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In Chapter 2, Hurwitz guides us through the entire Symphony No 88 in G, pointing out especially the contrasting dynamics with loud bursts of orchestral announcements embedded in an otherwise calm largo movement. In Chapter 3, he wraps up Part 1 (Extraordinary Musician, Ordinary Man) with excerpts from Haydn's own letters, a wonderful way to introduce us to the man through his writing and some personal anecdotes. This is crucial because the remaining chapters (Parts 2 and 3) are mostly nonstop description of music. I found I could not read these parts all in one sitting, and at times the discussion became too detached from the rest of life.

I come to this guide as a piano student, so naturally I find the discussions on Haydn's piano works very interesting. I am also primarily a piano student of the Romantic period, so while Hurwitz claims that Mozart was the best piano concerto composer -- its patron saint -- I consider Rachmaninoff's and Brahms' piano concertos to be the most passionate, complex, and most logically developed. Mozart wrote many piano concertos, and he played a very important role in its development historically, but the nature of the later composers cannot be ignored either.

Throughout the book, Hurwitz continually points out the innovations made by Haydn, sometimes intertwined with comparisons with Mozart. I found it worth going through to highlight these innovations, some of which include:

  • string quartets, with their minuet parts replaced with a scherzo movement, resulting in a 'systematic attempt to make comedy an integral part of his musical idiom,' (page 84)
  • descriptive symphonies; for example, Symphony No 8 ('Le Soir', La Tempesta).
  • his minuets, innovative in their 'vitality' (page 91), rhythm, and 'melodic variety' (page 92). Some even included tragic emotions; Haydn was the first to have 'understood and exploited the expressive possibility of sorrowful dance music' (pages 95-96)
  • the use of silence for certain emotional affects, such as surprise
  • two important cello concertos
  • a trumpet concerto which turns the trumpet into 'a lyrical songful instrument for the first time in musical history' (page 143)

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


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