17 Jun 2006

HURWITZ: Exploring Haydn—A Listener’s Guide to Music’s Boldest Innovator

The world of J.S. Haydn is one gravely underappreciated and undervalued. He never earned the right to a 1980’s bio pic like Mozart or was appreciated and saluted in pop culture through early rock n’ roll like Beethoven.

Even on a scholarly level Haydn’s music is passed over in favor of who and what he inspired, innovated and crafted. His personal life never caught the attention of the public as he was probably never prone to smashing mirrors in local palaces either.

The elemental importance of Haydn’s music and artistry is brought to the forefront in David Hurwitz’s new book, “Exploring Haydn: A Listener’s Guide to Music’s Boldest Innovator”. Hurwitz mentions early on how Haydn is commonly ignored. He notes that his music holds many keys to one’s understanding of the immensity of Haydn’s influence on classical music that followed shortly after his time up through to today.

Though this book is more than a mere protest to prove how much Haydn was the father of the symphony. Instead, like Hurwitz’s other ‘Unlocking The Masters’ books, it scintillates in description and delves into the inner workings of not only Haydn’s music but the importance of his innovations at the time, his creativity and how these both carry on through to today.

Ultimately, the passion for the process in which Haydn composed and how the music developed over time and how the listener should hear these hidden masterpieces is the crux of Hurwitz’s book. The author’s goal is to show the novice or beginner music fan what one can expect from engaging in Haydn’s music. He takes apart each piece and examines it carefully and skillfully. Truly, by listening to either one of the accompanying compact discs then reading along with Hurwitz, a new level of perception and understanding music is presented to the zealous listener. His descriptions are useful to the unacquainted ear and he opens a new dimension of listening appreciation. Hurwitz is able to described the music without completely patronizing the reader into submission. With the knowledge one can cull from this book, anyone will not feel stifled by Hurwitz’s writing. If anything he promotes the usage of the reader’s imagination.

An inundated listener is taken on a pragmatic journey through the wild, colorful and often humorous realm of Haydn. Movements from symphonies and string quartets from various eras of the composer’s life and career are highlighted and poured over and dissected with a refreshingly friendly scholarly flair. Along the way, the music novice is given biographical information on the master composer. The music is discussed along with the development and evolution of Haydn’s compositions which give the reader a well rounded look into the creative process.

This book is a nearly infallible piece of work for the inexperienced and for those eager to learn more not only about Haydn, but also about music itself. It falls short only when it attempts to simplify certain matters. For example, when explaining the difference between major and minor we are left with an almost exasperating conclusion of: “major=happy, minor=sad”. Surely there is a middle ground for one to stray far from the philosophical and bloated writings of say a Theodore Adorno and yet not have to simply too far in the other direction..

However, these are merely picayune side notes rather than a weighty complaint. This book may not find it’s way into the hearts of the cognoscenti, but should serve its justice more fittingly in the class rooms of high school students on down. With the aid of this book many may find that there isn’t so much mystery to understanding music but the joy in discovery as Mr. Hurwitz shows. The overall experience of “Exploring Haydn” is one that educates with skill, patience and devotion; it wishes nothing more but for the reader to love and appreciate this underrated composer as much as the author.

B. Fraipont