Educational, uplifting and immensely entertaining!
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.