Friday, February 22, 2008

Haydn: Symphonies 82-87, The Paris Symphonies

Beginning classical music enthusiasts might look at this post and wonder, "Symphony #87? How the heck could this guy have written 87 symphonies? Beethoven only wrote nine!"
Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker
Haydn (1732-1809)
Haydn: 6 "Paris" Symphonies, #82-87
Deutsche Grammophon, 1981
Actually, Haydn wrote 104 symphonies. But the symphony of Haydn's era was quite a different animal from the more serious and extended symphony of the Beethoven era. And in many ways Beethoven ruined things for everybody that came after him.

After Beethoven, the entire notion of a symphony took on such a seriousness and a gravity that many great composers following Beethoven labored under his shadow. Brahms lacked the confidence even to attempt composing a symphony until late in his life. Beethoven had said all that needed to be said, and even the world's best composers lacked the audacity to say anything after him.

And of course I'm not in any way saying Haydn's symphonies lack artistic merit--the collective significance of Haydn's compositions amount to a monumental achievement for a composer's life's work, believe me. It's just a fact that Haydn's symphonies have somewhat less gravity and seriousness when compared to Beethoven's. But they are beautiful all the same and are a sheer pleasure to listen to. If you are looking to add Haydn to your classical music collection, I'd start with his Paris Symphonies. The recording I own (and have linked to below) is of very high quality.

I think Haydn had the good fortune to have composed most of his works long before Beethoven came upon the scene. Unlike Brahms, Haydn didn't have to go around thinking he sucked just because he came around after Beethoven.

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