Tuesday, November 24, 2009

RIP H C Robbins Landon (1926-2009)

(H C Robbins Landon doin' his thang.)

H C Robbins Landon, the extremely weird musicologist (see here) who made a career out of sorting through the music of Earth's most normal musical master, died yesterday at the age of 83. He was a great scholar, lecturer, TV presenter and writer who did more than any figure of our day to convince musicians 18th century masters like Haydn, Mozart, Vivaldi and Handel more exposure. You may now think that these are composers who need no advocacy, but that only testifies to the magnitude of Robbie Landon's accomplishment.

(The Hungarian Rondo from the Piano Trio in G. Played by the Puella Trio.)

Even today, the fact that Haydn is not thought of as a master on the level of Mozart (his close friend) and Beethoven (his prodigal pupil) is one of the great scandals of music appreciation. It is safe to say that there are only a handful of figures in music history without which all subsequent music would have taken an entirely different direction. But no composer, except maybe Bach, had more of an effect on later music. Bach may have created tonality as we know it today, but Haydn undisputably created what we now know as sonata form. Every time you hear a movement of classical music in which two themes are played against each other and then developed into a competition for supremacy (with the first theme pretty much always winning) is an invention that Haydn began. True enough, there were composers who did it before him. But as in all art, what matters is not who did it first but who did it best.

(Haydn's under-rated sequel to his masterpiece. After he wrote "The Creation" he wrote one on The Seasons. He had wanted to do an oratorio based on Paradise Lost but couldn't find somebody to write him a good enough libretto - text. The loss is history's and it's incalculable.)

I love Haydn's music as I do very few composers. Bach can articulate your soul's desire, but Haydn is all dirty jokes and beer. Mozart can make you remember what it's like to fall in love, but Haydn can make you remember how good life can still be when you're not. So if I were to tell you that the entire output of the composer who invented symphonic form and wrote maybe the most fun classical music ever written is still played with approximately one fifth the worldwide frequency of Carmina Burana, you would probably think this is a screwed up world. You'd be right.

(The final movement of Haydn's Symphony no 45, the "Farewell" Symphony in which all the musicians leave the stage one by one, until only two musicians remain. Well worth watching until the end. Daniel Barenboim conducting the Vienna Philharmonic.)

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