92 in G ‘Surprise’ (10/10)
The second London symphony (94th overall) starts off very conventionally. But there’s a reason it’s known as the “Surprise” symphony, and that reason has got to be one of the most shocking moments in the Classical era, perhaps in Western Art Music up until it was written (1792). Now, I tend to make a rather big deal about daring individual moments, perhaps more so than I should. But I can’t help myself here, as it’s unlike anything that ever occurred before in the tradition (to my limited knowledge). I guess the criticism of this is that it’s just one moment, and maybe the symphony as a whole isn’t all that great. But I can’t separate the moment – a moment of utter daring but, at the same time, a sense of humour so rare (at least in much of the 20th century) in the stuffy traditionalism of the classical tradition. There’s a little bit of a hint it’s coming. At about 35 seconds into the movement there’s a brief pause that really shocks you. But at 50 seconds or so is when the crazy chord comes out of nowhere. And even today it shocks audiences. It sounds like an idea out of modernism. But here it is in a symphony written in 1792. My mind has been blown.
3. Ludvig van Beethoven: Piano Concertos of the 1790s Opp. 15, 19 (9/10)
I have only recently heard these, but they are really instructive: composed seemingly before Beethoven created Romantic music as they both owe a lot to classical ideas. The first one is better than the second.
4. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 104 “London” (9/10)
The so-called “London” symphony starts off with such a modern opening I almost thought I was listening to the wrong work – it’s practically Romantic. But the music soon settles in to what we would expect. Still, as first experiences with “The Father of the Symphony” go, it was quite shocking. Otherwise I guess it’s just a “High Classical” symphony, albeit a stellar example of that, but that intro is something special.
5. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 103 in E-flat ‘Drumroll’ (9/10)
The eleventh (103rd) starts off about as whacky as any classical symphony I’ve heard with timpani, hence it’s nickname “Drumroll.” Following the drum roll, the opening notes remind me of a Romanic piece of music I can’t quite place. Both effects are rather daring (though it’s likely the Romantic piece I’m thinking of was inspired by this
symphony). It’s also super slow to start out, though it picks up in pace. To me it’s certainly more affecting than many of his others, and I love that opening.
6. Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 4 Op. 7 (9/10)
Not one of my favourites but I can hear why even at this early age he was unlike most of his contemporaries.
7. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 93 in D major (9/10)
The first London symphony (93rd overall) begins with a downright Romantic movement and that first movement plays around with tonality a little bit more than the average classical symphony. A later movement plays with the theme.
Very interesting. One of the better of the bunch. It’s worth noting that he didn’t write it first.
8. Joseph Hayden: Symphony No. 95 in C minor (9/10)
The third London symphony (95th) is, because of its minor key, a little more downbeat in tone than the rest. It is one of his symphonies that seems to me to almost suggest Romantic music. Like so many of his symphonies, it has
little unconventional tricks. It’s one of the best here, in my mind.
9. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 101 ‘Clock’ (9/10)
The so-called “Clock” symphony is not at all what I would think of when thinking of a clock, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. Of the Haydn symphonies I’ve heard so far, it’s probably the most “classic” in my mind, and the most enjoyable. I was more out and out impressed, perhaps by the “London”, but I think I like this more.
10. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 99 E-flat (9/10)
The seventh London symphony (99th) begins with a very different opening (to my ears) to most of the other symphonies in this set. It is striking in its tempo and apparently also in its tonality (though I have a hard time hearing that). It’s a pretty interesting work and I think it’s kind of easy to tell that this was written on his second trip, i.e. a couple years after many of the symphonies in this set were written. It seems more mature to me.
11. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 98 in B-flat (9/10)
The sixth London symphony (98th) has another one of these really dark openings that Haydn seemed so fond of at the time (see the 93rd and the “London”).
It’s a relatively radical symphony for him, even at this late date (though like many of his more innovative works, it’s hard for us lay people to pick up on all the innovations). It’s pretty solid.
12. Joseph Haydn: Trumpet Concerto in E-flat (9/10)
Haydn’s trumpet concerrto smacks to me of High Classical conventions or cliches – at least the first movement does – but there is no denying the importance, as it’s the first concerto for this type of instrument. So this is basically the first time anyone ever wrote for the trumpet below the high register. And that’s kind of crazy. And if I’m being fair, the trumpet really does a lot of stuff in this piece.
13. Joseph Haydn: Missa in Angustiis ‘Nelson Mass’ (8/10)
This is widely considered to be the greatest of Haydn’s masses and, according to some people, the greatest of Haydn’s compositions.
For reasons that escape me, I have (mostly) struggled with masses compared to other forms within the classical tradition. Masses always seem more dense to me, more impenetrable. (And this is someone who loves operas and many oratorios, so go figure.) And so find myself kind of now knowing what to do here. It’s far from the first 18th century mass I’ve heard – though it’s probably the only one outside of Bach’s masses, if I hazard a guess – but I have a lot harder time hearing what other people find impressive, I guess, because those masses are Baroque, and Baroque
music has long appealed to me over Classical. (Yes, I am a snob. I like my music unnecessarily tricky.) There are some neat passages in this where Haydn employs a trick he uses in one of his symphonies, where some of the vocalists are “off the beat” (for lack of a better phrase, and in this case, it’s not exactly true…), but in Baroque masses, there are a bunch of voices doing other things. That’s way cooler, to me.
So I’m struggling with really liking this, even though I recognize it as art, and undoubtedly it is likely among the great High Classical masses. But unlike a number of Haydn’s symphonies, I have no real desire to listen to it again. Ah well.
14. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 100 in G ‘Military’ (8/10)
The eighth London symphony (100th) or “Military” sure doesn’t sound martial at first.
The opening movement is about as typically “classical” as I could imagine a symphony, I think. The second has a lot of cymbals, so I guess that’s what makes it sound “military”. There’s certainly more percussion in this movement than I can recall in any other of Haydn’s.
But it doesn’t really make a huge impression on me, despite that apparent novelty.
15. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 102 in B-flat (8/10)
The tenth London symphony (102nd) is yet another of these symphonies with a kind of moody, proto-Romantic opening. It’s also the second of these (if memory serves) that opens slowly, a relatively unique thing at the time, I
believe. But of the later London symphonies, it is certainly one of the least interesting.
15. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 97 in C (8/10)
The fifth (97th) is one of the most conventional of these late symphonies. The second and third movements both have neat little tricks in them, but on the whole the work isn’t quite as bold as some of the others in this series.
16. Joseph Haydn: Symphony No. 96 ‘The Miracle’ in D major (8/10)
The fourth (96th) was actually written first and I feel like you can tell. It has some neat flourishes and the like but is possibly the least interesting of the twelve symphonies.