Sunday, May 31, 2009


(For a PDF version of this essay, go to The Worldview Annex.)

Two hundred years and twenty-two days ago, the Imperial French army of Napoleon began bombarding Vienna in preparation for its second occupation of the city in twice as many years. This bombardment constitutes the most destructive military assault visited on the quondam Holy Roman Imperial capital and present United Nations Headquarter (sic) [1] since the Turkish siege of 1683. Not, of course, that this is saying much from a Pan-European military-historical point of view; from that point of view the burning of Moscow three years later was, to be sure, infinitely more decisive—not to mention incendiarily spectacular—but from a cultural-historical point of view it is saying a great deal. For in this bombardment, Western Europe, having paid lip service for the better part of a century-and-a-half, from Cornwall to Königsburg, to its shared Greco-Roman-Gothic architectural heritage, was busy showing exactly how much it cared about the preservation of that heritage upon weighing it against such hefty imponderables as national pride. And yet there was one unit of Viennese architecture that the French Emperor thought worth exempting from all harm or disfigurement during the subsequent (May 11+) occupation, to the extent of assigning to it a round-the-clock guard detail, not on account of its intrinsic properties as a building, but because it housed the living person of the most famous and beloved composer of music the world had yet known, at a historical moment when the power of music as a so-called universal language, far from being the stuff of cliché, was only beginning to be suspected, hence a moment in which being the most famous and beloved composer of music the world had yet known was beginning to matter rather more than being, say, the nineteenth most famous piece of ecclesiastical architecture the world had yet coldly revered (and whence the ultimate cultural-historical significance of this military event). Three weeks later, on May 31, 1809, exactly two hundred years ago today, this celebrated musician died, at the age of 77, of entirely natural causes.
Exactly twenty-five years ago come the 19th of next September, a cinematic dramatization of
the life of the second most famous composer of the latter half of the eighteenth century was unkennelled on the American cinema-going public; and in subsequent six months it went on to garner a Titanic-to-the-Citizen Cane-power degree of acclaim from this selfsame
public, the critics, and the Academy of Motion Picture Artists. In life, the subject of this motion picture happened to count the subject of the first paragraph of this essay not only as his best friend, but also as his most important preceptor in the practice of his compositional métier. Indeed, on the title page of a landmark published collection of his instrumental
works, he fulsomely thanked our inaugural subject for having taught him how
to write
the genre of work instantianted therein. And in exactly what fashion or under which auspices, the hypothetical uninitiated reader may well ask, did this best buddy-cum-arch-preceptor figure in the film? As Omar Sharif to the star’s Peter O’Toole à la Lawrence of Arabia? As Alec Guinness to our leading man’s Marc Hamill à la Star Wars? As Pat Morita to ye-olde top-biller’s Ralph Maccio à la The Karate Kid? Try George Washington [2] to Yours Truly à la My Most Recent Trip to the Laundromat. I scarcely kid you—this worthy gentleman turns up for all of ten seconds of this movie’s 140-some-odd minute running time, and not as a living person, but as a postage stamp-sized engraved likeness on one of the interior walls of the eponym’s drawing room, during some trivial triangular spat with Simon Callow and Elizabeth Berringer.

The subject of the aforesaid biopic, Amadeus, was of course Wolfgang Amadeus
Wolfie” Mozart, and the Mozartean friend and mentor so roundly snubbed therein and so roundly feted seven-eighths of two centuries earlier by Boney the First during the second occupation of Vienna was not quite-of course Franz Joseph “Papa” Haydn, the subject of this
essay. “Or, rather, the ostensible subject,” the intelligent reader is certainly just within his rights huffishly to remonstrate; but only just—for while I have certainly taken my good sweet time, to say the least, in getting around to mentioning FJH explicitly in what is, after all, supposed to be a deathday tribute to him, there are both a method and a moral to my temporization, inasmuch as it is really only via a comparison of Haydn’s present reputation with the one he enjoyed during his lifetime, and a knowledge of the extent of his occlusion by the present cult of “The Creature” (as we Haydnophiles, copping an epithet from Amadeus’s Antonio Salieri, like to style Mozart), that one can be brought to sympathize with and—one hopes, ultimately to share in—the resentment verging on outrage felt by a loyal Haydn aficionado in a year like this one. For, let us—all of us, Haydn fans and indifferents alike—face it: as far as people who have been dead for two hundred years go, Haydn has been doing a pretty good job of keeping up his public image. I don’t care where in these United States you live: turn on your local classical radio station first thing tomorrow morning; and more than likely before you go to bed, you will have heard a Haydn composition, perhaps even two or three of them. Go to Arkiv, the online classical music vendor, and you will encounter an almost dizzying array, as they say, of complete Haydn symphony and quartet cycles. And although concert programs are much slenderer affairs than broadcast schedules, I will go so far as to wager that somewhere this evening an American
orchestra or string quartet will be performing a work by Haydn in public. As I was just saying, in slightly more genteel language, for a 277-year-old dead guy, he is pretty popular. We Haydnophiles must also grudgingly concede that Mozart has been more popular than Haydn for
quite a long time, indeed that veridically speaking our—excuse me, my—earlier assignment to FJH of the epithet of “the most famous and beloved composer of music the world had yet
known” might have benefited from the interlarding of a WAM-occasioned “perhaps.” What we Haydnophiles will not concede, and what we find especially galling in a Haydn anniversary year, is Mozart’s unchallenged usurpation of the title of the Greatest Composer of All Time, a title formerly incontestably contested by Bach and Beethoven alone. By “formerly,” I mean “within living memory,” and by this living memory I mean my own thirty-something-year-old one. For I am just old enough to recall the twilight of a pre-Amadeusian epoch wherein the bust of Beethoven atop Schroeder’s toy piano figured in seemingly every manifestation of the Peanuts franchise from Hallmark holiday specials to View Master stereoscope reels, wherein a travesty of the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony was thought worthy of inclusion in
the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever; wherein the lingering prestige of the platinum-selling Switched-On Bach LP triggered an automatic equation of the Boss’s [3] oeuvre with all things Moog-synthesizer orientated and hence cutting edge; wherein Mozart, for all of its sesquicentennially-ancient ascendancy over Haydn at the concert box-office, was still, and no less than Haydn, a name your average musically-curious youngster was destined to encounter for the first time not all tarted up in the dayglo aura of television or cinema, but unassumingly, monochromatically serried, according to its alphabetically arbitrary rank, in the pages of the Oxford Junior Companion to Music or the record racks of Camelot Music—hence, an era wherein Haydn at least still stood an underdingo’s chance of trouncing Mozart in the affections of a budding classical music buff, a chance that he needs must have lost since and that, for the present younguns’ sake and his, I fear he will never reclaim.

And precisely why, in a nutshell, does he deserve to reclaim it? Well, in the first and most obvious place, because almost all of the qualities that one looks for in a characteristic instrumental work of Mozart—a set of qualities, it should be emphasized, that is not necessarily coextensive with the most characteristically “Mozartean” ones—are to be found in certain works of Haydn that were, on average, composed much earlier. Each of these qualities can be isolated as a technical innovation corresponding to some musical-theoretical term—sonata form, obbligato accompaniment, tonic-dominant polarization, homophonic-contrapuntal integration, and so on[4]—but to the average, and indeed above-average listener, they are most readily and satisfyingly appreciated in the aggregate, as a single quality of dramatic interest, an interest that compels one to listen through a given instrumental composition with the same kind of attention one devotes to a novel or play—a preeminently expectant attention that wants to know what is going to happen next, and to whom (whether literally or figuratively); and expects to arrive at a comprehensibly rational outcome by the last page or final cadence or curtain fall. “But surely,” the intelligent and by now very impatient reader interjects, whether he
is within his rights to do so or not, “this is simply a long-winded way of describing the way everyone listens to any old chunk of music, from a string quartet to a prog-rock concept album.” Why, yes: and coextensively, proof positive of the seminality of Haydn’s genius, in the form of his permanent, comprehensive, and universally-effective transformation of the very phenomenology of listening; which, to be sure, does not amount to proof positive that every piece of music is best served by such a phenomenology. The great fugues of Haydn’s two
mightiest predecessors, Bach and Handel, for example, are positively impervious to dramatic curiosity; they are, indeed, purely and unabashedly boring. One ought to listen to them in an attitude not of expectation but rather of contemplation, the same contemplation one ought to be bestow upon a masterpiece of architecture—the Empire State Building, or the Parthenon or Pantheon, or, indeed, St. Stephens’s cathedral in Vienna. Certain of the lesser works of these earlier geniuses, though, together with certain of the greater ones of their lesser contemporaries, do seem to be aiming for something like a dramatic conception of form; but one has only to listen to the first movement of the finest of these compositions–say, a Bach Brandenburg Concerto or one of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (both ca. 1720)—alongside the corresponding movement of even a middling middle-period Haydn symphony—say no. 78 in C minor (1782)—to notice a world of difference between their way of handling the orchestra and the Haydnian one. In the Brandenburg Concerto, you will hear the orchestra, such as it is, chugging away in rhythmic unison at the main melody for a bit and then stepping away into the background to allow a soloist—a trumpeter or violinist or what have you—to have his say on some unrelated or only tangentially related idea; then the full band comes back in with the main melody; this cycle repeats a few times, with new solo instruments filling in with new ideas, and the movement concludes plumb in the middle of it, i.e., with a unison re-re-(etc.)-statement of the main melody. In the Vivaldi, you will notice a greater degree of melodic variety than in the Bach—there will be more than one theme that is repeated. But the repetitions themselves will seem equally static, and you will find that the distinction between foreground and background has disappeared, that at virtually every point, you can hum or whistle virtually everything there that can be paid attention to in isolation. With the Haydn, you will notice for one thing that virtually nothing is ever repeated verbatim, [5] and that, although for a time the further along you get in the movement, the harder it is to recognize anything resembling what you have heard before, you do eventually reach a point where things begin to sound more immediately familiar, and at that point, you know you are approaching the end of the movement. For another thing, you will notice that the while the distinction between foreground and background has returned, it is hard to tell for very long which instrument or group of instruments is playing the main melody (or, in seemingly unavoidable sportivic parlance, which of them “has the ball”), and which is merely providing accompaniment to it. If you don’t appreciate these differences, or if they don’t seem to amount to any sort of parallel difference in your so-called listening experience; if in observation of them all you can manage to do is take a tug on your spliff and phlegmatically affirm that “It’s all just music, mahhhn,” why, then, I have nothing further to say to you. If, on the other hand, you do appreciate (that is, both notice and enjoy) these differences, if you have always taken the latter sort of so-called listening experience for granted, and yet have always unreservedly reverenced Mozart while thinking of Haydn at best as some sort of rich man’s Telemann; why then, I beg you candidly to resurvey the chronology of your personal list of favorite Mozart compositions. If this list is dominated by, say, the last three symphonies, the K515 and 516 string quintets, Figaro, Don Giovanni, and the like—by the masterpieces of the mature Mozart that everyone knows and, well, at least tolerates, your admiration must really be refracted through Mozart’s study of Haydn’s opus 33 string quartets of 1783 (the ones that inspired the thank-you dedication alluded to in my Paragraph 2), which taught him a great deal about writing not only string quartets, but also virtually every other genre, according to Haydn’s “new and entirely special style” [6] permitting for the first time the dramatic, even dialogic, articulation of a musical argument through the entirety of an ensemble. If it is dominated by such recherché works of the 1770s as the “Little” G minor symphony, the “Jeunehomme” piano concerto, and Idomeneo, you still owe a large debt to the more rudimentary but forward-thinking opus 20 quartets of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang period. I should be much surprised if any works of Mozart’s truly Haydn-innocent late-single digits and early teens figured in your list at all, seeing that they are at best something worse than Vivaldi, namely warmed-over J. C. (sic) Bach: remorselessly homophonic in texture, harmonically flaccid, feebly ingratiating, and eminently unmemorable.
“Oh, come on, give the kid a break,” retorts the truly incorrigible Mozartophile:
“As if you could have written warmed-over Sesame Street tunes in your single digits or early teens.” As if indeed. But we incorrigible Haydnophiles have our own and (we flatter ourselves) more rhetorically forceful version of that retort, to wit: “Oh come on, give the old codger some credit. As if you’ll ever be capable of producing anything as brilliantly, youthfully inventive and
innovative and nearly perfect as the London symphonies, the opera [sic] 76 and 77 quartets, the Nelson and Harmonie masses, and The Creation and The Seasons when you’re in your 60s and 70s.” In other words, we should like to emphasize that the best and most progressive of Haydn’s compositions—and hence a substantial proportion of the Western musical canon tout court—are the product of a time of life in which most people, nowadays at least, are winding down if not
already wound down completely. At the same time, we have no desire shamelessly and gracelessly to prostitute the longevity of our beloved Franz Joseph as the Mozartophiles have prostituted the precocity of their Wolfgang Amadeus; we do not intend to commission some Dr.
Phil manqué to pen some Oprah-ready pop-neurological screed entitled The Haydn Effect, complete with a companion CD of 5-minute excerpts from opus 76, Landon 48, Hob XV: 21, et al., to be played at the bedsides of early-onset Alzheimer’s patients. For one thing, it would be an unworthy tribute to a genius as unassuming as FJH’s, and for another, being on the whole a rather backward-looking bunch we know full well that the achievements of Haydn’s last decade, remarkable as they were, were hardly without contemporary parallel. The sexagenarian Samuel Johnson’s horse and rowboat-propelled tour of the roadless and borderline Neolithic Hebrides, the septuagenarian Immanuel Kant’s composition of his mighty trilogy of philosophical Critiques, the centenarian Lachlan McGuarie’s retirement from the British Army after forty years of distinguished service beginning (!) in his early sixties, are all of them in their own way comparable proofs of the extraordinary energy of the above-average elderly eighteenth-century gentleman. We are aware also of numerous class-of-17-whenever detractors from the singularity of Mozart’s achievement at the opposite pole of adulthood: William Pitt the Younger, who became Prime Minister of Great Britain at the tender age of 23, Alexander Pope, who penned most of the masterpieces of his “maturity” in his mid-20s, and the early Goethe, who became a worldwide literary celebrity at the age of 22 with his zeitgeist-defining Sorrows of Young Werther. The more one learns about the eighteenth century, the more one is bound to conclude that age was simply much less of a big deal back then than it is now; that there was simply too much work to go around in all of the higher domains of human endeavor for it to occur to anyone to ask whether this or that gentleman was too long in the tooth or wet behind the ears to tackle some piece of it. “Even in the arts?” the reader asks. Even so, and indeed perhaps especially so; for while the natural sciences were then not so much in their infancy as in a sort of scatterbrained embryonic senility—with amateurs in one corner of the world toying with (i.e., decidedly not “working on”) this or that question in total oblivion of their university-affiliated
counterfactual colleagues at the other—in the arts, there was a much clearer and more rationally orientated, and hence a much more “scientific,” notion of what remained to be done, and a correspondingly more dogged application to its perfection. In complementary contrast to that god-awful late twentieth century-spawned specimen of imbecility, the “creative personality,” who asserts his claim to originality on the dubious evidence of the unmediated power and distinctiveness of his emotions and wrongly takes for granted that the technical means of their realization will be commensurately powerful and distinctive, the eighteenth-century artist rightly took his perfectly ordinary emotions for granted as the universal stuff of expression;
prided himself most on having discovered or invented the technical means to realize them lyrically and dramatically in rhyme and meter, line and color, or melody and harmony; and placed his greatest hopes in refining these means. Hence, it was entirely natural that Haydn should declare to Wolfgang Amadeus’s father Leopold that “your son is the greatest practitioner
of the science [Gewissenschaft]” rather than the art [Kunst] “of composition known to me,” or that in his declining years he should gratefully yet wistfully remark, “What a great deal remains to be discovered in this noble art!” Indeed (if I may be permitted a bit of riffage on the second quotation) the state of composition in the late eighteenth century evokes no other contemporaneous constellation of practices so vividly as the one surrounding the then-current mania for discovery on the geographical plain, with its subtendent slew of refinements and innovations in navigation, shipbuilding, and cartography; such that listening to a mature Haydn or Mozart symphony or quartet in juxtaposition to an early eighteenth-century fugue or concerto may be likened not only to reading a novel or play after visiting a cathedral or reading an Arthurian romance, but also to browsing an eighteenth-century world atlas, wherein everything (in spite of the more vivid coloration of borders and cuter typefaces for place-names) looks more or less as it does in the twenty-first century Rand McNally equivalent, alongside one of those 16th-century monstrosities wherein Florida is twice the size of Mexico, and half-continents are blotted out by dragons and sea-serpents.

“Aha! Gotcha! ‘Listening to a mature Haydn or Mozart symphony or quartet, you say?’” the Mozartophile gloatingly interjects. OK, I admit: at a certain level, it is a bit like wrangling over whether Leif Erikson or Christopher Columbus really discovered America. And in deference to that level, the level of the bright-eyed musically intelligent, and curious Haydnian neophyte who could not give a hoot one way or the other about the whole Haydn-Mozart controversy, and who would simply like to know what about Haydn’s music makes it more worthwhile to listen to—at least “when one is in the right (i.e., practically any) mood”—than that of any other composer, and to which portion of the Haydnian corpus he should most speedily advert for the discovery of these most listenable virtues, I shall conclude my essay by simply enumerating these virtues, and listing such Haydnian opera (sic) along the way as most handily exemplify them.

1. His wit. In this domain, Haydn was a true pioneer and remains unsurpassed. He is the George Washington and Mt. Everest of musical joke-cracking. No one had bothered to try to be intrinsically clever and funny in music before him, and no one has succeeded so well at it since.
Take the finale of famous (for a string quartet) opus 33 no. 2 in E-flat major, “The Joke.” No, take it, please: for it owes its eponymous fame to the crudest example of one of Haydn’s favorite sallies, the true ending masquerading as a false one. For a more subtle—and, paradoxically, more
double take-inducing—one, look to the last measures of the third movement of the “Farewell Symphony” (No. 45). In the wit-laced-with-pathos department there's surely no beating the cello part in the recapitulation of the first movement of the String Quartet in D minor, opus 42. And who among us is po-faced enough not to laugh aloud at the granddaddy of all musical fart jokes in the second movement of the 93rd Symphony?

2. His mastery of slow tempi. As a youngster, I tried to cultivate an interest in jazz. Most of it just gave me bad dreams, but the solo-piano variety broadcast on Marian McPartland’s radio show I found simultaneously soothing and absorbing in a semi-indispensable way—that is
to say, a way that could not be replicated by any of the works of the great classical masters with which I was familiar at the time. Then I became acquainted with the adagios of the Haydn string quartets and piano sonatas, and my jazz records, all two of them, went straight into the trashcan. And no wonder. As Hans Keller writes: “In the whole history of symphonic thought, there are only 2½ composers capable of a sustainedly reposeful adagio. The first is Haydn (the source of every single compositional innovation right up to the present day), the last Beethoven (certainly not Mozart!) and the part-timer Bruckner.” [7] Highlights: Sonata No. 33 Hob. XVI: 20 in
C minor: II (nominally an “Andante con moto,” but still one of the all-time great slow movements in the piano literature), Symphony No. 54 in G major: II, and the String Quartet in E-flat major, opus 20, no. 1: III.

3. His thematic economy. Are you familiar with that old dramaturgical saw that in a well-written play if a shotgun is seen onstage in the first scene it has to go off before the curtain falls on the last one? Well, there should be an analogous one for a Haydn sonata-form movement: you can bet your bottom fiorin on hearing its exposition (or first part) through that virtually every idea exposed therein will be developed in some logical or meaningful fashion later on. (I may seem
here to be simultaneously belaboring and contradicting my earlier assertion of the dramatic character of all post-Haydnian music, whereas all I am really saying is that Haydn was a much better dramatist than most of his imitators and successors. Mozart (Sorry!), for example, in contrast tends in his expositions to throw in some supernumerary theme that is simply ignored in the development and restated verbatim in the recapitulation, the most nauseating example of such a theme perhaps being the incongruously puckish one in triplets in the first movement of his String Quartet K.465 in C major, the so-called Dissonance Quartet.)
4. His orchestration. This is perhaps the most underrated facet of Haydn’s compositional Herrschaft, although it has never entirely wanted for fans. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,
himself no mean symphonic colorist, called Haydn “the greatest of orchestrators.” To cite but a few of thousands of memorable examples: there’s that cute-as-a-miniature-dachshund-puppy moment at rehearsal no. 7 of the first movement of Symphony no. 102, when the principal theme is played piano by a solo flute and the first violins; and those squawking, proto-Mahlerian horn-flourishes in the Autumn section of The Seasons; to say nothing of the opening bars of the exposition of the “Imperial” Symphony (no. 53), wherein the principal theme is lazily adumbrated by strings and winds, like the haze of early morning, before being stated in
all of its forthright majesty, like an imperial procession breaking through the aforementioned haze, by the tutti. And one must not neglect to pay tribute to some highly striking, erm,
chamber-strations—odd isn’t it, that there’s no proper word for the management of the timbres of non-orchestral combinations of instruments?—the finale of the String Quartet opus 50, no. 6 “The Frog,” with its nick-eponymous theme composed of a single note played alternately on
two strings, and the World’s Largest Guitar impression performed by the combined piano (rolled chords) and violin (pizzicato) in the opening measures of the first movement of the Piano Trio Hob. XV: 28 in E major.

5. His work’s oeuvre-spanning coherence. Mediocre artists repeat themselves unthinkingly and intermittently, great ones do so deliberately and as a matter of course. Take the most spectacular example: Shakespeare. It has been remarked by numerous critics that in essence his
Prospero and Miranda are but his Lear and Cordelia on uninterruptedly good terms, that his Richard II is but a vainer and less pious version of his Henry VI, and his Leontes but a Iagoless Othello. Insofar as such starkly alloyed correspondences simultaneously and unceasingly
encourage and frustrate our attempts to divine a unified Shakespearean view of
paternity, filiality, matrimony, monarchy, etc., they constitute proofs of Shakespeare’s greatness; they compel us to seek the locus of Shakespearean meaning not in the puny two thousand lines of the play we happen to be reading now, but in the 60-something thousand other lines comprised by the other 30-something plays we have read before. According to my
imperfectly informed layman’s lights, Haydn is both the first and penultimate composer whose oeuvre achieves such a comparably genuine critical mass of modular echoes and anticipations (the ultimator is Gustav Mahler). Earlier composers tended not to hold the integrity and autonomy of the individual work in high enough regard to pull the Lebenskunstwerk-unifying
hat trick off: so habitual to them was, say, the rearrangement of a suite for solo violin into one for solo lute, or the importation of an entire movement from one composition into another, that the mere impulse to allusiveness was in them short-circuited at the outset. Later composers, on the other hand, tended to overrate the individual work to the detriment of the integrity of the
oeuvre: they were so bent on getting it right once and for all in their latest piece that they had no interest in summoning up the ghosts of their earlier ones therein. Haydn, on the middle hand, while always striving to surpass himself, took evident pride in what he had already achieved; and, moreover, seems to have written with the expectation, or at least the hope or suspicion, that the players of and listeners to his newest works would already be familiar with his earlier ones, and would appreciate explicit echoes thereof ranging in scope from the few measures of the “Surprise” Symphony that crop up in The Seasons to the virtual start-to-finish recasting of the String Quartet opus 33, no. 1 as no. 2 of opus 64. This second example of Haydnian intratextuality is worth epitomizing at length, if only to give the would-be listener a sense of the sheer scale of these routine Haydnian maneuvers. Not only are both quartets in B minor, but both in their opening measures initially trick the listener into thinking that they are in D major, and in their finales make use of themes embellished with clucking grace notes (yes, the same sort of grace notes that gave Symphony no. 83 its nickname of “The Hen.”). But whereas in the earlier quartet, the grace note-embellished theme first appears towards the end of the exposition in the relative major, imparting a rather barnyardish aroma to the proceedings, only to round out the entire movement stridently and double-forte in the minor in its final appearance—rather like a nobleman indignantly pulling off his peasant disguise in the last scene of a farce—in the later one it (or rather, its younger cousin) begins the movement, as its principal theme, in the tonic minor, as if picking up where opus 33, no. 1 left off, only to end up quietly and cheerfully expiring, again in the concluding measures, in the tonic major, in the uppermost registers of all the instruments. Thus, opus 64, no. 2, which starts out as a kind of caffeinated, almost hysterical, version of opus 33, no. 1, an articulation of heightened and accelerated despair, in the end delivers a good-natured fillip to the nose of its more serious elder sibling. (In between, we get a hint that we are in for a different denouement in the second movement, an adagio of indescribable sweetness that could not contrast more stridently with opus 33, no. 2’s parallelly-slotted minuet, essentially a metrically hobbled spiritual clone of that quartet’s first movement and finale.) There is a suggestion, in the juxtaposition of the two quartets, of a diptych wherein a highly-strung, youthful melancholy sensibility is shown to be more amenable to transformation into its opposite, a sanguine sensibility, than is a settled middle-aged melancholy. It is even possible, on account of the respective positions of the quartets in the cycle, to read opus 64, no. 2 as a kind of critique of opus 33, no. 1, as an assertion of the essentially transient or duplicitous nature of fear and sadness; an assertion that come what may, equanimity and good cheer will eventually win out.

In the end, though, the sheer quantitative abundance and diversity of Haydn’s output must and indeed can serve as its most eloquent advocate. Yes, plowing through all 104 of those symphonies and 80-plus quartets and 50-plus piano trios and so on is work, but the bright side of the labor is that no matter how long or intensively one has been listening to Haydn, there is always another masterpiece to be discovered, another work that will be at the same time perfect, evocative of what one has heard before, and (yes—not unlike the life of a repo man) full of surprises; such that one may without fear of exaggeration transpose Dr. Johnson’s famous
remark on London into a musical register in averring that “A man who is tired of Haydn is tired of music, for there is in Haydn all that music may afford.”

[1] As (practically only) every Model United Nations-attending high-schooler knows, the United Nations headquarters are quadrated among Geneva, Nairobi, New York, and Vienna.

[2] GW, incidentally, is our mystery composer’s exact contemporary. There must have been
something in the water, as they say, in that magical year 1732.

[3] A nickname given to J. S. Bach by Kati Harrison, weekend host and operations manager at WBJC, “Baltimore’s Cassical Music station. The Classical Radio Voice of Baltimore City Community College,” and--alas!--a bastion of unregenerate Haydnophobia, at least if its program director's seldom-failingly snide attitude to FJH is to be taken as expressive of the Stationsgeist.
[4] For more—and indeed, practically everything—on the significance of these terms in the setting of Haydn’s musical development, and of the subsequent history of music, see
Charles Rosen, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (Expanded
Edition. New York: Norton, 1997).
[5] For “virtually you may be entitled to read “absolutely,” if your conductor is one of those mavericks who elect to ignore both repeat-indications customarily found at the end of the exposition and coda, respectively, of the first movement of a symphony in the classical style. Most conductors of our day take the first repeat and ignore the second; it is unknown how often either was observed in eighteenth-century performance.
[6] Haydn’s own words about this set, recorded in a letter to its prospective publisher.
[7] Hans Keller, The Great Haydn Quartets: Their Interpretation (New York: George Braziller, 1986), p. 26.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

That Will Do, "Painter"

Fhrer himself, however, whom Robertson summoned in the Number 61 motorbus on 13 and 17 May, was gravely displeased. To him this denunciation of onanism by a native of Onania could only be seen as an act of both treachery and hypocrisy. Robertson, who hated keeping his flies buttoned in front of this great autoeroticist, led the conversation immediately to the subject of onanism. He had never loved other people otherwise than cosmetically, he declared, and had never experienced love except with his own person. Bernhard, too, he gratuitously [1] maintained, was a practicing autoeroticist, for “the manner in which he spoke of onanism, and even his need to speak of it, would alone suffice to convince me.” In order to provide material for the heteroerotic part of The Angry Londoner, he confessed, he had transposed to “the budding grove of girls—make that the single budding shrub of girls—all that was graceful, tender, and charming” in his own autoerotic memories; in other words, that portion of them dating from the stage of his life that Adam Long in the character of Roger Trilling [2] had once termed “the male jacking peak,” the very late teens. Fhrer sorrowfully reproached him for “seeming to have intended to stigmatise plutonism”[3]; “Will you never portray this form of Eros for us in the aspect of youth and beauty?” he asked. Robertson adroitly replied that he felt that neither Rugger nor his penis “was so old or repulsive as all that,” and that he must reserve youth for his transpositions, because young, smooth penises were more easily transposed into detachable erotic objects than craggy, middle-aged ones. These unfortunate mornings exposed and perpetuated the incompatibility between those two autoeroticists of (if nothing else) remarkable fecundity. I’ve annoyed many onanists with my last post,” Robertson told Matt Boulanger (Henryk’s younger brother), “and I’m sorry for it; and I’m sorry that Rugger occasionally hints at the modest dimensions of his member, but I couldn’t suddenly make him look like John Holmes.” Fhrer wrote later in his Tagebuch of Robertson’s “duskily particoloured desert camouflage [düsterer bunter Wüstenblendanstrich],” “this offence against truth [dieser Gegenwahrheitsfrevel],” and called him the “great dissimulating master baiter [große verheimlichende Meister-Bierer {4}].” More seriously still, Robertson’s biased avowals, made partly to tease and partly to mollify his friend, have been conveniently accepted by his critics as his final and total diagnosis of his own abnormality and its relation to his blog. Seen in their context, and compared with the known facts of his life, they form only a fraction of the far more complicated—if ultimately rather lame—truth. In his blog Robertson accepted but cordoned off his own autoeroticism, and created the heteroerotically-contented part of Rugger from the lost but real heteroerotic part of his own divided nature; he used onanism, like antagonistic football fandom and beer-snobbery, as an incarnation of particularized derivative virtue; if he had told the figurative truth and made Rugger love only his own penis, he would have destroyed the literal truth of his work.

[1] i.e., because Bernhard himself had apparently never made any bones about his onanistic predilections: “According to his good friend Paul Wittgenstein, Bernhard told him that he masturbated naked in front of a mirror.” Gita Honegger: Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2001), p. 10.

[2] Yo-Yo Ma Interview. (Odessa, Florida: Adabertson Recordings Catalogue No. 548 [1992]).

[3] i.e. (keine Scheisse?), onanism. The etymology of this term is hotly disputed. Some (the so-called classicists) say that it derives from millennia-old topoi likening onanism to the “plutocratic” practice of hoarding (albeit that Occam’s razor—together with Molly Sugden’s testimony—suggests more obvious parallels between onanism and spending); others (the so-called modernists) date it from the discovery of the now-ex planet Pluto, in which, on account of its solipsistic, renegade orbit many a 1930s onanist apparently discovered a kindred spirit; still others (the so-called Disneyans), take it for a synecdochic appropriation of the name of Mickey Mouse’s beloved pet dog, whose species is of course the subject of a famous joke embodying simultaneously the utopian and totalitarian aspirations of all onanists. For a presentation of each argument, see, respectively, J. M. Phipps, “'A Sordid Boon' Indeed!: Etymological Reflections on Plutonism” in Peristylum 3(2), pp. 455-74; S. P. Breakstone, “Doing One's Own 'Thing': Etymological Reflections on Plutonism” in Scientific American (234) 21, pp. 475-94; and B. F. Funicella, “'Cover Your Eyes, Minnie!': Etymological Reflections on Plutonism,” in Journal of the Mickey Mouse Club Alumni Association 52 (4), pp. 495-82.

[4] The phrase actually gains something in translation, a Bierer literally being someone who does something of no determinate nature involving beer.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Welcome Back, "Painter"

Robertson’s reputation for n***ardliness was almost legendary in the 21201 Zip code. Levar Bacon, elevenses shift-supervisor at the Eutaw Street Starbucks (and, incidentally, waxraker of one of Baltimore’s most critically acclaimed tam-tam and treble combos, Soul Source Provider) for the better part of the late oughties, served coffee to Robertson no fewer than eight hundred and ninety-six times and received a tip on not a single one of these occasions. “Sooner expect free food at a Chinese restaurant than a pobo [=‘pourboire’] from that muffuckin vixen,” Bacon bitterly averred to Suzy Quattro. Marcia Vickstrom, who manned the till at nearby Java Joe’s, one of Robertson’s favorite weekday lunchtime haunts, seconded Bacon’s appraisal to Burrows. “He would always buy these Snapples—never anything with them, mind you—that with tax cost $1.90, and he’d always, always wait to get the dime back. I could have understood it if it’d been fitty [sic] cents, or even a quarter. But a dime, for Chrissakes [sic?]? It was like he was rubbing it in, you know, by getting the thing on the menu that came closest to a round two dollars. I mean, with a $2.26 total you can at least fall back on the excuse that you need the quarters for laundry money.” But the galley-slaves of “the Industry” (as it’s known in “the Industry”) in the ’10, ’11, and ’18 codes tell a story of a very different Robertson, a consistently adequate and occasionally borderline generous tipper who was known to leave amounts of 20, 21, and even upwards of 22 percent of the tax-augmented total of his check. “You could always count on Doug to splivvy it past the dooce [=‘tip at least 20 percent’],” according to Jeff Stuckenschmidt’s report of an interview with Molly Sugden, barmaid-cum-waitress at Robertson’s regular Saturday-night Nacho-quarry, the Unamundo, who then leaned over to opine, sotto voce, in Stuckenschmidt’s ear: “Them gentlemen wot is members of the tribe [i.e., of onanists] always tip well; it’s on account ov orl the extra lolly they got, wot they ain’t got to spend on no lady friend.”

Several hypotheses may be tendered in explanation of this wildly schizoid, and apparently geographically targeted, tipping policy. Stuckenschmidt, who happened to know not only Sugden, but also Quattro (albeit not Bacon), and thereby became aware of the policy, attributed it, in a letter to Boulanger, to that “internecine (or possibly merely civil) war that raged within him [i.e., Robertson] throughout his life, and eventually destroyed him [still Robertson, I’m afraid],” between the two ethnic heritages to which Robertson owed equally exacting fealty—the Caledonian and the Pan-Mediterranean: “The indurate penuriousness of the Scots, of course, requires no comment. Less well-known, perhaps, is a certain quality equally widespread among the Mediterranean races and answering to the moniker of abbondanza, a term that is perhaps best—albeit still unconscionably crudely—rendered in English as ‘spending lots of money for absolutely no reason (no, not even a dubious or smirkworthy one like impressing someone or getting into her pantalones).’” As to the Zipcodial bifurcation of the two tendencies, Stuckenschmidt urged Boulanger “[j]ust [to] do the cartography: He was tightfisted in the southern part of town, and spendthrifty in the northern part. It’s a classic Oedipal scenario transposed into the ethnic register. He was avenging himself on his Scots ancestors by tipping well in that part of the city nearest to their latitude, and on his Mediterranean ones by not tipping at all in the part that was nearest to theirs.”

A letter from Burrows to Karoli suggests a different Robertsonian modus tippendi: “Do you remember that shirt Doug used to wear pretty much every other time we saw him, that borderline poncey black 55/45 cotton-rayon one that he always called his ‘favorite shirt’? Well get this: I met this guy on the 61 the other day…his name was ‘Nadia’ or ‘Elliott Carter’ or ‘Stravinsky’ or something like that [Burrows is presumably alluding to Boulanger] and it turned out we had in common the fact that we both had known Doug. Anyway, to make a long story short, we ended up talking about his various peccadilloes, quirks, eccentricities, et cet., and I happened to mention the famous ‘favorite shirt,’ and get this: this Copland [sic] fellow had never seen him wearing it. Can you believe that? I for one am outraged. I mean, what kind of game was he playing, living a double life, and throwing you and me for two separate loops like that?” In “the Industry” (not the Industry alluded to earlier, but rather my Industry, the literary-biographical one) this feint is known as “pulling an Orwell” in wry homage to Eric Blair’s “practice of dividing friends into groups and then keeping the groups apart.” [1] Whether Burrows was right to assume that this was what Robertson had been up to must doubtless remain a matter for not-improbably fruitless conjecture. Certainly, it can be said of Robertson, as of Orwell, that, mutatis mutandis, “few of the many people he knew were invited to his North London flat,” [2] but then even fewer seem to have so much as hinted at a desire to see it.

An unsent letter addressed to an unknown correspondent and found in Robertson’s papers amid a stack of unused prescriptions for various anticarminatives may clinch the question. Here is the text in its entirety: “You know, I am deeply in love with a certain beautiful girl. I asked her to marry me once but she turned me down but I still love her more than anything in the world and every minute I can spend with her is pure heaven; but I don’t want to be a bore. Please, if you see her, tell her that I hope that her adamantine imperviousness to my voice mail messages is not owing in part or whole to my not having tipped the barman at the [Sedulous] Ape when we picked up a bottle of Big Red Truck there last week en route to the Fürst [von Last]’s Candlemas-cum-Groundhog Day party; and that if it is, she ought not to take this omission as a prognostic of future bêtises superficially resembling it, but arising in less marginal (and therefore necessarily more potentially embarrassing) genres of date-situation. In a very blunt word, she need harbor no fear of my stiffing the waiter at Petit Louis or the Charleston. Jimmy himself—that, exclusive of “himself,” is the name of the barman—will vouch for my, I was going to say, my munificence, but I don’t know what counts as munificent tipping nowadays; well, at any rate, he will concede that I have tipped him each and every time these last fourteen years I have availed myself of his titularly eponymous services—that is to say, on each and every occasion on-stroke-in which he served me a drink that I consumed in situ. It is only when the barman doffs his apron and arm-garter and dons the visor and rubber thimble [?!] of the sales clerk that he becomes ineligible, according to my lights, for a gratuity—but in such garb he is always thus ineligible. I no more think of tipping the package-goods vending barman than I do the cashier at my local Safeways [sic] or J. C. Penney [for shame!]. In the untippable category are likewise included Starbucks-style café baristas, sub-shop lard-slingers (except in any supernumerary capacity as busers), and lion tamers [?!??!!!]. I am sensible that there is a certain arbitrariness to the distinction—for does it not cost the barista more effort to prepare an espresso than the barman to uncap a beer bottle? [3]—but so there also is, as Dr. Johnson reminds us,[4] to the possibly morally weightier one between edible and non-edible animals; and if bounds are not placed to this practice, there is no telling to which domains of life it might not spread. Having grown inured to tipping the carryout-dispensing barman we shall effortlessly acquire the habit of tipping the drycleaner, the apartment-building front-desk receptionist, and the postal clerk; and thence it will be an easy transition to a society of universal graft on the former-Soviet bloc model, where no business of any sort may be transacted absent a promise of on-the-spot remuneration. I should also like to assure this selfsame beautiful girl, lest she should have been led to assume otherwise by rumors of my incorrigible misanthropy, that I am not inclined to attribute the aforementioned epandrance to any particularly vicious streak in human nature (e.g., envy), but at worst to a reflexive and borderline mechanical tendency to mimesis. And yet, for all of its intrinsic benignity, this tendency is all too often productive of the most malign effects. Take color photocopying, for instance. A mere five years ago only the top brass of the Fortune 500 could afford it even for one-off interoffice communications; now no mass-circulated retirement-party flyer at the most downmarket enterprise is thought to look properly ‘professional’ absent its four square inches of Polaroid-quality photographic clip art, and we have every reason to fear that this expectation will spread downwards and outwards, to the point, some five or ten years hence, when one will be obliged to fart in color (and Lord knows that no one will be more legitimately entitled to resent this obligation than I).”

[1] John Rodden. The Politics of Literary Reputation. The Making and Claiming of ‘St. George’ Orwell (New York [1a]: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 135.

[1a] [sic], i.e., not Oxford.

[2] Ibid.

[3] On the other hand, as Robertson exasperatingly omits to point out, the preparation of an espresso costs the barista much less effort than the preparation of, say, a martini costs the barman.

[4] Sc., in A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland: "It is not very easy to fix the principles upon which mankind have agreed to eat some animals, and reject others; and as the principle is not evident, it is not uniform. That which is selected as delicate in one country, is by its neighbours abhorred as loathsome. The Neapolitans lately refused to eat potatoes in a famine. An Englishman is not easily persuaded to dine on snails with an Italian, on frogs with a Frenchman,or on horseflesh with a Tartar. The vulgar inhabitants of Sky, I know not whether of the other islands, have not only eels, but pork and bacon in abhorrence, and accordingly I never saw a hog in the Hebrides, except one at Dunvegan."