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