Bryan Proksch: Reviving Haydn

New Appreciations in the Twentieth Century
viii+292, 2016.
ISBN 978-1-58046-512-0
University of Rochester Press

This is not, by any means, a full survey of Haydn Reception History in the 20th century. To all intents and purposes the author stops with the 1959 anniversary on the reasonable grounds that the activity since then would require at least one more book. He begins with a scene-setting survey of 19th century attitudes, which could be summed up as ‘audiences like Haydn, but composers/conductors don’t’ (with the possible exception of Brahms, who couldn’t quite bring himself to admit it). This may still be true, at least with regard to conductors (see below).

The first half of the book is then a number of recycled journal articles highlighting the stances of d’Indy, Schoenberg and Schenker towards Haydn – this topic has been a prime interest of the author for 15 years. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this in principle, but such articles do need a bit of a re-think and some less indulgent (or more observant) copy-editing if they are to avoid duplication of material and development of something of the narrative flow that a book needs. On p. 57, for instance, we are introduced to ‘Eusebius Mandyczewski, one of Brahms’s protégés’ and then on p. 115 we meet him again, but as if for the first time – ‘Eusebius Mandyczewski, a Romanian musicologist working in Vienna and a part of Brahms’s circle’. Similarly, p. 186 tells us that ‘Samuel Barber wrote his Fantasie for Two Pianos in the Style of Josef Haydn  (1924)’ while on p. 227 ‘Samuel Barber wrote the Fantasie for Two Pianos in the Style of Josef Haydn  in 1924’. In addition, references to previous or imminent chapters feel blatantly added, and could do with being page specific, where appropriate.

These might seem small points, but cumulatively this kind of thing does create a lumpy feel to the writing as a whole, interesting though much of it is. I found fascinating – perhaps in its seeming unlikeliness – the surge of Haydn performances in mid-1920s New York. The attempts of various nations (Hungary, Croatia, Germany, Austria) to claim Haydn as their own also make for lively and sometimes sobering reading and, being British, I also enjoyed the investigation of Tovey’s various writings and the observations on Vaughan Williams’s changing attitude towards Haydn and folksong.

But, in conclusion, I would say that the Haydn revival post-1959 (even post-2009) is still ‘work in progress’ in terms of regular performances. Although all the symphonies are now available on CD played on period instruments they still make a minimal impact on concert programming and not one ranks in the ‘top 20 symphonies of all time’ in a recent BBC Music Magazine survey (of conductors’ views). However, in the South Bank 2016/17 season they outnumber Mozart by five to one (though nine to one for Wolfie when it comes to concertos) which is verging on the encouraging. I still think that Haydn is the most under-rated of the canonically ‘Great Composers’.

David Hansell