The Wind of Change: 1788
by JENNIFER PAULL
It was Haydn's proliferation within differing composition genres during the 1780s that carried his name abroad, away from the confines of Central Europe. The string quartets, which appeared towards the end of that decade (Op 50), were dedicated to the King of Prussia and are often credited as having been influenced by the Mozart quartets, which had in their turn, been dedicated to Haydn by his younger friend.
Increasing originality, together with boldness in both style and form, blossomed in Haydn's work. More fluency, even humour flooded his page as the decade drew to its close. The Symphonies 90, 91 and 92 (all commissioned in 1788, but the last completed the following year) were Haydn's final expression in the medium before he set out on his historic, first journey to London two years later (the year that saw the death of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy). Haydn was to discover Handel's wonderful choral masterpieces for himself in their performance at Westminster Abbey.
His Symphonies Nos 90 and 91 were written at the very same moment as Mozart's final trilogy of great Symphonies. One could therefore argue, without too much fear of contradiction, that 1788 was the richest symphonic year music has, perhaps, ever known. France was entering Revolution and the Old Order was indeed changing.
This was the year during which Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788) was to die. A child of Johann Sebastian's first marriage, he was universally recognised as being one of the greatest harpsichordists of all time. Godchild of Telemann, C P E Bach was also greatly respected as a composer and was friend to some of the most distinguished thinkers and writers of his day. His great father was to cast a spell upon Mozart's last works, but a shadow over his own son's career as a musician. Would the son, so deserving of his individual place in history, have fared better in the textbooks with another name? Undoubtedly.
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Compte de Buffon (1707-1788) also passed away in this eventful year. A century before Darwin, in his Histoire Naturelle (an encyclopaedia of forty-four volumes), Leclerc described everything that was known about the natural world and wrote about the common ancestry of apes and men. In Les Epoques de la Nature (1788), he put forward the revolutionary idea that the planet was older than the six thousand years proclaimed by the Church. He was daring and courageous as he launched himself upon a sea of thought waves, which was surfed after this visionary vanguard, by others in his wake.
Much newness of perspective was in the air as the First Fleet of eleven English ships of male convicts arrived at Botany Bay in January, to be followed by the French Frigates (three days later) and then, by English female convicts (early February). New South Wales was formally proclaimed and to the general relief, the first marriages were solemnised in Australia (four days after the ladies' arrival).
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most
intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. -- Charles Darwin, naturalist and author (1809-1882)
Copyright © 2 May 2005
Jennifer I Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland