I have had felt a deep, abiding love for the music composed by Franz Joseph Haydn since I was eight years old and heard Christopher Kite on BBC Radio 3 play one of his “keyboard” sonatas. It rang my bell on many levels and changed my life. Some people “get” Bach, Prokofiev, Led Zep or, heavens forbid, Justin Bieber. I got Haydn.
This is the man who makes a bassoon fart in one of his symphonies and frightened his audience so much in another that it has been called “Surprise” ever since. His was an enormously gifted, possibly facile, talent for composition — I hesitate to use the word “genius” — but not a particularly subtle one, as witnessed by the bassoon fart. And yet he was capable of profound and extraordinary depths in addition to an unparalleled mastery of the symphony. Do remember: we in the 21st century think that genius is a solitary achievement. This was definitely not the case in the 18th.
Incidentally, he taught/inspired both Mozart and Beethoven, both of whom paid tribute to the master in their music. (Beethoven’s first two symphonies and piano concertos are, basically, Beethoven-flavoured Haydn.)
Haydn wrote upwards of 106 symphonies, some exquisite quartets, operas that are easily forgettable, some surprising oratorios, concertos and a whole range of music including what has long been the German national anthem (quite amusing, really, given that he wasn’t German). If his name means little or nothing to you, I would recommend the Seven Last Words (a series of strangely moving and disturbing quartet adagios - go for the Cherubini Quartet recording if you can find it), the Sturm und Drang symphony recordings by Trevor Pinnock and the English Concert, especially Symphony No. 45, any of the London symphonies by anybody, because they just work and the late “keyboard” sonatas, especially those performed by Richter or Glen Gould. The word “keyboard” merits speech marks because he wrote them for harpsichord (Haydn disliked pianos), but what Gould and Richter did with a piano gives me goose pimples.
What Haydn won’t be remembered for is the Creation, a rather clunky - but very clever - oratorio performed in Le Havre cathedral (rather raggedly, it must be said), by the Wirral Symphony Orchestra. Happily, the choir and soloists did much better, but as oratorios go, this one won’t do it for you.
I have broken an unwritten rule: musicians don't "out" their colleagues.
Love for another human being often leads to unpleasant surprises which we learn to understand with time. Love for a dead composer’s work is always an exploration, a journey, something to appreciate when the orchestra doesn’t get it. This time, the orchestra, a "professional" one, didn't get it.
I attended a performance of Haydn’s Die Schöpfung by a magnificent local choir, a magnificent group of soloists and a really crap rendition by the Wirral Symphony Orchestra in le Havre’s baroque cathedral. I name and shame the wobbly first french horn and second cello. Sorry, but your performance left a lot to be desired.