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It’s always nice to see an artist putting something back into the place that reared him – think Shakespeare in Stratford, Elvis in Memphis - but not many deliver as emphatic a payback as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has done in his 250th year. Highbrows may scoff at the gaudier marketing excesses but, with four months to go and official figures still being finalised, it is abundantly apparent that Little Mo has brought home the bacon for the folks back home.
Salzburg, his birthplace, has (I am reliably informed) enjoyed a double-digit increase in cultural tourism, the high end of the trade, while Vienna is up seven percent on UK trippers alone. The Salzburg Festival, in a season of transitional management, has scored record box-office for its run of 22 Mozart operas and will soon be cashing in on the Christmas trade with a £300 boxed set of ‘Mozart 22’ DVDs. Vienna is putting on a November fest in which the American director Peter Sellars will mix and match Mozart with contemporary works, an extravaganza that will tour next year to the Barbican in London and New York’s Lincoln Center. If you thought the Mozart tide was receding, brace yourselves for the next wave, and the one after.
All told, the 30 million Euros ($38.5m) in public subsidy that Austria splashed on Mozart this year is looking like the best investment since early Microsoft. Mozart is no longer a little night music but a global brand that creates customer loyalty and allows a country of eight million to punch way above its weight in the councils of Europe and the cultural hemisphere as the source of classical music. What Austria plays, get replicated the world over as the aural wallpaper of our lives.
So all through the summer officials in Vienna have been sweating over the next project, searching for a magic name to repeat the Mozart effect. Fortunately, there’s another little fellow in a frizzy wig coming up for his bicentennial.
Franz-Josef Haydn was musically more important than Mozart or Beethoven in the sense that he invented the moulds they worked in. Haydn perfected the sonata form that underpins symphonic music and created - with two violins, viola and cello - the string quartet that has yielded some of the most intimate moments in the whole of western music. Mozart, who called him ‘Papa’ Haydn, said ‘he is the father of us all’.
Haydn died in 1809, at the age of 77, and the Austrians have decided to designate 2009 as Haydn Year with another 30 million Euro budget and Peter Marboe, artistic director of the Mozart Year, as the likely ringmaster. Festivals, concert halls and opera houses around the world over have already taken note by putting Haydn at the heart of their 2009 programming, which is not terribly hard to do since the assiduous composer left no fewer than 104 symphonies, 14 operas, 68 string quartets, 120 trios, some 40 sonatas and much else – more music, in fact, than any classical giant.
Most of it is tuneful, attractive and tickled with a sense of fun that bursts through when, in the Farewell Symphony for instance, he has the musicians leave the stage one by one as the piece fades out indeterminately. A Drumroll Symphony, another named Surprise, are devices that Haydn used to keep the after-dinner audience awake.
Unlike Mozart, who was a keyboard star and all-round show-off, Haydn was happiest hiding in the pit of his orchestra. Obeisant where Mozart was abrasive, un-opinionated where Beethoven was confrontational, he is the most likeable of all classical masters and the one with the most to give in terms of fresh experience since there is so much music to explore and so little of it is ever heard.
But that is where the doubts creep in. While just about everyone alive has been exposed to Mozart if only on a ring-tone or a lonely bus station, you could play Haydn seek all day long on Oxford Street without finding a single shopper who can name one of his works or whistle a theme. In the Classic FM Hall of Fame, that rough guide to middlebrow taste, Haydn does not rank at all in the top 100 and even at the BBC Proms he gets just three nods in eight long weeks. How, demand the marketing men, do we sell something so resolutely obscure?
There is no ready answer to their objection. The appeal of Haydn lies precisely in his underselling subtlety, his refusal to slap you around the ears with a wet theme. He could write as catchy a tune as the next man – his longest running hit was the anthem ‘Deutschland über alles’, taken from a string quartet (opus 76/3) – but he seldom lingered on a melody long enough to let it sink into the public consciousness, preferring to develop it as the nucleus of a symphonic movement.
Haydn’s is a discreet charm, the antithesis of flash. Virtuosos shun his piano and violin concertos for lack of leaps and trills. His operas submerse their lustrous arias in baroque courtesies and his symphonies can sound at times too polite – which is an obvious misapprehension since Haydn spent 30 years working in rustic Esterhazy and amused himself by writing variations on such ditties as It Takes Eight Men to Castrate a Boar.
A cheerful man without pretension or avarice, stuck in a sour, childless marriage, he was set free at 58 by Prince Esterhazy’s death and spent two long terms in London where he wrote the last twelve and liveliest of his symphonies and had a loving relationship with a Scottish widow, Rebecca Schroeter. Back in Vienna he composed a Mass for Nelson’s victory at the Nile and got chummy with Lady Hamilton. If any city has cause to recognise the Haydn year it is London, which first gave him popular acclaim and social status.
Reintroducing Haydn to London will not be easy in the celebrified 21st century, but the Austrian initiative should give a green light to our planners to attempt Il Mondo della Luna at Covent Garden and all-night string quartets at the Wigmore Hall. Sceptical as I am of the marketing plague, my taste-buds are tingling at the prospect of a year full of hidden Haydn. I never expected to find a good word to say about the Mozart Year, but if, as it now seems, it has paved the way for the world to rediscover Haydn then Little Mo will have paid back big time - not just to his home town hoteliers but to repairing the roots of the art that made him great.
5 Haydns for your I-pod
1 Cello concertos in C and D major Cellists can’t be choosy, but these are as buzzy as anything in their rep. Tuneful, lively, episodically sensuous. Avoid hard-toned Du pre and Rostropovich. Seek Isserlis on BMG or Truls Mork on Virgin.
2 Symphony no 88 The symphonies that get played most are the ones with names – Military, London, Maria Theresa, the Bear. Wilhelm Furtwängler used number 88 as a concert aperitif, warming up the ears on its creamy charms; there’s a mono recording on DG.
3 The last 3 string quartets The final triptych of the 68 exude astonishingly youthful pizzazz in Anner Bylsma’s period-instrument Sony release.
4 Armida Cecilia Bartoli makes a winning vocal case for a little-seen opera, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt on Warner.
5 Castrate the Boar An album packed with piano variations, delightfully done (with some Glenn Gould-type background noises) by the Hungarian Jeno Jando on Naxos.
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Visit every week to read Norman Lebrecht's latest column. [Index]