Sunday, April 19, 2009

Beginning the Ascent of Mount Haydn

I realize that I have not yet written anything about my listening experiences with Brilliant Classics' recently-released Haydn Edition, other than announcing that I placed an order with Collectors' Choice about a month ago. There are several reasons for this, mostly of the I've-been-busy variety. Here at The Rehearsal Studio I found myself putting a fair amount of time into the events surrounding last Wednesday's "debut" of The YouTube Symphony Orchestra (scare quotes to indicate the uncertainty as to whether this ensemble will ever perform again and, if so, with the same personnel) at Carnegie Hall. Since I continue to be more interested in "live" performance than in recordings, it seemed important that this instance of out-of-the-box-thinking about performance be examined; and, given its connection to Internet technology, the blogosphere struck me as the most appropriate platform.

Meanwhile, my "beat" at has given me an opportunity to spend more time on "live" performance than I had been spending in the past. I have no regrets about this reassignment of priorities. Indeed, it has opened the door to many interesting paths of inquiry, some of which I have already begun to explore on this blog.

However, I have also been holding back on the Haydn Edition because I already had the first 33 discs. I purchased them when Brilliant Classics released them separately as a collection of the complete symphonies. I am now in the process of revisiting these discs, particularly to make sure that they are all in good shape, given Brilliant's track record for quality control. This is not to suggest that I am finding these initial discs a slog. I have no problem with being reminded of just how fresh and innovative Joseph Haydn could be in the symphonies he composed. The Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra brings just the right level of freshness to their sound; and conductor Adam Fischer recognizes all those innovations and gives them all the attention they deserve. Nevertheless, it will not be until I complete this particular phase that I shall be moving on to entirely new material.

The one problem I am likely to face involves navigating this collection. The standard index for Haydn's compositions if Anthony van Hoboken's catalog. Unfortunately, this is not provided in a usable form in H. C. Robbins Landon's five-volume Haydn: Chronicle and Works; and the only on-line version I have managed to find (thanks to the Wikipedia entry for Hoboken-Verzeichnis) is in French. Negotiating the French should not be too much of a problem, but unfortunately this site lacks a search tool! However, at the very least it should help me home in on specific dates, which can then point me to the proper volumes in the Robbins Landon collection (which is organized strictly chronologically).

More problematic will be finding a specific piece of music among the 150 CDs in this collection. The other anthologies came with a CD-ROM that had PDF pages for the contents of each disc. These pages would be organized into separate files, but they could be tracked through the Windows search tool. The Haydn Edition offers nothing other than a rather skimpy essay (in five languages, all in the same file) and the texts of the songs and oratorios. While the previous collections were "research-friendly," this one definitely is not! I may therefore have to start rolling some of my own tools to assist me in any future plans to write about Haydn.

This raises one final interesting point. Here on this blog there are only 23 posts with the "Haydn" label; and, since I began writing for, I have reviewed only one concert at which one of his works (a string quartet) was performed. Furthermore, many of my posts here have more to do with Haydn's relationship to other composers (such as Ludwig van Beethoven) than with his own compositions! Is Haydn suffering undue neglect? If so, will the Haydn Edition do anything to inspire a new wave of interest? If it cannot support the casual browsing of the curious listener (which it does not appear to do), then it might not help cultivate a "customer demand" for more Haydn on concert programs. Given how much I admire this composer, I would find that a great disappointment.

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