Thursday, March 19, 2009

Haydn seek


My life has been enhanced considerably over the last few months by working my way through recordings of the complete Haydn Symphonies. What energy, what inventiveness, what humanity, and what sheer joy. And what a laudable absence of the histrionics that were soon to become an integral part of symphonic writing. I have been listening to Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra's cycle of the symphonies originally recorded for Nimbus and now relicensed to Brilliant Classics. My 33 CD set cost £66 delivered in the UK. The Austro-Hungarian Orchestra's performances are really quite excellent, and so is the sound. But the gold standard is Antal Dorati's cycle recorded with the Philharmonia Hungarica for Decca in the 1970s. When I was in Cambridge last week to see The Class I noticed the Dorati set (also 33 CDs) selling in Heffer's for £60. This is a limited period offer. The amazon.co.uk price is £66.98, and some Amazon resellers are down below £60. It is not hyperbole to say that at these prices the Fischer and Dorati sets offer two of the great cultural bargains of the decade - so don't hesitate.

Antal Dorati was one of those very rare musicians who was also a great human being. Born in Hungary into a Jewish family, he left Germany in 1933 when pressured to remove Jewish musicians from his chamber orchestra, and became a naturalised citizen of the United States in 1947. His posthumously published, and now sadly out-of-print, book For Inner and Outer Peace is a cry from the heart by a great creative artist and humanitarian. The book was completed in 1988, and is truly visionary in its coverage of subjects such as environmentalism, the power of the mass media, and the perils of weapons of mass destruction.

But the need to achieve inner peace was Antal Dorat's greatest pre-occupation. He turned to Christianiy, and the music he wrote towards the end of his life reflects his deep commitment to that faith. The BIS CD seen below includes his beautiful setting of the Pater Noster, and his melodrama which deals with the power of the mob through the Biblical story Jesus or Barabbas? But Antal Dorati also understood the contribution that Eastern thinking could make in the search for peace. This tantalising passage from For Inner and Outer Peace shows Dorati looking down the path that Benjamin Britten, Jonathan Harvey, John Cage, Thomas Merton, Lou Harrison, Philip Glass, Edmund Rubbra, Jordi Savall, Colin McPhee and others have followed in varying degrees:
It is a remarkable fact that - so far - perhaps every real champion of human peace (and there have been few of them compared to the innumerable false ones) began with the quest for that same "inner peace" which they themselves were never able to achieve.

The one exception I can think of might be Buddha, whose faraway image emits the rays of complete inner peace. Sometimes, when looking at a pebble, an insect, a plant or a blade of grass, that dream of inner peace - so different to that for which we in our western corner of the earth strive, and yet so complete - I am transported to such high and subtle regions that, upon "awakening", I regret (for a while) being a son of the West. In these moments I resolve to learn more about the East. And I do, a little: but never much, because I am too strongly and obsessively fascinated by the mysteries of the culture that has raised me.

More Antal Dorati resources here.
Header image is Antal Dorati's, you guessed it, out-of-print autobiography Notes of Seven Decades. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

4 comments:

Pliable said...

£66 for the complete Haydn Symphonies or $100 for a T-shirt autographed by Gustavo Dudamel.

You takes your choice ...

http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=200315255279

Anonymous Soprano said...

It's funny you say this: "And what a laudable absence of the histrionics that were soon to become an integral part of symphonic writing."

This is a running argument (*cough* I mean, debate *cough*) I've been having for years now with a couple of people -- that the clean lines, the elegance of the composition, etc, is just as moving and emotional and attractive as the romantic big guns. They remain unconvinced that I could prefer Mozart to Wagner, and keep sagely predicting that one day, Wagner will dawn on me with a great light, and I will be transformed. So far, that hasn't happened, and no signs of it either.

When I was a teenager, I was very much attracted to the sturm und drang of particularly the later Romantic era, probably for obvious reasons. It was tragic! It was romantic! Playing piano transcriptions of the concerti and such let me bang on the piano to my heart's content, and relieve all the inevitable frustration of being a teenager. I admired the tunes of Mozart and his contempories, and of course, I was fascinated by the whole Mozart Tragedy, but in all honesty, I found it a little boring. No, I lie. I found it a lot boring.

Each year after about the age of 18, though, my appreciation for the music of the classical era, the music produced by the englightenment, increased immensely. There are still a few of the big romantic pieces left that I loved as a teen, that I enjoy now, but in much more moderation, honestly. Mozart has sort of become a divinity to me, in a way. It amazes me how he can say so much, so elegantly, so eloquently, in such a transparant, simple-sounding arrangements.

There. Sort of off topic, but I had to get that out. So glad there is someone else in the world who finds beauty in the simplicty of Mozart, Haydn, etc.

Pliable said...

See AS, age doesn't matter!

There is actually an important point here. Early music is much more than scholarship delivered to a concert audience.

As David Munrow, Jordi Savall. Paolo Pandolfo and many other have shown.

As the big name symphony orchestras buckle under their accumulated overheads, I wonder whether small ensembles playing early and contemporary music will be the next big thing?

Anonymous Soprano said...

Ooh, that's another loaded topic - performance practice. I have nothing against small ensembles. I am not a fan of most period instrument ensembles, but they can be used effectively, certain. I think that's a very smart ways to program within a budget.

What I am VERY MUCH against is the wave of "HIP" presentations of earlier music. In the main, I find them boring, dusty, unappealing, and unlifelike. Mausoleum art.

Music has to grow, and evolve. Even many of the Holy Composers on the Sacred Cow List changed their own styles, their own practices, in their own day.

If someone can find a way to present to me a performance that is "historically informed" and still exciting, thrilling, and engaging, I'd love to see it, but that has yet to happen.