Austria celebrates Josef Haydn in a commemorative year overshadowed by _ Mozart

By George Jahn, Gaea News Network
Sunday, May 31, 2009

In Haydn commemorative year it’s _ mostly Mozart

VIENNA — Mostly Mozart. Hardly Haydn.

Joseph Haydn died 200 years ago Sunday, and Austria has been officially marking the occasion with hundreds of concerts, exhibitions and other events dedicated to the music and memory of one of the country’s greatest sons.

There is no doubt that Haydn was a giant. The “Father of the Symphony” was also key in developing genres such as the string quartet, the sonata and the concerto. His oratorios are the gold standard. And he was unusually prolific, leaving behind more than 100 major works and hundreds of shorter pieces.

But Haydn has it hard in a country that also gave birth to Amadeus.

Mozart was a wunderkind, a creator of more than 600 works, whose death at 35 perpetuated his fame. His genius propelled him to superstar status even before the Oscar-winning “Amadeus” in 1984 made his name a household word to even non-music lovers. He loved scatological jokes; he was impertinent, flamboyant, endearingly human.

Haydn himself idolized his younger friend’s genius.

“How inimitable are Mozart’s works, how profound, how musically intelligent, how extraordinarily sensitive!” he wrote. And Mozart’s father, Leopold, cited Haydn as telling him: “Your son is the greatest composer I know.”

Haydn is loved by those who know him.

But the majority does not.

So it’s tough to drum up Mozart-like enthusiasm for the man who was staidly known as “Papa Haydn;” who died at 77 after an ordered life, most of it in the countryside; whose instrumental works are unjustly considered rigid and mannered by some when compared to Mozart’s, and who remains largely unknown to the non-classical world.

“Everything is Mozart here,” said Ibrahim Erneten, who peddles concert tickets to tourists thronging the Austrian capital’s upscale Graben pedestrian zone abutting the opera house.” The tourists don’t know about Haydn.”

Fellow ticket-hawker Armand Djakova says only “two or three” of his 50 or so daily inquiries are about Haydn. Bewigged and brocaded in Mozart style as he stalked the next customer, Djakova said the others want to either hear Mozart or waltz king Johann Strauss.

Few are more aware of the difficulties of selling Haydn than Franz Patay, an organizer of festivities marking the bicentenary.

“If you show someone a (Haydn) bust they’ll think it’s Mozart,” says Patay, who was also involved in the all-Austrian hoopla surrounding the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth three years ago. Patay says the Haydn budget of around €40 million — around $56 million — was about a quarter of what was allocated to the Amadeus year.

He says trying to establish who was greater musically is like deciding on “whether green or yellow is the nicer color.” But he credits Haydn for “creating formats that are still relevant today, whereas Mozart did not live long enough to have that opportunity.”

Under the baton of Adam Fischer, Haydn’s oratorio “The Creation” was performed Sunday at the Esterhazy Palace at Eisenstadt, the southeastern Austrian town that was home to the composer for much of his musical life. The audience filling the ornate palace concert hall — the venue for Haydn’s performances — exploded into prolonged applause for Fischer and soloists Annette Dasch, Christoph Strehl and Thomas Quasthoff.

The Eisenstadt event was part of 21 performances Sunday around the globe of one of the world’s greatest classical works.

The Mozart-loving Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica during which Haydn’s “Harmoniemesse” was played to mark the anniversary of his death. In an indication of the importance the pontiff placed on the event, the stunning Cologne Chamber Orchestra and chorus from Cologne, Germany performed, rather than the ususal Vatican choir.

Benedict, an accomplished pianist whose favorite composer is Mozart, praised Haydn as a “great musician” in his homily, saying his Harmoniemesse was a “sublime symphony to the glory of God.”

But there is more to Haydn than grandeur. The man — and his music — also had a warm, humorous side.

His “Farewell Symphony” has instrumental parts ending in sequence — and was written to reinforce his musicians’ complaints that Haydn’s patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, was deaf to their needs for vacation time. Esterhazy got the message at the premiere performance as the musicians left the stage one by one until only Haydn was left standing.

And with Esterhazy occasionally dozing off, Haydn placed an unexpected loud chord in his “Surprise Symphony” that was meant to shake the prince out of his dreams

A lover of wine, Haydn insisted that a part of his yearly salary be paid in it. He worshipped women — except for his wife, who used to rip up his scores and use the paper as hair curlers. Haydn was a mentor to Mozart, who credited him with teaching him how to write string quartets — and who freely used elements of the elder composer’s music in his works.

And — despite his relative obscurity now compared at least to Mozart — he was BIG in his time.

Mozart died impoverished and with his musical legacy unsecured. Haydn, in contrast, dined at the table of Esterhazy — one of Europe’s most powerful princes — and members of the British royal family bowed to him during his London sojourns.

As Haydn lay dying 200 years ago and Vienna was in the hands of Napoleon’s armies, the emperor himself ordered that an honor guard do vigil outside. And his skull was studied after his death in attempts to ascertain the origins of musical genius, with German composer Johannes Brahms placing it on his desk for inspiration while composing.

Little of that fame is now palpable on a casual tour of the Graben shopping district.

The “Mostly Mozart” souvenir shop does brisk business in Mozart bags, Mozart CDs, Mozart marzipan and nougat sweets and Mozart tee-shirts. There are busts Mozart, Strauss and Beethoven — a German — and other non-Mozart items.

But no Haydn.

“There’s no demand,” explained sales associate Marjorie Francisco.

But those who know the man and his music are paying homage, in less obtrusive ways.

Bronx-born Lanny Louis says his CD shop is selling “at least five times as much” Haydn this year, compared to previous years.

“People are starting to realize that there is there is another great Austrian composer outside of Mozart.”

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