Wednesday, October 5, 2011

oh no!

Say it with me: I will not abandon the blog for Twitter I will not abandon the blog for Twitter I will not abandon the blog for Twitter I will not abandon the blog for Twitter

If it looks like I abandoned the blog for Twitter, think again, because here I am writing a blog post. I always intended for Twitter to be a fun side thing, a way to market my blog, publicize my thoughts, and get the people who I wanted to read me reading me. (Did it work?) But then I went from school-taking-up-a-lot-of-time to school-taking-up-a-LOT-of-time so if I'm not spending my free time reading Haydn quartets or being a non-music person then I'm not spending my free time too wisely.

So what was the point of this post again? Oh, that's right -- catching up on what's been going on. Last week, I started a meme! Okay it's not LOLCats but it did take off pretty well. On Wendesday I tweeted ""Haydn the Temptress: Sex, Drugs, and the Op. 76 Quartets" ". Various people jumped in the game (major props to Robinson Meyer for being #2) and once alexrossmusic picked it up ("Teenage Wasteland: The Arpeggiation of Adolescent Boredom in Mozart's Later Salzburg Period" ) it went pretty viral pretty quickly, with musicologists, critics, composers, and randos joining in the game. I wish I had the time to go back and read them all -- you can still see everything if you search on Twitter (be sure to click "All" to view everything), and everybody's favorite musicology blogger MMMusing has cataloged much of it here; NewMusicBox picked up the story and SoundNotion (everyone's favorite new music TV show) discussed it on air and read one of my less-clever ones (is "Ovation Inflation" supposed to refer to me?).

Anyway, of what I read, some of the earliest were the best. I love:
@kylelion "Du cristal: The Influence of Hip-Hop Culture on Kaija Saariaho"
@stravinskyite "Haydn Sikh: Legitimate Indian Classical Tradition or Children's Game?"
@ionarts "The (F)art of Fugue: Hidden Evocations of Gastric Distress in the Chromatic Inflections of Bach's Late Contrapuntal Works"

I am particularly proud of one of mine, "Central Park in the Dark: Ives and Cruising in Gay Subculture."

This will probably be the most fame I reach ever, so I will continue to wallow in it -- the tweets have mostly trickled out, though the real AMS is still talking about it.


If you're in the area, things to see that I unfortunately won't be:
-Tune-Yards is at Cat's Cradle tonight -- I need to get to know her music a lot better, because apparently she's one of those things that new music people love.
-The Cloud Dance Theater is performing on the UNC campus; I have no idea if they're any good, but they're dancing to Toshio Hosokawa (alas, recorded Hosokawa), so they get some streets cred with me.
-That's it for the next couple weeks. Note to all musical things that I love (that means you, everything on New Amsterdam or Bedroom Community or people repped by Amanda Ameer): come tour to the Triangle area. There will be at least 2 happy people and 2 terrified cats in the audience.


Let's talk a bit about Haydn, here. The elephant in the room*. I've been reading David Wyn Jones' concise biography to get a brief overview of the life and timeline of the man, and there is some pretty hilarious stuff. I had no idea that Haydn was a ladies' man, for starters (I guess in perspective, he really only had a wife, a mistress, and another lady lover, but still). There's this choice quote, from a 1790 letter, about his displeasure about having to return to Ersterhaza after a stay in Vienna:

"Here in Esterhaza nobody asks me 'Would you like chocolate, with or without milk, do you take coffee, black or with cream? What can I offer you dear Haydn? Would you like a vanilla or strawberry ice?' If only I had a good piece of Parmesan cheese, especially in Lent, so that I could swallow those black dumplings more easily."

"If only I had a good piece of Parmesan cheese" would be a great title for a killer Bang on a Can remix of Haydn themes.

A few years earlier, when Britain was Lady Gaga at the idea of Haydn coming to visit (he was rumored to be concertizing in London for many years before he actually arrived), the Gazetteer & New Daily Advertiser expressed their dismay at his absence:

"There is something very distressing to a liberal mind in the history of Haydn. This wonderful man, who is the Shakespeare of music, and the triumph of the age in which we live, is doomed to reside in the court of a miserable German Prince, who is at once incapable of rewinding him, and unworthy the honor. Haydn, the simplest as well as the greatest of men, is resigned to this condition, and in devoting his life to the rites and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church, which he carries even to superstition, is content to live immured in a place little better than a dungeon, subject to the domineering spirit of a petty Lord, and the clamorous temper of a scolding wife. Would it not be an achievement equal to a pilgrimage, for some aspiring youths to rescue him from his fortune and transplant him to Great Britain, the country for which his music seems to be made?"

Apparently Haydn was not great fan of his wife, but discussing her that way in a public forum is just, well, Lebrechtian. I can also imagine a really awesome Guy Ritchie heist movie where a rag-tag group of Brits infiltrate a castle to whisk away the Shakespeare of music.


Listen to this:

It might sound a bit prosaic; most Haydn, at first, does. But it goes, as most Haydn does, in interesting directions. The fake-out fugue, the insistent unisons, that scholarly counterpoint towards the middle of the first movement; the gorgeous adagio; the weird plucking in the minuet; the bizarre harmony shifts in the finale, with its stormy introduction, which culminate in an uncanny return to the original key of the piece. (I wish there were a better full recording on YouTube than the Budapests; they sound great, but it is very much a "classical" performance and misses some of the brutality of the music. They also skip the repeats, making it a bit less monumental.)

I've spent a lot of time listening to and looking at the op. 76 quartets, and I am thoroughly convinced that they are some of the best quartets out there. As someone who thought of himself as not particularly in love with that genre and not particularly in love with Haydn (I was in definite like with Haydn), this came as a bit of a surprise. But there they are: tours de force of what could be called the classical style at its finest, emotionally wrenching, beautifully wrought.

We've probably moved past the idea of Haydn as the benevolent "Papa," but we absolutely have not moved to the point where we can embrace him in the same way as we do Mozart and Beethoven. It is difficult to wrap our heads around the idea that someone can write 104 symphonies that actually don't all sound the same (they don't! I promise you. Bruckner's 9 sound a helluva lot more the same than Haydn's 104). It's one of the many silly ideas that we clung to from when Romanticism trickled into modernism; can you believe that so many people are still hung up on the idea that you should stop at Nine? Just because Beethoven did it doesn't mean you all have to.

The later Haydn, who so enraptured London as Handel did before him, is a keen and commanding musician. Professor Bonds pointed out recently in class that it is ridiculous that people somehow think that early Beethoven -- the first piano sonatas and op. 18 quartets -- can somehow be on the same level as the mature Haydn, a master at the height of his powers. But we cling to the notion that Haydn somehow transferred his power to Beethoven, that the Classical Style evolved into the Romantic Period, so that Beethoven picks up where Haydn left off, and scrubs off the jokes in the process. Let's leave that behind. I am starting to think of Haydn like Gandalf: formidable, wizardly, and partial to the occasional pipe weed.

*I have no idea what that means.

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