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Haydn (Life and Works (Naxos)) Audio CD – Audiobook, September 1, 2003
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Jeremy Siepmann and Naxos Records have created a truly winning recipe with their "Life and Works" series. The combination of an audio book with music is an extraordinarily powerful and compelling way of bringing the biography of a classical musician to life and, at the same time, making the music accessible to a wide audience who may never have had the privilege of listening to some of the greatest music ever written.
In Josef Haydn, we are treated to the story of a modest unassuming man, born of modest parents (his father worked as a wheelwright). As an employee of the Esterhazy family (one might almost argue that his work contract made him an indentured servant), he lived a quiet, modest life with modest means. Even after he had become famous across Europe and was arguably the wealthiest musician on the continent, he was generous to a fault with both his time and his resources.
Unlike his successors, Mozart and Beethoven, he was not ruthlessly exploited by his parents. His marriage was unhappy almost from its inception and, while he craved the stability of a happy family life with children, he was forced to make do with a series of what one can best characterize as monogamous affairs. His astonishing success as a musician can be attributed to relentless, unstinting hard work and self-improvement through lifelong study and continuing education of the art of music, composition and theory. He was an accomplished singer and could play virtually any instrument at a level that would comfortably place him among the ranks of a symphonic orchestra.
Haydn's religious faith was unshakeable and, indeed, much of his music, whether religious or secular, was specifically dedicated to the glory of a God who Haydn saw as responsible for his success, for all the beauty he saw around him and for any beauty he was lucky enough to create in his music.
In short, while his life was rather uneventful, placid and not particularly exciting, his music was certainly the opposite. Whether it was a piano trio, a sonato, a string quartet - contrary to common belief, Haydn did not create the string quartet as a style of music but he certainly revolutionized it almost beyond recognition from any previous form in which it may have existed - a symphony, an opera, a mass or a piece of secular music that might be sung around the fire or in a local public house, Haydn's astonishing musical output marks him as one of the greatest composers who ever lived.
Another wonderful success in the Naxos series that brings the classical composers and an overview of their wonderful music to the ears of a grateful audience. I continue to look forward to further entries in this fabulous series. Highly recommended.
The running theme throughout this audiobiography is Haydn's marvelous sense of humor. This trait can be spotted from his music alone, but it is good to hear all the wonderful anecdotes concerning it that fill this recording. Musicians will be impressed by Haydn's loyalty to his players and the remarkable tact he showed in swaying his "serene highness" bosses to his way of thinking.
The recorded text is supported by many musical examples drawn from the deep pool of Naxos recordings. As with other entries in these series, I feel that some of them are a bit too long; but after all, the title of the series is Life and WORKS. David Timson is the voice of Haydn, and he is supported by actors Sam Dastor, Nigel Anthony, Steve Hodson, Roger May, and Frances Jeater.
As always with these Naxos sets, the booklet alone is worth the price you pay for the whole product. Its 146 pages include eight sections: Track lists, cast, historical background, Haydn in his time, his major works and their significance, a graded reading plan, recommended reading, personalities, a calendar of Haydn's life, a glossary, and advice on how to use the CD-ROM feature of these discs.
Highly recommended, as is the entire series.