“Too Late Have I Loved Thee”: On the Genius of Franz Joseph Haydn | R. J. Stove | Catholic World Report
He seems to need rediscovering with each new generation. And by the way, let’s lose the fatuous “Papa Haydn” tag.
Strange how certain extremely famous creators are not really famous after all. For proof of this sub-Chestertonian paradox, consult Franz Joseph Haydn, who seems in many respects the musical counterpart to Mark Twain’s definition of a literary classic: “something that everyone wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” The normally perspicacious Schumann—possibly misled by the “Papa” which common usage all too swiftly attached to Haydn’s name —dismissed Haydn as “a familiar friend of the house whom all greet with pleasure and with esteem but who has ceased to arouse any particular interest.” Tchaikovsky remained only slightly more enthusiastic: “I also like some things of Haydn.” Kingsley Amis, in 1982, exhibited downright contempt: “Except perhaps for J.S. Bach, Haydn was the laziest of the great composers.” (Proof, if we required proof, that a verdict once passed upon Belloc fits Amis still more: “As he grew older the rather juvenile desire to ‘shock’ grew stronger and not weaker.”)
Overall it is surprising how accurate the remark credited both to pianist Paul Badura-Skoda and musicologist Sir Donald Tovey—“Haydn The Unknown”—continues to be now. For Cincinnati-based editor Donald Vroon, writing in 1992, “Haydn is almost like a secret.” Two years beforehand, former New York Times critic Joseph Horowitz had provided mostly illuminating specifics about this quasi-clandestine role:
[Haydn] … holds limited popular appeal. He is not a sufferer, a lover, a confessor, a combatant—all the personae we expect our heroic musical executants to embody. His knowing wit and repartee privately gratify the attuned interpreter. Interpreters otherwise attuned—to a mass public, for instance—smooth away his subversive detail, transforming him into a cut-rate Mozart.
In one respect Horowitz's conclusion is inept because parochial. Outside the New York Times mindset, no automatic contradiction exists between “a mass public” and Haydn's output.