Day 33: The End, Kraftwerk, and a Beginning

HaydnCD33Today’s CD marks the end of Haydn’s symphonies.

In other words, by the time I’m done today, I will have listened to all 104 Haydn symphonies , plus the four Sinfonias. (So, is that 108? Or 104? You be the judge.)

I liked Symphony No. 103 in E Flat “Mit Dem Paukenwirbel” (“Drumroll”) from the first few notes. (I love the German language. They can take a simple, two-syllable word and turn it into something with more syllables than a doctoral dissertation.)

No. 103 opens with a long timpani roll, from which it gets its nickname. That lasts for about 10 seconds. Then, around the :12 mark, the bass instruments begin, slowly and somberly. The combination is extremely compelling. I found myself leaning forward to hear this, wondering what’s going to happen next.

Movement II  (“Andante piu tosto allegretto”) happens next. It is brilliant. Rich, complex, stately, multi-tonal, yet alarmingly ear-worm worthy. The entire symphony gets two thumbs up from me. (I’m sure Haydn would be relieved to know how highly I think of his efforts.) From its entry on Wiki:

The symphony was the last but one of twelve that were composed for performance in England during Haydn’s two journeys there (1791–1792, 1794–1795). Haydn’s music was well known in England well before the composer traveled there, and members of the British musical public had long expressed the wish that Haydn would visit. The composer’s reception in England was in fact very enthusiastic, and the English visits were one of the most fruitful and happy periods of the composer’s life. Haydn composed the “Drumroll” Symphony while living in London during the winter of 1794–1795.

The “Drumroll” Symphony was premiered on March 2, 1795 as part of a concert series called the “Opera Concerts”, at the King’s Theatre. The orchestra was unusually large for the time, consisting of about 60 players. The task of directing the work was divided between the concertmaster Viotti and Haydn, who sat at a fortepiano.

Haydn later performed the work in Vienna, and for this purpose made a small cut in the final movement, which is usually respected by conductors today.

Since its premiere the “Drumroll” Symphony has been a favorite among Haydn’s symphonies, and it is frequently performed and recorded today. In 1831, Richard Wagner arranged it for piano.

Again, wouldn’t it have been remarkable to see Haydn play his own symphony? Did his audience appreciate that moment? I know I would have. I wouldn’t have taken my eyes Continue reading

Day 32: November 1, The Irony, and The Reaper

HaydnCD31One of the songs playing over the Muzak system this morning at Mr. Burger was the Who’s “My Generation,” perhaps the most famous line of which is this:

“I hope I die before I get old.”

When I heard that lyric, I took stock of my fellow diners; a sea of white heads, belonging to people who were easily in their 70s, all kvetching over cups of steaming coffee.

I couldn’t help but chuckle.

Did they see the irony? I thought. I doubt it. Otherwise…

Otherwise, what? What can one do about growing old?

Nothing. It is inevitable. I’m not the person I was when the Who’s song was released on November 5, 1965 — nearly 48 years ago to the day.

I was five years old. And very likely peeing my pants from fear because I had to walk to the elementary school about a mile away from where we lived.


Always a momentus time in the life of a young lad. But for me it was a huge deal, indeed. I was petrified.

Fast forward nearly half a century. Here I sit. It’s November 1, 2013. I’m no longer petrified. And definitely not peeing my pants. But there is a mug of steaming coffee in front of me. And I suppose Continue reading

Day 29: Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

HaydnCD29This is the time of year that I dread: late October. It’s when my wife takes down all of the flowers that have graced our balcony since late May, early June.

There’s a quote from Sherlock Holmes, from the story titled “The Naval Treaty,” in which he waxes poetic about flowers.

“What a lovely thing a rose is!”
“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as religion,” said he, leaning with his back against the shutters. “It can be built up as an exact science by the reasoner. Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again that we have much to hope from the flowers.”

Even Sherlock Holmes, as cold and detached as he appears to be in print and film, was swayed, albeit momentarily, by the beauty of flowers.

How could I be any less moved by them?

Balcony1What makes this time of year interesting is that change is no longer a theory. It’s a fact, a palpable one at that. Trees turn color, temperatures drop, the wind kicks up. It’s a great time of year to be inside. Yet, not even there can one escape the chill that seeps inside. Winter is coming.

So, listening to Haydn’s music seems the perfect way to pass this season. Haydn will take me nearly up to Spring, 2014. The films of Woody Allen will carry me over the finish line into my second favorite season (after Fall).

For now, I get to enjoy Haydn, starting with Symphony No. 93.

Symphony No. 93 in D is the first of 12 symphonies dubbed Continue reading

Day 26: The Queen and Me

HaydnCD26Symphony No. 85 in B Flat “La Reine” (The Queen) is familiar to me, especially Movement III (“Menuetto & Trio: Allegretto”). I hear it now and then on the local Classical radio station.

This is a very, very good symphony.

It sounds so much like a symphony from that era that it very well could be the quintessential symphony, Plato’s Symphony — the idealized prototype for all symphonies.

The fourth of the six-part Paris Symphonies, No. 85 was composed in 1785 or 1786. Like the preceding three — and subsequent two — No. 85 sounds rich and full, with a depth and complexity that could only have come from a mature Haydn, one in command of his talents, confident and assured in his gift for composition. He was 53 or 54.

This is another Haydn symphony that I dub “favorite.”

521px-Marie-Antoinette;_koningin_der_FransenWhy is it called The Queen? According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The nickname “La Reine” originated because the work was a favorite of Marie Antoinette, at the time Queen of France. It is the only one of the Paris symphonies whose nickname is of 18th-century origin.

Symphony No. 86 in D is no slouch, though. From the get-go, Movement I (“Adagio – Allegro spiritoso”) stirs my soul and puts a smile on my face. When I think of what a symphony (at least the Continue reading

Day 25: The Bear, the Hen, and the Lord

HaydnCD25We’re into something interesting now.

The first symphony on Haydn CD 25 is Symphony No. 82 in C “L’ours” (The Bear). It is the first of six symphonies often referred to as “The Paris Symphonies.” It was composed in 1786. Haydn was 54.

Symphony No. 83 in G Minor “La Poule” (The Hen) was composed in 1785. Haydn was 53.

Symphony No. 84 in E Flat, also composed in 1786, is sometimes referred to by the subtitle In Nomine Domini (in the name of the Lord).

Because these symphonies are part of something bigger — somewhat like a story arc in a TV series — I won’t comment on each one at length. One, however, Continue reading

Day 24: In Narnia

HaydnCD24When I arrived at the Panera near my office this morning, I had to park so far from the back door that it reminded me of the scene from C.S. Lewis’ classic book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe and even catch a glimpse of the empty room from which she had set out. (She had, of course, left the door open, for she knew that it is a very silly thing to shut oneself into a wardrobe.) It seemed to be still daylight there. “I can always get back if anything goes wrong,” thought Lucy.

NarniaDoor2Lewis, C. S. (2008-10-29). The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: The Chronicles of Narnia (Kindle Locations 95-98). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

All I could see was the dot of the door, beckoning to me.

It’s a good thing it wasn’t the dead of winter,  otherwise the scene from Narnia would have been complete.

Only without Mr. Tumnus to guide me through the woods.

Symphony No. 79 in F, composed in 1784, is the first of another trio of symphonies that includes Symphony No. 80 in D Minor and Symphony No. 81 in G. Haydn was 52.

The first of the trio opens with a bold Continue reading

Day 22: Wabi-Sabi

HaydnCD22I dropped the Haydn box on the floor this morning.

It fell from the narrow ledge on which I’d perched it as I rifled through to select the next 5-6 CDs to rip into iTunes.

The CDs and CD sleeves are fine. But the box itself now has two tears in it — one structural (to the lower left corner) that renders it far less stable as a container, and another cosmetic (on the top left) that affects its appearance.

At first, I was really depressed. After all, this was not an inexpensive purchase. If I recall correctly, it was around $150 on Amazon.

Now, I bemoaned, its value has been reduced to just the music.

When the ridiculousness of that thought set in, I laughed.

“Just the music.”

Like Haydn’s music is secondary to the box in which it came.


What about Wabi-sabi? I asked myself — albeit an hour or two later, as I sat down to listen to today’s CD.

According to its entry on Wikipedia, Wabi-sabi,

represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, the other two being suffering and emptiness or absence of self-nature.

After all, wasn’t this morning’s butter-fingered escapade a reminder of impermanence? And the beauty therein, I might add. I mean, seriously, a Continue reading

Day 18: Bam!

HaydnCD18I was enthralled by Symphony No. 61 in D within its first 20 seconds.

The symphony opens with a burst of instruments — bam! — and then there’s a stuttering, a chattering, a dancing of strings building up to another full-instrument burst — bam! Then, oboe and bassoon enter the dance. Things really get rocking at the :30 mark when it sounds like bursts of fireworks. It’s bam! bam! bam! bam! syncopated around the dancing strings and the serenading, oboe, bassoon, and flute. These are some of the most stirring seconds I’ve yet heard from Haydn. This is hair-raising, truly invigorating craftsmanship.

Well, here it is. Listen for yourself. This is exactly the same performance to which I’m listening this morning:

Same conductor  (Adam Fischer), same orchestra (Austro-Hungarian Orchestra).

Antony Hodgson, author of The Music of Joseph Haydn: The Symphonies, describes it this way in Continue reading

Day 2: Sunrise

Haydn2There’s something about the opening of Haydn’s Symphony No. 6 in D “Le Matin” that reminds me of a sunrise, which is fitting since I’m sitting here watching one as I type this.

That’s not to say this piece remains idyllic and pastoral as Debussy or a Chopin nocturne. After easing into it for nearly a minute, Symphony No. 6 bursts forth (around the :56 second mark) like the sun over the horizon, throwing color everywhere.

I knew nothing about this composition before listening to it this morning. However, I just discovered that “Le Matin” means “the morning.” According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The nickname (not Haydn’s own, but quickly adopted) derives from the opening slow introduction of the opening movement, which clearly depicts sunrise. The remainder of the work is abstract, as, indeed, are the other two symphonies in the series. Because of the initial association, however, the remaining were quickly and complimentarily named “noon” and “evening”.

Do I know my Classical music, or what?

Haydn wrote Symphony No. 6 in D in 1761. He was Continue reading