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A listeners' guide to the music of Haydn,
reviewed by ANNA FRANCO


Exploring Haydn -- A Listener's Guide to Music's Boldest Innovator, by David Hurwitz, is aimed at the Haydn lover, actual and potential. Rather than an historical biography of Haydn's life, this book is a musical explanation of his works, with two accompanying CDs. The purpose of the text is to describe the most important features of Haydn's music, and to justify the title: Haydn as 'music's boldest innovator'. Hurwitz describes Haydn as: 'the Thomas Edison of music' (page xii), citing inventiveness, curiosity, and a capacity for hard work and experimentation as some of the characteristics attributable to both men.

In chapter one, Hurwitz explains general musical form with a fresh and lucid approach, using ideas of departure and return as the basis for the sonata principle. Hurwitz considers tonality or key as the musical 'equivalent to the geographical concept of place' (page 7), and he maps out the sonata as a kind of application of tonality and modulation. Although Hurwitz defines his terms, he uses the concepts rapidly and continually, so the text is more accessible to those already familiar with basic musical structure.

Exploring Haydn - A Listener's Guide to Music's Boldest Innovator - David Hurwitz. © 2005 Amadeus Press
Exploring Haydn - A Listener's Guide to Music's Boldest Innovator - David Hurwitz. © 2005 Amadeus Press

Hurwitz does not include harmonic analysis in his text, nor does he attempt an academic monograph. His writing is far too buoyant for that, as he portrays the jovial music of Haydn. 'Seven note squiggles' (page 15) and 'a storm of triplets' (page 72) are just some of the enjoyable ways that he conveys the action of the music. This does not explain how the melody is achieved, however, and the result is more of a description of the thematic development of a piece, taking the thematic material as a given. Yet the descriptions along with the accompanying CDs allow one to follow along with ease, both conceptually and aurally, as listener and reader.

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Copyright © 16 July 2006 Anna Franco, New York City, USA


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