Tuesday, September 12, 2017

JHU Osher Class 1: Haydn - Founder of the Tradition - Rough Draft

My technique has always been to write out a script and then depart from it as much as I can. So without further ado....

JHU Osher History of the Symphony Class 1: Haydn - Founder of the Tradition

Afternoon everybody! So first I'd like to present you all with a hearty welcome to The History of the Symphony. My name is Evan Tucker, and my best qualification for teaching a class on the History of the Symphony is that I'm the youngest person to have ever listened to one. 

I have to admit that the title is a bit misleading. There is, as with so many things, a dual purpose for the class. One purpose is to listen to a lot of good music, the other purpose is to do our humble best to understand what the music means. We don't have to understand the music on a musical or theoretical level, though I'm sure many of you would  be surprised how easy it is to understand basics of music theory. But moreso than asking you to understand this music in any kind of musical framework, I'm going to ask you to describe the music you hear in all kinds of other contexts - of history and politics, of books and thought, of art and theater, in the contexts of your own lives, and of course, in the context of other music. The problem with music as we generally see it is that any experience we have of it is subjective. If we hear a beautiful slow piece of music as a love song, we have to realize that the music is not necessarily meant as a love song, but in the moment we hear the music, our perception of it is true to ourselves and is therefore, in a sense, absolutely true. So by sharing those perceptions we can encourage and hopefully inspire each other to perceive more and different and more interesting ways to experience the music we hear. 

If you've come to this class, I would imagine that you're here because you're already fond of music, but you also want to understand more about it. What's most extraordinary about music is that music is both just music that can be enjoyed as music, but because it's just music to which no definite meaning can be attached to the sounds, we can associate an infinity of concepts with music. The reason that music has such a universal appeal for so many people is that it has this dual-concept, can both be appreciated as nothing more than pleasing sounds, and that these pleasing sounds may have infinities of meanings behind them. And in order to do this, we're going to have to talk quite a bit about the symphony's place in history, in philosophy, in the totality of the arts, in our own lives, and about how it all fits together. And in order to do that, I think the easiest way to do this is to think of everything we talk about as dual concepts.

And dual concepts, or what I'm going to pretentiously call dualities, will be how we organize this class. The reason I call them 'dualities' is because I believe that more than anything else, it's the divided self, the tensions between our ideals and our realities, that creates new and better thoughts. Every thesis has an antithesis, every pleasant fantasy has a nightmarish mirror image, every person has a mother and father, in the first movement of nearly every symphony, there two main musical subjects that are developed, every song has a root chord, a tonic, and an opposition, a dominant. We'll talk about that in the second half of the class. But this way, you can say to your neighbor 'What the hell is Evan talking about?' and you can point to this part of the lecture and get basically caught up.

I had a friend who used to tell me, exasperated with my tendency to do this, that there are two types of people in the world: those who don't divide the world into two types of people and those who do. Dividing the world into two camps can, obviously, be a very dangerous slippery slope, and if we indulge in what's generally referred to as dialectical thinking, it's very important to understand that it can never be anything more than an intellectual game we can use to theorize about the world and there is absolutely no scientific value to it without going through the exact same process scientists do - thousands of trials and errors through which recorded data and statistics. The whole appeal of the arts is irrational. We're all drawn to them, yet on the surface they seem to contribute nothing of value to society, but like sex, like war, like any form of procrastination, we persist with them. And trying to explain the arts with exact rationality to laymen is exactly what turns people off of the arts because it drains the arts of what seems magical about them. 

Please don't think that you've signed up for a class that has any kind of scientific or philosophical paygrade, because the point is this: Science can explain the facts of how music is made, but four thousand years of recorded culture have not given us any scientific rules about why we experience music the way we do. Science, for all its progress, hasn't even come up with a widely accepted explanation of why humans evolved to listen to it. 

So let me ask you to do an exercise. Do me a favor and imagine for a moment, that you're talking to someone who is completely tone deaf, or an alien who speaks perfect English but has no understanding of music. Now try to explain music in such a way that the person you're talking to doesn't question your sanity. Let's see how easy this is... (point out flaws in people's explanations)

The best possible definition of music I could ever come up with is that it's made of vibrations and patterns through which make you perceive connections and associations in your brain which you never realized were there. So the obvious problem is that how is this description different from what a psychotically ill person experiences? 

But even if music is a collective insanity of us all, there are some insanities in the world which are truly benign, and I don't think I'm wrong in thinking that if music comes from a piece of neurologically faulty wiring that can damage the rest of our brains, then to put this insanity to the purpose of music appreciation, then music is easily the best possible use of our mental defects. 

So the first duality we'll talk about is a duality that is seen throughout the problems of music appreciation. We're going to call this:


We don't actually mean either positivity or history, but two concepts associated with them. The philosophical concept of positivism vs. the philosophical concept of historicism. And don't worry, like everything in philosophy it's only complicated if you decide to make it complicated.

For a long time, nearly a hundred years, classical musicians have been mostly discouraged from discussing what music means. 'Just play it' is usually what we hear. According to this school of thought, a key like C-Major (play C-Major, play Mendelssohn's Wedding March - probably most famous piece in the world in C-Major) doesn't mean happiness, it just means C-Major. A piece that sounds like you could dance a waltz to it is not a waltz unless the composer specifies that it's a waltz. This kind of thought is called a 'positivist' thought. A positivist thought doesn't mean that a thought is happy or optimistic, it just means that the thought is definite. It means that this concept has an absolute meaning which, if properly studied, can be completely understood. According to positivism, every word and concept we use has an absolute meaning, and therefore if you understand the absolute meaning, you've understood the world better, and maybe you can make the world a little better. 

(see if you can get discussion going about what the problems with positivism might be... attempt at discussion may fail...)

To me, at least, the main problem with this way of looking at the world is that meanings always change. The use and purpose of every object changes from person to person, every person has their own memories, their own associations, their own ideas, their own background which they bring to every meaning. This is called 'historicism' the belief that the truth is something mutable and changes from time to place to person. If there are absolute meanings, then why, after a million years of human existence, have we found proof for the truth of so few absolute beliefs over the millennia? 

What might be some beliefs that have been proven absolutely true?

I'm pretty sure the most provable absolute meanings we've come up with are the meanings by which science and technology work. You can't argue that science is true because every piece of technology exists as a testimonial to the fact that science is correct. The question with science then becomes that if science can poison the entire planet, if it develops so many weapons to kill us all, you have to ask yourself, is finding the truth even worth it? 

So I promise we're going to get to music in a minute, but please just bare with me, because this is important. Let's take the opposite tack for a minute. What do you think might be the problem with this idea that meanings change from person to person and we should therefore always respect people's beliefs?

My biggest problem with historicism, and again, this is a very very very simplistic explanation of philosophical problems about which millions of pages are written, is that it's a very slippery slope to nihilism that says that if there is no absolute meaning, there's no reason to act in the interests of immediate gratification. It's though there is no reason to find any meaning at all. And the idea that everything is meaningless is its own kind of absolute meaning. 

The only solution, at least as far as I'm concerned, is to accept that there can be no truly definite statements about the truth, and that we have to go through life as though we can find them. If we think we can discover the truth, then there is no limit to how much we can inflict suffering on other people in pursuit of the truth. If it's a fact that unbaptized souls go to hell, what's the problem with torturing people in order to make them convert and burning them to purify their souls? But if we think there's no such thing as the truth, then we can justify any action at all, no matter how evil, as being good. What would be the problem with enslaving millions of members of a race for hundred of years just so your family and friends can live in greater comfort? 

And it's this tension between these two beliefs: 1. That the truth is something innate and ascertainable, and 2. that the truth is mutable and changes from place to time to person, that created the spiritual environment that enabled the form of the symphony to spring up - a music that had a religion-like devotion to the severest possible seriousness, but at the same time, is meant to make us worship nothing more than the music itself. There is no way of saying that music means anything at all, and yet it means so much to everyone!

The Symphony the first kind of 'high' or 'serious' music that questions if any kind of actual spiritual transcendence is possible because before the Symphony, the vast majority of 'high' music was church music. Yet many pieces of music, particularly symphonies, clearly imagines that spiritual transcendence can still be achieved. The difference, however, is that there's a chance that we never can. So, the second duality.


What do we mean by transcendence? What do we mean by truth? Let's think of Beethoven's 5th.

(play transition to the last movement of Beethoven's 5th, Szell/Dresden)

You could literally imagine anything to this.

What does this sound like to you?

I could name half a dozen images right away. Christ resurrected? Plato's Cave Dweller emerging into the light? The first ever sunrise on Earth? The process of birth itself? The entrance to heaven upon death? Perhaps even the moment of orgasm in sex and the narcissistic triumph that follows it... It's the ultimate piece of music that sounds to millions of people like some sort of transcendence, any sort of transcendence, is possible. But we have no idea what this music means, and we don't need to know. It holds us in terrible suspense, and builds and builds and builds until it breaks through into celebration.

But what if I told you that Beethoven may have had a secret program in mind? Listen those first three notes of Beethoven's 5th's Finale? Can you sing them? (sing) C E G? Do Mi So? LI-BER-TE!

Beethoven wrote this music between 1804 and 1808. This was the period when Austria was under siege from Napoleon's France. It's possible that this is still the most famous music written in any country, period, or genre. But if I told the vast majority of people who've ever listened to this that this is music meant to depict the struggle of the ideals of the French Revolution against forces that conspire to destroy them, a majority probably wouldn't care at all, a lot of people would tell me that I'm obviously wrong, and a few people would regard that view is as a revelation. We'll talk a lot more about Beethoven in two weeks, let's keep listening a bit.

(listen until 'La Liberte' moment)

We're definitely going to come back to this passage in two weeks, but what's worth mentioning is that Beethoven was as fervent a republican as existed in his era, and during the beginning of the 19th century, the entire world seemed to conspire against Republican ideals coming to fruition. The only stable Republic was the United States where Thomas Jefferson was president, a nation that held nearly a fifth of its population as slaves. France tried to create a Republic in which all people were equal, and the result was first the guillotine that killed 20,000 people, then a French Civil War that killed a million, and then the Napoleonic Wars that spread all through Europe and killed 10 million people. Britain and France were in the process of conquering whatever parts of the world hadn't already been conquered by Spain, so they could plunder the rest of the world's resources for the pleasure of a few lucky men who ran the world as their own personal kleptocracy.

There is significant evidence, which we'll talk about next week, that Beethoven meant his Fifth Symphony, just as he did his Third, as a political statement of Republican ideals in a world doing everything in its power to destroy them forever. Perhaps this moment is the moment when these ideals are finally achieved after a struggle which millions of people have already died for and many more millions later would. But what, ultimately, do you do with that knowledge? Does it mean a damn thing? Most people who've heard Beethoven's Fifth would hear that theory and shrug. Who cares as long as it's a good piece of music?

What's important is not that you ascribe definite meanings to a piece, but that you contemplate the music you hear and find meanings that work for you and you only. You can attach meanings to the music that are pictorial and cinematic, or you can tie the music to the sentiments of your favorite poetry or song lyrics, or you can think of philosophical ideas, or you can think of something a friend said to you or realize that the music makes you think of your loved ones. But what's most important is, like all things in life, the relationships you have. This brings us to our third duality.


(Play Wachet Auf beginning, Harnoncourt)

What emotions does this music inspire in you? Does it inspire a mental picture?

The idea of a personal relationship to art music begins, in some ways at least, with Bach, who was nearly as devout a Christian as ever existed, whose letters show that he had at least some qualities in common with people on the autistic spectrum - let's not read too much into that - and therefore didn't require much in the way of relationships with other people (though sex is another story...). The only relationships which truly mattered to him were the ones which he was ordered to have by God, the partner in what was, next to music, clearly the most fulfilling relationship of Bach's life. He probably never had a doubt in his life that wasn't assuaged by the fervor of his belief. But many of Bach's beliefs - religious, political, and musical - were old-fashioned even in his time in ways we're about to get into. Bach wrote music that in many ways was meant for the spirit and ideals of Martin Luther, who lived 200 years before Bach. The most famous man of Bach's time was Voltaire, and there are no two famous historical contemporaries whose outlooks on life are so completely different.

(Play Josquin Missa Pange Lingua - Kyrie)

How about this one?

This is the music of Josquin des Prez, a contemporary of Martin Luther who was, before Bach, generally agreed to be the greatest of all Church composers. But this music of a very different spirit than Bach's. It's a little forbidding and cold, it's meant to hold the listener at a certain distance. You're not supposed to love this music, you're supposed to feel awe at it because the intended audience was God, not us, and even if the rest of us weren't exactly bystanders, our interest was sort of secondary. It was hoped that we would be so inspired by this offering to the Almighty that the music would inspire us to feel holy. There was plenty of great music that happened outside of the Church, but we'll never hear it. The vast majority of it was an oral tradition, passed down from one generation of musicians to the next, most of whom were illiterate, and all of whom put a unique spin on their music that caused it to gradually evolve. Authorship as we understand it today barely exists to people who are illiterate. When you don't know anything about books that set down permanent records, when you've never travelled more than fifty miles from your home, it's very difficult to know what's original, so performers took the existing material and transform it to suit the needs of the audience and the talents of the performer. What we now think of as folk songs are songs that have gone through an infinity of permutations over time and whose lyrics and tunes were constantly changing. Folk music was for the vulgar people, secular written music was for the educated classes who wanted to be as free from vulgarity as possible. But Church music was for God and an act of worship.

Church music was like celestial mood music in which we appreciated our nearness to the Almighty, but in a sense, we were just spectators. If you've been to France, think of those enormous Gothic eglises. The enormity of it is important, so is the contrast of light refracted through stained glass against the vast darkness, but the most important part of the impression which Gothic churches make is the empty space. The churches were, by far, the biggest and tallest buildings a pilgrim would ever see in his life. It is meant to give a sense of the eternal and the infinite. Pondering the sheer enormity of the empty space is what gives you that sense of a kingdom without end in which the worshipper could imagine the infinite space of God, and an infinity of angels and blessed souls.

(Turn on Aus Liebe from the St. Matthew Passion - Karajan/Janowitz)

Again, if you don't speak German and had to say what this music expresses, what does it express?

Bach, however, was a Protestant, and therefore believed that God had a personal relationship with every worshipper. God was not an infinite being to feel awed by, he was a divine friend who would be a bridge over troubled water in all your crises. God needed no clergyman to make you feel close to him, and no one but God was so great that he could judge either your conduct or the sincerity of your belief. Protestants needed a music whose spirituality you could feel with the same immediacy that any listener could feel from the eros of any love song.

And yet, the historical moment Bach provided his sinning listeners with this music of a personalized God was, by and large, the 1720's through the 1740's, the same period that saw the emergence of secular and enlightenment thinkers who did more to de-throne God from the center of the universe than any thinkers before or since: Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Vico, David Hume, fairly soon thereafter Immanuel Kant would number among them and so would Jefferson and Hamilton. Once mankind is on equal footing with God, he has a choice to view God as either a friend or an enemy. And he just might start viewing God with animus considering the things humans hav put each other through in God's name. But even if people, particularly back in the 18th century, want to overthrow God, then after 1500 years in which God is the undisputed ruler, God can only be overthrown by using the language and concepts which religion gave us.

The history just of America could be written as a long and extremely fraught struggle to explore the implications of Jefferson's phrase 'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal'. But before people can be seen as equals, they have to be seen as free. And it's only been a hundred fifty years since the most powerful two Western Countries, the US and Russia, emancipated their slaves and serfs. It took Western man literally three thousand years to believe in free will, and it will probably take another three thousand years to make mankind realize that every person deserves to be equal. So here we come to our fourth duality:


Imagine yourself in Europe during the first millennium AD, or better yet, imagine yourself stuck in West Baltimore at three in the morning. You see poverty and brutality all around you, people who are treated in all sorts of manners you wouldn't want to be treated, you have no way of alleviating all this desperation, and you worry that if you try, you'll be dragged right into it. If you didn't have a way of numbing yourself to it, of telling yourself that this is the way the world was meant to be, you would never stop throwing up.

There are many, many reasons for Christianity's proliferation in the first millennium, and many of them were quite a bit more generous than what I've just said. But what can't be denied is that the idea that God willed that the world should be the way it is and should never be changed resulted in a social heirarchy into which everyone was born that basically did not change for 1500 years. Imagine what that means for a moment. On the one hand, by our contemporary standards, misery is the lot of 99.999999% of the people who lived in the Middle Ages, and there is no hope of emerging from it. On the other, there is a kind of absolute security in it. You know your place in the world, you know what tasks you have to complete, you know that your sense of self does not matter, and you are certain that whatever trials you undergo, so long as you believe in God with the infinity of faith that you don't believe in yourself, you will experience joys beyond what any mortal human can experience on earth. There is still a chance, however unlikely it seems, that in this world of tragedy, people might have been happier than they are in our world where everyone is, to greater and lesser extents, free to be everything they choose.

It's not that Christianity did not believe in Free Will, but Christianity also believed, thanks to St. Augustine in the 4th Century, that God was omniscient in addition to being omnipotent. However free your will seems, God knows exactly what you would do, when you would do it, how, and why. To the modern mind, that may make our heads explode. But think of this with a mind which is entirely organized by religious concepts. We humans are the divine image, we are not only made in God's image, but we all have the divine spark within us. We are manifestations of God and therefore our minds are wired directly to God's mind, a God who may cut you off and send you to burn in hell forever if you don't act in a Godly manner. This is so unbelievably powerful a way to keep people in check that Christianity, give or take some obvious changes, basically ruled Europe without an interruption for just about 1500 years.

And yet, for all sorts of reasons we won't get into, there was something in the air which made the 18th century the moment when large swaths of educated people adapted something other than a religious mindset.

But, and this is a very Jewish insight rather than a Christian one, in order to throw God overboard when God is the only thing you know, you can only do so by defeating God with God's own weapons, and therefore, you are making just as much a religion out of opposition to God as you ever were when you believed in Him. By professing Atheism, and maybe even Deism, the enlightenment is just as responsible for creating Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Kim Jong-Il as it is for creating Lincoln and Roosevelt and Mandela and Merkel. 

Just think of Rousseau, who wrote at the beginning of the Social Contract that "Mankind is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains." And compare that to this passage from the Second Epistle of Peter: "Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a coverup for evil, live as God's slaves." The question becomes, as ever, how do you take these two sides who hate everything about each other and show these two sides how much they have in common and what the benefits are of living together harmoniously.  

The point of the Enlightenment, the moment when the symphony took wing in just the same way that the novel and autobiographical poetry did, was to create things that could both express a divided self or divided spirit or divided community, and find a way of making them whole again. Just think of the meaning of 'symphony', it goes back to old French, 'symphonie', and then to Greek 'sumphonos', and all the way back to Aramaic 'Soomponia'. All four of these terms combine sym - harmonious, with phonia - sound. 

The ability to hold a person's attention through music without text over a long span of time requires enormous contrasts, invention, discipline, and knowledge. Just like a great novel takes all the elements of life experience and fuses them into a whole, a Symphony is an attempt to fuse the very best of extremely diverse elements of music and pay tribute to the millions of different sounds and forms and contents and cultures which music can show us. The Symphony is, as literally as can be said, a musical democracy through which every kind and possibility of music's meaning is sounded together in dialogue with one another. Like all dialogues that are worth having, it can be fraught with tension and there's always a possibility that the dialogue will end in terrible discord or tragedy or pathos. But every dialogue between two opposing forces always holds out the hope for greater understanding, better resolution, and more fulfilling lives. The symphony is the ultimate musical, and perhaps even poetic, statement of a culture that means to live together in peace. And Haydn made it possible, we will talk about how after the break. 


Second half:

Composers vs. Performers

(Play Vivaldi Agitata Da Due Venti - Bartoli)

So I want you to imagine what music was like around 1750. And it's honestly is easier than you might think it is, because music in 1750 is much more like music in the 21st century than it was around 1875. Nobody listened, or even was much aware, of the long history of music before them. Everybody was playing and listening to music of their own time, and were barely even aware that music of an era before them was worth listening to. 

At this point in history, everything in music was a hustle, and a musician had to be as much a salesman as he was a creative artist. If he wasn't able to advocate for himself, he had no chance to make a living. Musicians were completely beholden to the economic reality, which is that they had to make the kinds of music which people with money wanted to hear. Very few pieces of music were more than four minutes long, and even church music was like a series of songs on an album. The real stars were not the composers but the singers whom composers wrote for. The greatest stars of all were the Castrati, who were in every sense the rock stars of their day - particularly in Italy. Their voices were apparently so virtuosic that they could articulate notes as quickly and accurately as Itzhak Perlman would a violin. If a boy from a poor family was musically talented, the family would have the boy castrated in the hope that his rock star status could lift them up from poverty. At the height of the castrato craze, it was estimated that 4000 children were castrated every year. Can you imagine the kinds of lives these children were doomed to if they couldn't make careers as singers? 

But think of so many rock stars of our day: Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Prince, Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury, Robert Plant, Sting, David Lee Roth, Jim Morrison, Alice Cooper... what about their appeal, in their primes, did they have in common? 

Each of these rock stars were popular in part because there was something androgynous about them - a kind of primal sexual power that seemed to have both the strength of traditional masculinity and the sensitivity of traditional femininity in a radically strange and primal package that more buttoned up, traditional people, could only fantasize about. They were like the Greek chimeras, both a man and a woman in the same body and therefore sexually complete by themselves in a way that the rest of us could never be. 

In the same way, the great Castrati, particularly in the 1720's and 30's had that primal power over audiences. You'd think that Castrati would be considered utterly sexless, but in fact many of them were known as sexual gods, and the fact that they couldn't 'finish' meant they could 'go' as long as they wanted. And like so many great rock stars of our time, all they needed was one name to be well-known. Siface, Pistocchino, Mateuccio, Nicolini, Senesino, Valentini, Cusanino, Farinelli, Domenichino, Caffarelli, Gizzenino, Marianino. 

The concerts they sung were 100x more like a rock concert than any classical concert today. It was expected that people would talk unless something caught their attention, there would be applause in the middle of arias, people would eat and drink in the concert hall and a lot of food would end up on the ground, and occasionally there would even be booing. The idea that people would sit in these concerts in respectful silence was completely anathema. For Church music, people would remain silent, but opera was a populist, middlebrow artform, and if there was any worshipful element to it, it was a pagan, bacchanalian worship that had almost a sporting element to it. The noble class would sit in their own boxes, the middle class usually in balconies, and the lower working classes down beneath the stage, often standing. Think of it like stadium seating. 

But what about the rank and file musicians who played underneath these stars? Most of them would, like so many musicians today, have to eke out a living by freelancing, and this was the environment in which Haydn had to start making his living. Every Sunday he'd have to go to three or four separate Church gigs to make money, singing at one, playing violin at another, playing organ at a third, writing music for a fourth.  

Composers were not the stars at this point in history. They simply wrote vehicles for the real stars and their music was supposed to be functional showcases which nobody would remember much about. Between the Baroque composers like Bach and Handel on one side and high classical composers like Haydn and Mozart on the other, there is really only one composer who is known to history at all: Gluck. Everybody else has, for the most part, been consigned to the dustbin, however enjoyable or beholden to fashion their music was at the time. 

It makes you wonder, for all the thriving music scenes and industries we have today, is any of it built to last long enough to be remembered in 200 years? 

Does it matter that it might not be remembered as long as we enjoyed ourselves at the time, or is everything that isn't eternally eternally out of date? 

Who, if any are the musicians or composers of our lifetimes people will remember centuries from now?

But around 1760 there came a new craze, the 'large orchestra' which could produce sounds of a volume and diversity no other musical organization ever could.  And evidently, Haydn's composing made an enormous enough impression on people that when it came time to found a newfangled organization called the 'large orchestra', he was selected by the Esterhazy family to be their new leader, in charge of hiring and administering players, training them to play together, and writing all the music. His title at the beginning of his long career with the Esterhazy's was Assistant Chapelmaster, an older composer was in charge of the church music, but Haydn was in charge of the concert music. A man as rich as Prince Esterhazy would sit in respectful silence, as though he were in church, with a few friends at most, and see what his composer had come up with this week. The next day, there would often be a second performance open to the public, anyone could come so long as they dressed well and sat in the same reverent silence with which they sat in church. 

Which brings us to this half's second duality:

Hooks vs. Sequences

Now imagine for a moment, you've been hired by the Esterhazy family, and when we speak of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Esterhazy's are literally the Hungarian side of that. The second family of the Empire will obviously not equal the Hapsburg family in power, so they have to excel the Hapsburg's in prestige, and prestige comes from culture. The Medicis gained renown by patronizing artists, King James gained renown by patronizing Shakespeare, the Esterhazys would gain renown by patronizing music. So If Prince Esterhazy said on Monday 'I need a symphony this weekend to show my orchestra off to a friend', Haydn would have less than a week to write it and rehearse it. He needed the very best musicians in the Austro-Hungarian Empire for his orchestra, and he needed to write showcases for them if he wanted their services. But because he had the patronage of a sympathetic boss, because he was completely above from the economic realities of most musicians, he could experiment and create things nobody else did or could. 

Now when you had so little time to write so much music with so many people to please, a lot of it, particular in the early days, would not be that memorable without certain special moments - just a lot of meandering sequences, stringing four notes along, then doing the same four a step down, then another step, then up three, down two, back to the home key. A lot of it sounds like Vivaldi or one of the Bach children, and not generally as good. Think of Haydn symphonies like the Hollywood Studio System of the mid-century, maybe only one in every three felt like it was assembled in something other than a factory, and perhaps one in every five was great, if that, but when you take it all together, you have the literature of the age. And alongside so many ordinary passages Haydn would do something so extraordinary that you knew you were dealing with a budding genius whom, if he had enough time, would extend his art to capacities only a genius could reach. 

In order to catch the audience's attention, Haydn needed what pop musicians now call 'hooks.' Something that makes certain passages of the music stand out from the others. What's an example? Take the beginning of Haydn's 31st Symphony, the Horn Signal. 

(Play first minute or two of Haydn Hornsignal - Harnoncourt)

Back in the day, hunting was considered such a cultivated pursuit that composers would be charged with writing the music for the horns which would signal that there were people in the area where the horn was so don't shoot there. There are all sorts of clever, almost extra-musical gimmicks in Haydn like this. But when it's done this well, it's not a gimmick, it's a commentary on daily life. Or take the last few minutes of the Farewell Symphony. Which according to legend was Haydn's way of signaling to his boss that his orchestra needed a vacation, yet also seems to touch something incredibly deep. By the end, it feels like something incredibly lonely and fragile. 

(Play last 3 1/2 minutes of Farewell Symphony - Barenboim)

Now imagine for a moment, Haydn going into the Esterhazy concert hall. On the ceiling he sees three mythological paintings: One is the goddess of morning raising the sun. One is of the goddess of evening setting the sun. In the center is a marriage on Mount Olympus with the sun directly in the middle. 

(Play opening of Morning Symphony - Fischer)

What does this sound like to you?

This is Haydn 6, the beginning of a cycle of three symphonies: Morning, Noon, and Night. And this is clearly the sunrise. You could almost say that this sunrise is the beginning of a sunrise on a new kind of music. One that is meant to be a spiritual, metaphysical experience, but one that, perhaps for the first time in the history of written music, does not necessarily have anything at all to do with God or Jesus or even Paganism but taps directly into the mainstream of the intellectual life of its time. I doubt Haydn had any time to read Voltaire or Rousseau or Montesquieu, and as a practicing Catholic I doubt he'd have much sympathy for them, but I guarantee that the Esterhazy's did read them, and Haydn literally found ways to reconcile, in music, the dialogue between science and faith. Over time, he became a master an engineer of music as Bach or Beethoven or Brahms, taking every theme he could think of, turning it backwards, upside down, breaking it into separate parts, reassembling it differently, changing the harmonies underneath every time it's restated. In the same way that so many 18th century gentlemen were amateur scientists like Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, Haydn became a scientist of music with questions and hypotheses he had to prove. Which brings us to our next duality. 

Question vs. Answer

(Play Opening of Philosopher Symphony - Fischer)

This is Haydn 22. The music is said to imitate what was called the disputato system of debate, which is almost talmudic in the way it has a question, then an answer. Listen to the horn asks a question, and then the oboe answers it. Is it a parody, an affectionate tribute, does it even have anything to do with debate? The nickname is only recorded a quarter-century after Haydn wrote it. What's important is not whether Haydn meant it this way, but that other people saw it this way. This is the soundtrack for a new age of liberal, enlightened discourse that sees reason as the path on which people will get a better life. 

But in the late 18th century, France came upon the limitations of reason. If your entire life is guided by reason and logic, then your life feels like a prison from which there is no escape, and you'll do anything in your power to smash the walls. The German speaking lands got to this point a generation earlier. A philosophical movement called 'Sturm und Drang' (or storm and stress) and perhaps this saved them from the overwhelming upheavals of France. Which brings us to the third duality of this half: 

Logic vs. Passion

A young writer named Goethe, whom in Germany is still as legendary as Shakespeare, wrote a famous drama about Gotz von Berlichingen, an adventurer who is a free spirit that speaks his mind in a high society where everybody speaks diplomatic double-talk and was most famous for the line when Berlichingen told the Emperor to lick him in the ass. The next year he wrote The Sorrows of Young Werther, about a passionate young man full of unrequited love whom nobody understands and who eventually kills himself. It seemed to glorify suicide, but at the same time, this sort of illogical behavior may have been the release valve that saved German society from collapsing in the 18th century in the manner of the French. Listen to the sheer rage in the last movement of Haydn 39, known as 'la tempesta di mare' or storm at sea. This isn't just a perfect representation of a storm at sea, but a perfect representation of the world as an illogical place, too powerful to control.  

(Play last movement of Haydn 39 - Antonini)

Or the second movement of Haydn 49, literally called 'The Passion.'

(Play second movement of Haydn 49 - Brown)

Or the last movement of the 43rd Symphony, called the "Mercury" because it seems to imitate the process of flight itself. 

(Play Haydn 43 - Fey)

And if these pieces make you think that Haydn is in some ways too showy and limited by his period in being as expressive as the 19th century which followed him, listen to the slow movement of Haydn 44, the 'Funeral' Symphony, which has come to have great personal meaning for me. 

(Play third movement of Haydn 44 - Fricsay)

Yes, it sounds very 18th century, but listen to the luminousness of it, it's certainly worthy of Beethoven or Brahms, and the way he gets that incredibly full glow of sound is exactly the same way. The orchestra is not lean and propulsive the way it is in Baroque music. Instead, every chord is full, and without even realizing it, every note, no matter how low, sounds many notes higher, and all those notes together great that harmonious halo around the music which we think of as beauty. 

Perhaps in a certain way, Haydn was wiser and more realistic than philosophers like Voltaire and particularly Rousseau, because his music seemed to realize that the world was too big to truly be controlled. Perhaps it can only be guided by an invisible hand, for Adam Smith, the hand was economics, for Haydn, as for German thinkers like Leibniz, and to a much lesser extent Haydn's contemporary, Kant, the hand was God, who ran the world the precision of the kinds of giant and complicated mechanical contraptions noblemen of those eras would collect. There was a time to every purpose under heaven, and just as light gives way to darkness, darkness will eventually give way to light. It's the ultimate sign of a society that's at peace with itself and survives from one era to the next. 

Which brings us to our next duality, pitting Haydn, a composer of two sides, light and darkness, with a composer who naturally held both of the light and dark sides within him simultaneously as no other composer ever has. 

Haydn vs. Mozart

(Play Mozart 40 Andante - Bohm/Berlin) 

However high one puts Haydn in the pantheon, Mozart almost has to be put higher, only because Mozart is Mozart, who seems to have been born with the ability to put every emotion into his music simultaneously in every bar. And not only that, but Mozart seemed born with the innate technical ability that it took Haydn thirty years to develop. It's not that Mozart's early works are as brilliant as his later ones, his adolescent works sound like the work of an extremely gifted adolescent. But Mozart learned so quickly that by the time he was 25, he was in just about every way an even better composer than Haydn. He was better in all those forms that Haydn wasn't so great at - opera, concertos, string quintets. Haydn was a rank and file player from the earliest age, and he thought in terms of giving each voice equal time. Mozart was a soloist from the earliest age, and he thought like a soloist - most of his music is melody given to one part, and if he uses the whole orchestra equally, it's to show off the way a soloist would show off.

Listen to the last two minutes of Mozart's last symphony. Five separate themes sound out in the orchestra simultaneously, this is a technical feat that has never been done before or since. It's like landing a quintuple axel in ice skating, something only a once in eternity practitioner of the art could ever hope to do. if it you can't quite hear it, it's because so much is going on that if you heard the whole piece in a good performance, your mind will would completely dizzy. 

(Play last 90 seconds of Jupiter Symphony - Harnoncourt)

How did Mozart learn this? In no small part, by studying Haydn's music. Haydn and Mozart became great friends in spite of the twenty-five year age gap, but Haydn surely looked at Mozart's music and realized that he could do still better. 

Because of a ten year friendship with Mozart cruelly cut off by Mozart's early death, Haydn stepped up his game. No more experiments, Haydn knew exactly what kind of composer he was, and his formula for a symphony became as codified as the formula was in Mozart. There would be surprises in Haydn's music, but the surprises had to fit in the framework of the piece. Which brings us to our next duality: 

First Theme vs. Second Theme

Listen to the beginning of Haydn 83, called the Hen for reasons you'll understand very quickly.

(Opening of Haydn 83 - earlier Karajan) 

Two themes so completely different in spirit that they almost seem like they exist in two completely different pieces.  And yet they have to exist in dialogue with each other, they have to find some kind of agreement, and over the course of seven and a half minutes they circle each other like two positively charged magnets until the impossible becomes possible and they can find some kind of resolution. 

(Play Last Ninety Seconds of First Movement Haydn 83 - earlier Karajan)

And like Mozart, Haydn finds ways of making major key melodies sound as bittersweet as anything in Mozart. As one musical friend of mine always says of Mozart, Haydn can now smile through his tears. Listen to the second movement of Haydn 88, which Brahms said was what he wanted his 9th symphony sound like. 

(Play Largo from Haydn 88 - Furtwangler)

And yet, Haydn the jokester, the hookster, is still there. Not just in the Surprise Symphony, which everybody knows so we won't play the obvious joke unless there's time at the end, but in the symphony before it, 93. Which is a gorgeous movement that ends on something so unbelievably unexpected.

(Play beginning of 93 Largo Cantabile, then end, Szell)

And this brings us to the final duality of the class:

Peace vs. War

And the jokes can also be rather savage, it's not just delightful humor. There is a darkness in Haydn that is underrated, even if it's a darkness that's always held in check. In balance. Listen to a few minutes of Haydn's Oxford Symphony. A peaceful theme against a dark military march. 

(Play Second Movement of Haydn 92, skip around, Hengelbrock)

By the last seven symphonies, we are coming to the summit of Haydn's art. Beethoven was already a student of Haydn's, ready to smash Haydn's model. He has mastered his material, and after these works, there's nowhere else to go. He's achieved the perfect balance he's waited his whole career to have, and should be unashamed to be Mozart's equal in symphonies. If he went past 104, he would just be churning out formulas. 

Listen to the second movement of the Military Symphony and think of just how many moods are caught in this short amount of time. Yell them out if you think you hear one. 

(Play Allegretto from Haydn 100, Harnoncourt, starting at 1:35-3:00, then 4:30-)

Haydn wrote this music in the early 1790s for London, where the old order was very very nervous. Across the English channel was violence unimaginable to them, across the ocean was a new country that successfully rebelled against them, the chaos of revolution and civil war seemed everywhere, but in London, life went on with the same amiable chaos as it always. All is still light in London, but darkness is all around them. 

As an older man, Haydn's music insisted on balance in a world that demanded that old orders be toppled. Musically and probably otherwise, he was kind of conservative by the standards of the 1790s, and he isn't known for his darkness, but that doesn't mean that Haydn was not aware of the gathering storms, and it doesn't mean that he shut it out of his music. Just listen to the beginning of his final symphony, #104, the 'London.' This is Wagner fifty years before The Flying Dutchman. 

This is the opening of Wagner's Flying Dutchman:

(Play Flying Dutchman Opening - Sawallisch)

And now, Haydn's last symphony. 

(Play Haydn 104 Opening: Markevitch 0:15 until Allegro)

The unbelievable Romantic, dark, existential brooding. Outside of Don Giovanni and the Requiem, Mozart never ventured this far into the brooding, animal neither-world of the spirit as here. 

And yet, Haydn knows exactly how to counterbalance it so that in the end, we remember the the world of light, and it becomes all the more meaningful because we've experienced that darkness. We'll end this by listening to the last movement of Haydn 104 with its Scottish bagpipe drone and Hungarian peasant czardas. Try to remember that this is all the same piece. This is what I mean by duality, light and darkness, slow and fast, loud and soft, consonance and dissonance. And even if Beethoven takes to a much more extreme level, he still keeps that balance. 

(Play Haydn 104 Finale: Markevitch - 18:50)

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