Sunday, December 17, 2017

Old New Land - Chosen Family - Long Finale - Beginning

Colonel Gwynn didn't have a son, Alenna Gwynn didn't have a mother. When Alenna was nine, her mother went out, as so many fathers have, for a quart of milk and never came back. The Colonel was left with an active and sporty older daughter, and a younger daughter with Fragile X syndrome whom he sometimes perhaps raised with a sensitivity of a father accustomed to orders being followed.

1 in every 8000 females suffer from Fragile X, 1 in 3 of those suffer from autistic symptoms and Susanna Gwynn did not speak a word until she was nine herself. Even now that she was twelve, the only person in the world to whom she spoke with elementary freedom was Alenna, whom to Susanna was kind, and patient, and understanding and saintly, the mother to her sister which the Colonel always pined for Linda to have been.

Linda Gwynn did not simply leave her family, or rather, she did not simply leave. One day, Linda was waiting for him in their Moabit home, the Colonel wondering as he often did why she was answering questions so monosyllabically, the next she was missing, and the day after that, and the day after and all the days that followed. The Colonel, stationed at Checkpoint Charlie, consulted the Berliner Polizei, who showed him every dead body in the West Berlin morgues for a year, he consulted the Bundespolizei who checked the records of flights and car rentals. And when a detective in the morgue told him that for a price, he could consult a few members of the Stazi in the East, he simply asked how much and had no worry of how it might effect his career were he caught. He worked with three different Stazi officers, and when the wall came down the next year and a panic attack on the job costed him an order home, three Stazi detectives in person became six overtrained intelligence experts by phone, who had a lot less to do and technically came a lot cheaper. The Colonel spent three hours every day on the phone checking every possible lead for five years. It was only three months ago that the Colonel finally heeded the advice Detective Schiff gave him on their first meeting in an abandoned warehouse in Kreuzberg which is now a Michelin-starred restaurant. On that below-zero early February morning of 1989, Detective Schiff, then Oberstlutnant Schiff, seemed as direct as he could possibly be, and therefore earned the Colonel's trust immediately. The search was unlikely to find anything at all. Linda, regardless of how or why she disappeared, could long since have been anywhere in the world. However, a search that encompassed the world would at least raise the possibility of discovering Linda.

"Then we're gonna search the world,"

Linda Gwynn was both and neither alive and/nor dead. If she was alive, perhaps he could, after all make her listen to reason and compel her to be the mother she always should have been. If she was dead, well, it was at least a bit of certainty. And for five years and change, the Colonel had sent his detectives everywhere on cheap Eastern European airlines to chase any possible lead they found, each of which came with an expense account for the detectives of the most possible to be afforded by a career soldier who enlisted while living on the Gwynn homestead on a Montana dirt road.

The Colonel was a man whose worth, like all men's men, is derived from the extent of his responsibilities. Behind every responsible man is a negative model - a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a brother - a drunk or an addict, a spendsthrift or an abandoner - who let their world go to seed. All the feminine instinct shown to this relative for compassion and sympathy only pulled us still further into his black hole. Our only release from his suffering was death, his cruelty made us be cruel to him, and we hated this person we loved still more for how he made us be cruel.

Alenna never met Grandpa Bob, the town drunk of Ismay Montana who let the Gwynn homestead become bank property, not because of the Great Depression, but a 1928 poker game. Five years later, the Gwynns made the same unintentional journey to the Utility Supply Camps of California made by the Joads and millions of other Dust Bowl refugees, in which Colonel Gwynn's three older brothers, Tommy the Fourth, Joey, and Bobby Gwynn, would be born.

In 1842, Osian and Tomos Gwynn of the Aberfan mining town in Wales, arrived on the Montana property of which they had a 140 acre deed given to them on their first day in New York for a literal song along with the promise of a rich and arable land, an arable land they knew instantly upon arrival was nowhere within 400 miles in any direction. Out of nothing they created a colony of bees and a honeyed empire. And thanks to Thomas Gwynn the Third, Hen Tom's great grandson, from their honeyed empire came dust, and then the Great Depression came, and the Colonel's three older brothers were born in a California Utility Supply Camp.

Families are always moving up and down in America. Bobby the Fourth got their bee colony back, and the honey began again to flow, but life was never as sweet again as once alleged. The Gwynn empire came from dust, and to dust it returned. And what in the Gilded Age was pure succor was cloying and beestings in the 50's and 60's, a barely lower-middle class living for the Gwynns as a local supplier for Basic Honey Inc. on the now 16 acre property which 26 Gwynns and another fourteen employees had to share.

The Colonel's clothes were handed down for two generations, and any friendships were from football recess after lunch, while home life as the youngest Gwynn was not exactly pleasant. Four boys who had nothing to do but work needed entertainment and scapegoats - and there can only be one youngest brother. One not so fine day in 1963, Bobby put the queen bee on the Colonel's shoulder. Joey and Bobby laughed their asses off as the Colonel had to sprint all sixteen acres and then some to outrun the swarm. They got an earful from Tommy the Fourth for that, but the Colonel mailed his West Point application the next week.

In 1967, Joey was lost to the Mekong River in a patrol boat explosion. In '69, Bobby lost his left leg and arm to a landmine on Hamburger Hill. But the Colonel was a Second Lieutenant at Khe Sanh, and was awarded a Medal of Honor for running a mile away from the border while carrying two of his men, determined to compel his men to avoid the oblivion of Joey.

Every Christmas thereafter was a variation on a theme of Bobby's recriminations on how the Colonel abandoned their family to work for the organization that destroyed the Gwynn boys, and how much the Colonel must enjoy this revenge on older brothers who used to torture him so. The Colonel would, as ever, take Bobby's abuse without protest. Nobody even knew if he was angry, nobody knew if he cared or not, he simply knew it was his responsibility to come home and be polite, to make sure that Linda and Alenna helped Mama Gwynn in the kitchen, and then return to his responsibilities.

And then came New Year's, back at all whatever bases they were stationed, where everybody would get drunk, destroy property, go home and fuck, sometimes with other soldier's wives, but the Colonel, even when he was a Lieutenant or Major, was all too happy to man the radio, sit at the base, make sure the weapons weren't raided, the intelligence wire was monitored. At midnight, he'd wish Happy New Year to the one soldier working the desk with him, and toast with a single hard cider.

It's Not Even Past #4: Drugs in The Godfather - Beginning

So when I was a wee college lad, my Bubbie came to dinner with my family after a relatively decent performance by my University choir of Carmina Burana at Angelico's, the glorious shitty Mediterranean food place near campus. When we were at dinner, she met my closest friend in college, his roommate who is now probably my closest friend in Baltimore, his roommate's girlfriend who is now his roommate's wife and one of my closest friends in Baltimore, and his ex-girlfriend who is my former flatmate and still one of the roommate and his wife's closest friends.

Bubbie was 84 at the time, she's now 97 and looks younger than any of us. And to stay so young for so long, she must have a mission, and her mission is her curiosity. She wants to know what makes people tick, she wants to understand what it's like to be people completely unlike her, and she can sit fascinated for hours with people she's never met as they speak about their experiences. And it therefore came as no surprise to me when she said, with absolute confidence and fascination:

'SO WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE DRUGS?!?'

Thursday, December 14, 2017

It's Not Even Past #3 - Haydn's Creation - Complete

It's highly possible that the most underrated composer in the history of music is still Joseph Haydn. There are literally thousands of underrated composers out there and probably only a dozen or a dozen and a half who are genuinely overrated, but at least in my opinion, the founder of modern music is Haydn, not Bach.

I've written at least three or four long blogpost essays nobody reads about how Bach's place in music is overvalued, and I really don't want to write a fifth, but there is something about Bach that, to me, is too heavenly, too divorced from the human experience, too, as we Jews say, 'goyish.' When you get to know Mozart and Beethoven's music, they take on the quality of old friends, but when you get to know Bach, both the glory and the weakness of it is that it never stops being an extraordinary experience. The music is too perfect. There's expression aplenty in Bach, but it's not human expression, it's the expression of divine beings. These divine beings might feel compassion for our suffering, but they can't relate to it, and they rarely ever seem to relieve it. Furthermore, where's the humor in Bach? And most importantly, where's the fallibility? You can search far and wide for a compositional weakness in Bach, and you might find one every million measures. That, as far as I'm concerned, is the ultimate compositional weakness. It's like music assembled by a kind of celestial computer coding. He was so masterful at counterpoint that through his counterpoint he practically created the common harmonic language we use to this day.

But this was entirely an accident. Very few composers knew more than a few pieces by Bach until Mendelssohn worked mightily to revive him in the 1830s to a fame Bach never had in his lifetime, and performed Bach with a seraphic beauty which was antithetical to instruments and performing style of Bach's period. The Bach of the Romantic era was a completely different composer, grounded in harmony rather than counterpoint. As a personal interjection, when I hear Bach performed on original instruments, rendered little different from a generically excellent composer of the Baroque period, I wonder if I understand why Bach's employers in Leipzig offered Bach's job to Telemann or Graupner before him.

Bach's music is pure counterpoint and harmony, there is no flash, there is not even really a style of which one can speak. There is only pure substance; as the musicologist Jan Swafford put it, nobody ever wrote better notes than Bach. In the same way that Immanuel Kant is often considered pure analysis and thought and system that gives little consideration to stylistic clarity or common wisdom for layman readers, the vast, vast majority of Bach's is a pure contrapuntal and harmonic thought that gives little thought to instrumental color or rhythm. Both were revolutions for the humanities that gave them something like the rigor of science and for this pseudo-intellectual, both revolutions achieved more rewarding results when their successors turned their soft science back into art.

Whether it was actually Bach who actually codified common practice tonality or a combination of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti,  Rameau, Telemann, Pachebel, Froberger, Graupner, Kuhnau, and who knows how many other composers, what is much less deniable is that it's Haydn who first utilized how to use common practice tonality to the best effect. His symphonies, his string quartets, his piano trios, are little dramas of harmony. Platonic dialogues carried out in sound between two musical characters who propose ideas that seem to contradict each other in every way, but they work through every conceivable implication of their ideas until they can arrive at some kind of resolution, some synthesis, some livable compromise that allows life to go on.

The Symphony, Haydn's great contribution to the literature of the world, and arguably the greatest of all artistic contributions because it's literally the only place in the world where philosophy and abstract thought has demonstrable physical presence, is about the continuity of life, the pacification of the spirit. Perhaps I'm too much a fundamentalist in this regard, but having just taught a course on symphonies, I'm more in awe of them than ever before. I believe that in a way that songs and operas and ballets never could, absolute music gives us a way of coping with life's vicissitudes. If Greek tragedy is a ritual that purges us of our emotional tensions and repressions, then the grand symphonic tradition gives voice to those emotional tensions and repressions which are too primal for us to attach words. And when we hear them, we understand that there are dimensions out there where our anguish and contraditions are understood, and a place, somewhere in the universe, where they can be resolved. And knowing, as we now do, that there is a chance for some kind of resolution in some far off place, whether it's heaven, or somewhere in the elements of the universe, or simply in the dimension of music, we're free to look at the dimensions of life with much more equanimity, and solve our personal problems without the weight of unresolved passions bearing down on us. The problems of this world were never meant to be transcended, but thanks to music, we can direct the human urge to transcendence to the only dimension we know of where transcendence is truly possible, and the place where it's most possible is the symphony. And the transcendent possibility of the symphony begins with Haydn.

Beginning of Haydn 44 "Trauer" 3rd movement (Fricsay/RIAS)

And yet, in order to get to transcendence in the manner which we get in so many later symphonies, were the symphony becomes like a battleground of diminished and minor chords against which major-key happiness and triumph has to emerge transcendent, we first need the Haydn formula in which music is a conversation between light and darkness. Like in every high comedy, The Simpsons for example, every dark sentiment has to be immediately balanced so that the darkness isn't taken too seriously. In such a world where the imagination can't allow itself to get too turbulent, it's inevitable that formula creeps in. Just think of the Simpsons after Season 8 or 9...

In Haydn's case, his later Simpsons episodes came earlier in his career, when he was still figuring out how to make symphonies into immortal masterworks. Some of them have innovations that are truly astonishing, but with a number of exceptions, don't assume that early Haydn is as interesting as lots of musicologists want us to believe. There's no reason to listen to all 104-and-change Haydn symphonies. Start by listening to the last twelve, the London Symphonies, 93-104, when Haydn polished his equanimity of expression and wit to an agility that seems to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Then, perhaps, listen to his Paris Symphonies, 82-87, which are meant as grander statements for a larger orchestra, proto-Beethovenian perhaps though Haydn could have no way of knowing - and yet chamber orchestras always play them. Fill in the gap with the five symphonies in between 88-92, fulfilled for other commissions, and many people feel #88 is the greatest of all - though for those who care I'd probably put it in the top 5 with 92, 98, 100 and 103. Then listen to all the 'Name' symphonies. 29 of Haydn's symphonies have names. So far as I know, Haydn never gave any of his symphonies a name, but if a Haydn symphony has a name, that means that the symphony made an impression on someone over the last 200 years, and thought enough of it to call it something unique. Past there, there are a few worth getting to know, but as a homework assignment, I think that's more than enough.


Haydn, having capped his symphonic achievement with Symphony #104, a perfect fusion of light and darkness, has nowhere else to take the symphony after 1795. Anything after Haydn 104 would be a formula. The Symphony, taking place both in a world of metaphysical abstraction and also pitched to an aristocratic audience of this world, cannot at this time be heard to suffer unless the suffering is balanced evenly by joy. But the world itself was suffering - in the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution roughly 40,000 died with 20,000 sent to the guillotine, followed by the Vendee Rebellion, which may have killed 700,000 Frenchmen, along with all the various revolutions that make up the total French Civil Wars from 1789 to 1801, in which a probable total of 1.4 million died. We then follow this with nineteen years of Napoleonic War, the highest estimate being that six million died in those. Haydn's symphonies had no way of coming to terms with a world in which such bloodshed was so visible, but his choral music.... (Nelson Mass Opening First 50 seconds/Peterson/Oslo Camerata)

Sacred music, particularly the Mass, is pitched to God and Christ and the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mother, and are precisely about the transfiguration of suffering. What we just heard was the beginning of what we now call the Lord Nelson Mass, named for Britain's heroic Admiral who lost his arm and then his life in the Napoleonic Wars. The Latin title is "Missa in Angustiis", or Mass for Anguished Times. It was written in 1798, and can be seen as a sequel to Haydn's mass of the year before, the Mass in Time of War which begins in serenity and ends in terrible turmoil. The Mass for Anguished Times is consistently dark in a spirit that perhaps no other of Haydn's voluminous works shares. The only real precedent for it is Mozart's unfinished Requiem and the hellish scenes of Don Giovanni, and at this point in history, Beethoven is still known far better as a pianist. 1798 is seven years after Mozart's death, five years before Beethoven's Eroica. Austria, perhaps the world, had only one verifiable musical genius to articulate the spirit of the times, and the spirit of the times were only getting darker.

The elderly Haydn was a seasoned traveller who'd spent much time feted in France and England, but he was forever a loyal subject to the Austrian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire without a subversive bone in his body. He was descended from Flemings and Croats, but the fate of Austria, it's triumphs and tragedies, were his. The Austria of his generation, ruled by Empress Maria Theresa, deeply Catholic, conservative, and declining, depleted first by the War of Austrian Succession in the 1740's, then by Prussia's conquering of Silesia, the most profitable Austrian province, in 1756, meant that the Austria of the time, like so many declining powers, turn especially to culture because they have to find their pride in something other than political achievement. Thanks to Haydn, they found it in music. And while France, until the 1780s at least, had a really great 18th century politically and especially intellectually, they found that their very achievements were exactly what pushed them into a generation long apocalypse.

(Whole track - McCreesh - the evocation of chaos)

That was the beginning of The Creation, the 1790's evocation of primeval chaos that is sounds both quaintly unlike chaos to our ears, and is incredibly, eternally advanced for the 1790s. When in England, Haydn was allowed to look through the telescope of the Royal Society - no doubt looked through at times by Robert Hooke, Edmund Halle, and Newton himself. The world, suddenly, was not only the perfectly monadized and mechanized best of all possible places, but a nebulous universe, full of uncertainty principles and relativity, and perhaps he realized that the world was more a reflection of the universe than his peasant-educated mind had ever allowed it to be.

This chaos of the cosmos, the suffering it causes, the decline and deprivation, was surely something Austrians of the time knew so intimately. Austrians were not taken in by utopian delusions of the world being anything but what it is. While France was in thrall to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with his notion that man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains; the German speaking lands were in thrall to the still very young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote that what little freedom remains to humans so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it. Rousseau yammers on and on about nature, yet he believes in reason. Goethe yammers on and on about reason, yet he believes in nature. In The Creation, Haydn seems to unite the two, listen to this nature painting, and when you do, try to remember that Haydn always tells you what text he has painted AFTER he's painted the words with music, not before.

(Nature painting)

Later Haydn sets animals too - lions, worms, gazelles, it's amazing stuff.

So the year is 1796, Napoleon would not yet be First Consul of the French Republic for another three years, and not crown himself Emperor of the French for another eight. But the decisive moment in the fortunes of the French republic came in this year with the appointment of this semi-Italian semi-soldier of fortune, not yet thirty years old, to be Commander in Chief of the French armies in Italy during the Wars of the First Coalition. The War of the First Coalition is basically France alone against Great Britain, Prussia, the Holy Roman Empire (meaning Austria at this point), Spain, and Holland - in addition to a few Italian city-states, all of which are terrified of the French Revolution spreading to their Empires as they would be for another hundred twenty years until even the upper classes were compelled by World War I to admit that sovereign monarchy is not a viable option in the chaos of the modern world.

In 1795, Napoleon prevents a coup d'etat in Paris with just a few garrisons. In 1796, Napoleon, now  Commander-in-Chief of the French armies in Italy, marches his batallions all the way through Italy to meet with the French troops in stationed Tyrol, southern Austria, and then march on Vienna. In 1797, Napoleon sieges Mantua and the 18,000 Austrian soldiers stationed there surrender. He then conquers the Republic of Venice, which had been a city-state for an unbroken thousand years. As part of the peace treaty between France and Austria, they share joint control of Venice.

When Haydn began the Creation in 1796, Austria was at war. When he finished it, Austria was at peace. But surely, Haydn, like everybody else in Austria, knew that war was always a possibility. If the ancien regime could be laid waste in France, the most powerful state in the world, the establishment could be laid waste anywhere.

('Disorder yields' until 3:00)

The text Haydn really wanted to set was not the Creation story, but music for Milton's Paradise Lost, and I think you can hear the direction Haydn would go in that passage where angelic music yields to the demonic and back again in less than two minutes' span - no matter how light and bright Haydn's Creation is, it's still an awesome, terrifying work of Bosch or Blake-like art.

Now Haydn was no nobleman, he was the son of a wheelwright and a cook, who was always thankful that his father lived to see his son become the chief court musician of one of the world's most resplendent princes. Haydn 'made it' in life at an exceedingly early age, but what of all the friends and family whom success forced him to leave behind? In Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March, about the decline of the Austrian empire, there's a heartbreaking scene between the newly enobled Baron von Trotta, a war hero, and his father, a simple Slovenian solder. Now that the Baron is a nobleman, codes of honor prevent him from behaving like like the peasant he still was at heart, or from sharing any of his true feelings with his father. They couldn't joke together, they couldn't reminisce, they couldn't show each other any of the love that doubtless was in their hearts. They had nothing left to say to each other, and disappeared from each other's lives into loneliness.

Haydn was generally a very cheerful man, and if his music is indication, was about as un-neurotic as a genius ever was. But how could even he, the rock star of his time who owed all his success to the aristocracy, have looked at the French Revolution and not realize that the French Revolution fought for the dignity of his parents, his brothers and sisters, his boyhood friends, of all the people he loved before he ever knew the good fortune that would be his lot? He practically paid tribute to them in every symphony, which ostensibly contained courtly dances, but the peasant fever is everywhere! Listen to the beginning of the finale from Haydn's 82nd Symphony - also known as The Bear because it's supposedly sounds like the awkward - and no doubt cruel to our modern perceptions cruel - way peasants make bears lurch as though they're dancing.

(Haydn 82 - finale until 26:27)

And yet, Haydn seems to give these people whom aristocrats see as crude, these new men and women, a full dignity and honor that gives each of these human creatures, created in the divine image, a small piece of the divine right of kings, to claim equality, fraternity, liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness.

(The Creation: 'By thee' - McCreesh
Note to Zach the Engineer: I originally I substituted a different recording from the one in the original audio track because the words were more comprehensible. At first I didn't want to use it because it was two minutes longer, but the words are inaudible in the other recording.)

Haydn's world was dying, and yet his world was coming alive. Every employer ever to hire him worried of losing their heads; and yet, as the the France-dominated world of absolute monarchy erupted in blood, a new world of bourgeois liberalism began a few short years after Haydn's death in 1809. After the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815, no major power emerged with more prosperity than Austria - already prudent and chastened by the living memories of defeat. And from the dual revolutions of America and France began the long process of liberation and equality for all those people who existed as the footstools of those aristocrats.

Music is the artform of democracy. There is no understanding of language needed - oral or written. All it takes is the ability to hear it, and it transcends every barrier of communication. It should not be surprising that in this long nineteenth century, marked by so many democratic revolutions, music that was loved by millions took on a complexity that is rarely seen in the mainstream of today's cultural discourse outside of technological developments.

'In The Beginning' (McCreesh)

The Creation is a poem unlimited in which the entire universe is made present in all its manifestations. Sublime church music with street music, tragedy and comedy, the loftiest beings against lowly men and still lower animals and plant life. We have no idea if the chaos before God said 'Let There Be Light' was an eternal chaos or if there was an eternal return and a previous universe dissolved into chaos. But The Creation posits eternal return, it is the work of a society destroyed, and then reborn. 

How stand we in the revolutions of 2017 - Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Me Too. Make no mistake, these are revolutionary movements, and inevitably, they provoke counterrevolutions and I needn't tell you what those are either. Those who know me personally know that I've been very hard on these revolutionary movements and the people who subscribe to them, no doubt most friends would say too hard, most family would say not hard enough. These are movements that agitate for revolution no less than Marxists agitated for revolution in the decades leading up to World War I. The entire establishment is terrified of them, and the more traction they gain, and there's no question they'll gain much, much more traction in the decades to come, the establishment will hit back -  big business, lobbyists, the 80% of legislators on all levels whom to varying extents are in their pockets, and, of course, their lower-middle-class who are their unwitting servants and soldiers. All of them, the forces of reaction. 

But for better or worse, I've come to realize that the Universe is chaos, the universe is perpetual revolution, revolution cannot be prevented any more than counter-revolution. They go together like yin and yang, they define each other perpetually, and the more one gains power, the more the other inevitably does too. Our only hope, and it's always a very small hope indeed, is to convince enough people that gradual reform is our best hope, because in war and revolution, nobody is in control. Whatever you thought you were fighting for at the beginning, you're fighting for something extremely different at the end. The new created world that springs up at God's command will not be yours to enjoy, it may not even be your children or grandchildren, who can lose their lives just in the maelstrom just as easily as you. It is for some abstract, meaningless, distant future person who can no more relate to your concerns than you can to the concerns of someone in 1796. 

And yet, look around, who can possibly deny that all these intersectionalists and critical theorists and neo-Marxists who now believe in systemic cultural oppression the way Marxists once believed in systemic class oppression, are not almost completely legitimate in any point that actually matters? Even if it's absurd pseudo-science to say as so many of them do that everything is ideology and social conditioning, look at the inequalities of finance, opportunity, and suffering, and dare to tell them that they have the same opportunities we do without feeling like a cretin. 

Just as happened under Communism, I have no doubt that there will one day be nation states and Empires like the Soviet Union that enact their critical theories as gospel and dogma, and the results will be disastrous to a point past imagining. There will be states and empires like Germany who will arise in reaction, and may perpetrate still greater horrors. But there will also be states like the United States and England and France and Modern Germany who will be leavened and influenced by the insights of extremely sloppy and dangerous thinkers as Marx once was and like Fanon and Said and  Laura Mulvey and Judith Butler and Naomi Klein, who have glimmers of genius that peak out amidst their charlatanry - just as Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson do from the other side of the ideological spectrum. You don't have to be a good thinker to be a real thinker, but to be a bad thinker, you have to think in two dimensions rather than three. Even in two dimensions, you can have real insight, and illustrate an entirely new and useful way of looking at a three-dimensional world, but to apply the insights in anything but a three-dimensional context is a disaster every time it happens, and it always does. But  just as the United States and those who followed suit found ways of incorporating social programs that took the best of socialism and communism while excising the dangerous elements, so will some countries one day find good ways of incorporating the best insights of social justice, intersectionality, deconstruction, hermeneutics, patriarchy, postcolonial studies, semiotics, mythopoetics, poststructuralism, and all those other mountains of bullshit which, against my will, I must admit have glimmers of true insight within their dangerous falsifications and may never have arisen had those of us in more powerful positions kept a more open heart, a more open mind, and a more open wallet.

But in all these places, no matter how dark, the world necessarily seems to go on, life goes on even if lives end prematurely, and in every place there will be light and dark, and amidst all the hopelessness, there will be great hope. What The Creation tells us is that being alive, in all its infinite manifestation, in every minute of joy, and in every longer minute of suffering, is the greatest of all possible gifts. 

Praise the Lord - McCreesh

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

It's Not Even Past #3 - Haydn's Creation - 80%

It's highly possible that the most underrated composer in the history of music is still Joseph Haydn. There are literally thousands of underrated composers out there and probably only a dozen or a dozen and a half who are genuinely overrated, but at least in my opinion, the founder of modern music is Haydn, not Bach.

I've written at least three or four long blogpost essays nobody reads about how Bach's place in music is overvalued, and I really don't want to write a fifth, but there is something about Bach that, to me, is too heavenly, too divorced from the human experience, too, as we Jews say, 'goyish.' When you get to know Mozart and Beethoven's music, they take on the quality of old friends, but when you get to know Bach, both the glory and the weakness of it is that it never stops being an extraordinary experience. The music is too perfect. There's expression aplenty in Bach, but it's not human expression, it's the expression of divine beings. These divine beings might feel compassion for our suffering, but they can't relate to it, and they rarely ever seem to relieve it. Furthermore, where's the humor in Bach? And most importantly, where's the fallibility? You can search far and wide for a compositional weakness in Bach, and you might find one every million measures. That, as far as I'm concerned, is the ultimate compositional weakness. It's like music assembled by a kind of celestial computer coding. He was so masterful at counterpoint that through his counterpoint he practically created the common harmonic language we use to this day.

But this was entirely an accident. Very few composers knew more than a few pieces by Bach until Mendelssohn worked mightily to revive him in the 1830s to a fame Bach never had in his lifetime, and performed Bach with a seraphic beauty which was antithetical to instruments and performing style of Bach's period. The Bach of the Romantic era was a completely different composer, grounded in harmony rather than counterpoint. As a personal interjection, when I hear Bach performed on original instruments, rendered little different from a generically excellent composer of the Baroque period, I wonder if I understand why Bach's employers in Leipzig offered Bach's job to Telemann or Graupner before him.

Bach's music is pure counterpoint and harmony, there is no flash, there is not even really a style of which one can speak. There is only pure substance; as the musicologist Jan Swafford put it, nobody ever wrote better notes than Bach. In the same way that Immanuel Kant is often considered pure analysis and thought and system that gives little consideration to stylistic clarity or common wisdom for layman readers, the vast, vast majority of Bach's is a pure contrapuntal and harmonic thought that gives little thought to instrumental color or rhythm. Both were revolutions for the humanities that gave them something like the rigor of science and for this pseudo-intellectual, both revolutions achieved more rewarding results when their successors turned their soft science back into art.

Whether it was actually Bach who actually codified common practice tonality or a combination of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti,  Rameau, Telemann, Pachebel, Froberger, Graupner, Kuhnau, and who knows how many other composers, what is much less deniable is that it's Haydn who first utilized how to use common practice tonality to the best effect. His symphonies, his string quartets, his piano trios, are little dramas of harmony. Platonic dialogues carried out in sound between two musical characters who propose ideas that seem to contradict each other in every way, but they work through every conceivable implication of their ideas until they can arrive at some kind of resolution, some synthesis, some livable compromise that allows life to go on.

The Symphony, Haydn's great contribution to the literature of the world, and arguably the greatest of all artistic contributions because it's literally the only place in the world where philosophy and abstract thought has demonstrable physical presence, is about the continuity of life, the pacification of the spirit. Perhaps I'm too much a fundamentalist in this regard, but having just taught a course on symphonies, I'm more in awe of them than ever before. I believe that in a way that songs and operas and ballets never could, absolute music gives us a way of coping with life's vicissitudes. If Greek tragedy is a ritual that purges us of our emotional tensions and repressions, then the grand symphonic tradition gives voice to those emotional tensions and repressions which are too primal for us to attach words. And when we hear them, we understand that there are dimensions out there where our anguish and contraditions are understood, and a place, somewhere in the universe, where they can be resolved. And knowing, as we now do, that there is a chance for some kind of resolution in some far off place, whether it's heaven, or somewhere in the elements of the universe, or simply in the dimension of music, we're free to look at the dimensions of life with much more equanimity, and solve our personal problems without the weight of unresolved passions bearing down on us. The problems of this world were never meant to be transcended, but thanks to music, we can direct the human urge to transcendence to the only dimension we know of where transcendence is truly possible, and the place where it's most possible is the symphony. And the transcendent possibility of the symphony begins with Haydn.

Beginning of Haydn 44 "Trauer" 2nd movement (Fricsay/RIAS)

And yet, in order to get to transcendence in the manner which we get in so many later symphonies, were the symphony becomes like a battleground of diminished and minor chords against which major-key happiness and triumph has to emerge transcendent, we first need the Haydn formula in which music is a conversation between light and darkness. Like in every high comedy, The Simpsons for example, every dark sentiment has to be immediately balanced so that the darkness isn't taken too seriously. In such a world where the imagination can't allow itself to get too turbulent, it's inevitable that formula creeps in. Just think of the Simpsons after Season 8 or 9...

In Haydn's case, his later Simpsons episodes came earlier in his career, when he was still figuring out how to make symphonies into immortal masterworks. Some of them have innovations that are truly astonishing, but with a number of exceptions, don't assume that early Haydn is as interesting as lots of musicologists want us to believe. There's no reason to listen to all 104-and-change Haydn symphonies. Start by listening to the last twelve, the London Symphonies, 93-104, when Haydn polished his equanimity of expression and wit to an agility that seems to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Then, perhaps, listen to his Paris Symphonies, 82-87, which are meant as grander statements for a larger orchestra, proto-Beethovenian perhaps though Haydn could have no way of knowing - and yet chamber orchestras always play them. Fill in the gap with the five symphonies in between 88-92, fulfilled for other commissions, and many people feel #88 is the greatest of all - though for those who care I'd probably put it in the top 5 with 92, 98, 100 and 103. Then listen to all the 'Name' symphonies. 29 of Haydn's symphonies have names. So far as I know, Haydn never gave any of his symphonies a name, but if a Haydn symphony has a name, that means that the symphony made an impression on someone over the last 200 years, and thought enough of it to call it something unique. Past there, there are a few worth getting to know, but as a homework assignment, I think that's more than enough.


Haydn, having capped his symphonic achievement with Symphony #104, a perfect fusion of light and darkness, has nowhere else to take the symphony after 1795. Anything after Haydn 104 would be a formula. The Symphony, taking place both in a world of metaphysical abstraction and also pitched to an aristocratic audience of this world, cannot at this time be heard to suffer unless the suffering is balanced evenly by joy. But the world itself was suffering - in the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution roughly 40,000 died with 20,000 sent to the guillotine, followed by the Vendee Rebellion, which may have killed 700,000 Frenchmen, along with all the various revolutions that make up the total French Civil Wars from 1789 to 1801, in which a probable total of 1.4 million died. We then follow this with nineteen years of Napoleonic War, the highest estimate being that six million died in those. Haydn's symphonies had no way of coming to terms with a world in which such bloodshed was so visible, but his choral music.... (Nelson Mass Opening First 50 seconds/Peterson/Oslo Camerata)

Sacred music, particularly the Mass, is pitched to God and Christ and the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mother, and are precisely about the transfiguration of suffering. What we just heard was the beginning of what we now call the Lord Nelson Mass, named for Britain's heroic Admiral who lost his arm and then his life in the Napoleonic Wars. The Latin title is "Missa in Angustiis", or Mass for Anguished Times. It was written in 1798, and can be seen as a sequel to Haydn's mass of the year before, the Mass in Time of War which begins in serenity and ends in terrible turmoil. The Mass for Anguished Times is consistently dark in a spirit that perhaps no other of Haydn's voluminous works shares. The only real precedent for it is Mozart's unfinished Requiem and the hellish scenes of Don Giovanni, and at this point in history, Beethoven is still known far better as a pianist. 1798 is seven years after Mozart's death, five years before Beethoven's Eroica. Austria, perhaps the world, had only one verifiable musical genius to articulate the spirit of the times, and the spirit of the times were only getting darker.

The elderly Haydn was a seasoned traveller who'd spent much time feted in France and England, but he was forever a loyal subject to the Austrian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire without a subversive bone in his body. He was descended from Flemings and Croats, but the fate of Austria, it's triumphs and tragedies, were his. The Austria of his generation, ruled by Empress Maria Theresa, deeply Catholic, conservative, and declining, depleted first by the War of Austrian Succession in the 1740's, then by Prussia's conquering of Silesia, the most profitable Austrian province, in 1756, meant that the Austria of the time, like so many declining powers, turn especially to culture because they have to find their pride in something other than political achievement. Thanks to Haydn, they found it in music. And while France, until the 1780s at least, had a really great 18th century politically and especially intellectually, they found that their very achievements were exactly what pushed them into a generation long apocalypse.

(Whole track - McCreesh - the evocation of chaos)

That was the beginning of The Creation, the 1790's evocation of primeval chaos that is sounds both quaintly unlike chaos to our ears, and is incredibly, eternally advanced for the 1790s. When in England, Haydn was allowed to look through the telescope of the Royal Society - no doubt looked through at times by Robert Hooke, Edmund Halle, and Newton himself. The world, suddenly, was not only the perfectly monadized and mechanized best of all possible places, but a nebulous universe, full of uncertainty principles and relativity, and perhaps he realized that the world was more a reflection of the universe than his peasant-educated mind had ever allowed it to be.

This chaos of the cosmos, the suffering it causes, the decline and deprivation, was surely something Austrians of the time knew so intimately. Austrians were not taken in by utopian delusions of the world being anything but what it is. While France was in thrall to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with his notion that man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains; the German speaking lands were in thrall to the still very young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote that what little freedom remains to humans so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it. Rousseau yammers on and on about nature, yet he believes in reason. Goethe yammers on and on about reason, yet he believes in nature. In The Creation, Haydn seems to unite the two, listen to this nature painting, and when you do, try to remember that Haydn always tells you what text he has painted AFTER he's painted the words with music, not before.

(Nature painting)

Later Haydn sets animals too - lions, worms, gazelles, it's amazing stuff.

So the year is 1796, Napoleon would not yet be First Consul of the French Republic for another three years, and not crown himself Emperor of the French for another eight. But the decisive moment in the fortunes of the French republic came in this year with the appointment of this semi-Italian semi-soldier of fortune, not yet thirty years old, to be Commander in Chief of the French armies in Italy during the Wars of the First Coalition. The War of the First Coalition is basically France alone against Great Britain, Prussia, the Holy Roman Empire (meaning Austria at this point), Spain, and Holland - in addition to a few Italian city-states, all of which are terrified of the French Revolution spreading to their Empires as they would be for another hundred twenty years until even the upper classes were compelled by World War I to admit that sovereign monarchy is not a viable option in the chaos of the modern world.

In 1795, Napoleon prevents a coup d'etat in Paris with just a few garrisons. In 1796, Napoleon, now  Commander-in-Chief of the French armies in Italy, marches his batallions all the way through Italy to meet with the French troops in stationed Tyrol, southern Austria, and then march on Vienna. In 1797, Napoleon sieges Mantua and the 18,000 Austrian soldiers stationed there surrender. He then conquers the Republic of Venice, which had been a city-state for an unbroken thousand years. As part of the peace treaty between France and Austria, they share joint control of Venice.

When Haydn began the Creation in 1796, Austria was at war. When he finished it, Austria was at peace. But surely, Haydn, like everybody else in Austria, knew that war was always a possibility. If the ancien regime could be laid waste in France, the most powerful state in the world, the establishment could be laid waste anywhere.

('Disorder yields' until 3:00)

The text Haydn really wanted to set was not the Creation story, but music for Milton's Paradise Lost, and I think you can hear the direction Haydn would go in that passage where angelic music yields to the demonic and back again in less than two minutes' span - no matter how light and bright Haydn's Creation is, it's still an awesome, terrifying work of Bosch or Blake-like art.

Now Haydn was no nobleman, he was the son of a wheelwright and a cook, who was always thankful that his father lived to see his son become the chief court musician of one of the world's most resplendent princes. Haydn 'made it' in life at an exceedingly early age, but what of all the friends and family whom success forced him to leave behind? In Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March, about the decline of the Austrian empire, there's a heartbreaking scene between the newly enobled Baron von Trotta, a war hero, and his father, a simple Slovenian solder. Now that the Baron is a nobleman, codes of honor prevent him from behaving like like the peasant he still was at heart, or from sharing any of his true feelings with his father. They couldn't joke together, they couldn't reminisce, they couldn't show each other any of the love that doubtless was in their hearts. They had nothing left to say to each other, and disappeared from each other's lives into loneliness.

Haydn was generally a very cheerful man, and if his music is indication, was about as un-neurotic as a genius ever was. But how could even he, the rock star of his time who owed all his success to the aristocracy, have looked at the French Revolution and not realize that the French Revolution fought for the dignity of his parents, his brothers and sisters, his boyhood friends, of all the people he loved before he ever knew the good fortune that would be his lot? He practically paid tribute to them in every symphony, which ostensibly contained courtly dances, but the peasant fever is everywhere! Listen to the beginning of the finale from Haydn's 82nd Symphony - also known as The Bear because it's supposedly sounds like the awkward - and no doubt cruel to our modern perceptions cruel - way peasants make bears lurch as though they're dancing.

(Haydn 82 - finale until 26:27)

And yet, Haydn seems to give these people whom aristocrats see as crude, these new men and women, a full dignity and honor that gives each of these human creatures, created in the divine image, a small piece of the divine right of kings, to claim equality, fraternity, liberty, life, and the pursuit of happiness.

(The Creation: 'By thee' to 1:25:12)

Haydn's world was dying, and yet his world was coming alive. Every employer ever to hire him worried of losing their heads; and yet, as the the France-dominated world of absolute monarchy erupted in blood, a new world of bourgeois liberalism began a few short years after Haydn's death in 1809. After the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815, no major power emerged with more prosperity than Austria - already prudent and chastened by the living memories of defeat. And from the dual revolutions of America and France began the long process of liberation and equality for all those people who existed as the footstools of those aristocrats.

Music is the artform of democracy. There is no understanding of language needed - oral or written. All it takes is the ability to hear it, and it transcends every barrier of communication. It should not be surprising that in this long nineteenth century, marked by so many democratic revolutions, music that was loved by millions took on a complexity that is rarely seen in the mainstream of today's cultural discourse outside of technological developments.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

It's Not Even Past #3 - Haydn's Creation - Still More

It's highly possible that the most underrated composer in the history of music is still Joseph Haydn. There are literally thousands of underrated composers out there and probably only a dozen or a dozen and a half who are genuinely overrated, but at least in my opinion, the founder of modern music is Haydn, not Bach.

I've written at least three or four long blogpost essays nobody reads about how Bach's place in music is overvalued, and I really don't want to write a fifth, but there is something about Bach that, to me, is too heavenly, too divorced from the human experience, too, as we Jews say, 'goyish.' When you get to know Mozart and Beethoven's music, they take on the quality of old friends, but when you get to know Bach, both the glory and the weakness of it is that it never stops being an extraordinary experience. The music is too perfect. There's expression aplenty in Bach, but it's not human expression, it's the expression of divine beings. These divine beings might feel compassion for our suffering, but they can't relate to it, and they rarely ever seem to relieve it. Furthermore, where's the humor in Bach? And most importantly, where's the fallibility? You can search far and wide for a compositional weakness in Bach, and you might find one every million measures. That, as far as I'm concerned, is the ultimate compositional weakness. It's like music assembled by a kind of celestial computer coding. He was so masterful at counterpoint that through his counterpoint he practically created the common harmonic language we use to this day.

But this was entirely an accident. Very few composers knew more than a few pieces by Bach until Mendelssohn worked mightily to revive him in the 1830s to a fame Bach never had in his lifetime, and performed Bach with a seraphic beauty which was antithetical to instruments and performing style of Bach's period. The Bach of the Romantic era was a completely different composer, grounded in harmony rather than counterpoint. As a personal interjection, when I hear Bach performed on original instruments, rendered little different from a generically excellent composer of the Baroque period, I wonder if I understand why Bach's employers in Leipzig offered Bach's job to Telemann or Graupner before him.

Bach's music is pure counterpoint and harmony, there is no flash, there is not even really a style of which one can speak. There is only pure substance; as the musicologist Jan Swafford put it, nobody ever wrote better notes than Bach. In the same way that Immanuel Kant is often considered pure analysis and thought and system that gives little consideration to stylistic clarity or common wisdom for layman readers, the vast, vast majority of Bach's is a pure contrapuntal and harmonic thought that gives little thought to instrumental color or rhythm. Both were revolutions for the humanities that gave them something like the rigor of science and for this pseudo-intellectual, both revolutions achieved more rewarding results when their successors turned their soft science back into art.

Whether it was actually Bach who actually codified common practice tonality or a combination of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti,  Rameau, Telemann, Pachebel, Froberger, Graupner, Kuhnau, and who knows how many other composers, what is much less deniable is that it's Haydn who first utilized how to use common practice tonality to the best effect. His symphonies, his string quartets, his piano trios, are little dramas of harmony. Platonic dialogues carried out in sound between two musical characters who propose ideas that seem to contradict each other in every way, but they work through every conceivable implication of their ideas until they can arrive at some kind of resolution, some synthesis, some livable compromise that allows life to go on.

The Symphony, Haydn's great contribution to the literature of the world, and arguably the greatest of all artistic contributions because it's literally the only place in the world where philosophy and abstract thought has demonstrable physical presence, is about the continuity of life, the pacification of the spirit. Perhaps I'm too much a fundamentalist in this regard, but having just taught a course on symphonies, I'm more in awe of them than ever before. I believe that in a way that songs and operas and ballets never could, absolute music gives us a way of coping with life's vicissitudes. If Greek tragedy is a ritual that purges us of our emotional tensions and repressions, then the grand symphonic tradition gives voice to those emotional tensions and repressions which are too primal for us to attach words. And when we hear them, we understand that there are dimensions out there where our anguish and contraditions are understood, and a place, somewhere in the universe, where they can be resolved. And knowing, as we now do, that there is a chance for some kind of resolution in some far off place, whether it's heaven, or somewhere in the elements of the universe, or simply in the dimension of music, we're free to look at the dimensions of life with much more equanimity, and solve our personal problems without the weight of unresolved passions bearing down on us. The problems of this world were never meant to be transcended, but thanks to music, we can direct the human urge to transcendence to the only dimension we know of where transcendence is truly possible, and the place where it's most possible is the symphony. And the transcendent possibility of the symphony begins with Haydn.

Beginning of Haydn 44 "Trauer" 2nd movement (Fricsay/RIAS)

And yet, in order to get to transcendence in the manner which we get in so many later symphonies, were the symphony becomes like a battleground of diminished and minor chords against which major-key happiness and triumph has to emerge transcendent, we first need the Haydn formula in which music is a conversation between light and darkness. Like in every high comedy, The Simpsons for example, every dark sentiment has to be immediately balanced so that the darkness isn't taken too seriously. In such a world where the imagination can't allow itself to get too turbulent, it's inevitable that formula creeps in. Just think of the Simpsons after Season 8 or 9...

In Haydn's case, his later Simpsons episodes came earlier in his career, when he was still figuring out how to make symphonies into immortal masterworks. Some of them have innovations that are truly astonishing, but with a number of exceptions, don't assume that early Haydn is as interesting as lots of musicologists want us to believe. There's no reason to listen to all 104-and-change Haydn symphonies. Start by listening to the last twelve, the London Symphonies, 93-104, when Haydn polished his equanimity of expression and wit to an agility that seems to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Then, perhaps, listen to his Paris Symphonies, 82-87, which are meant as grander statements for a larger orchestra, proto-Beethovenian perhaps though Haydn could have no way of knowing - and yet chamber orchestras always play them. Fill in the gap with the five symphonies in between 88-92, fulfilled for other commissions, and many people feel #88 is the greatest of all - though for those who care I'd probably put it in the top 5 with 92, 98, 100 and 103. Then listen to all the 'Name' symphonies. 29 of Haydn's symphonies have names. So far as I know, Haydn never gave any of his symphonies a name, but if a Haydn symphony has a name, that means that the symphony made an impression on someone over the last 200 years, and thought enough of it to call it something unique. Past there, there are a few worth getting to know, but as a homework assignment, I think that's more than enough.


Haydn, having capped his symphonic achievement with Symphony #104, a perfect fusion of light and darkness, has nowhere else to take the symphony after 1795. Anything after Haydn 104 would be a formula. The Symphony, taking place both in a world of metaphysical abstraction and also pitched to an aristocratic audience of this world, cannot at this time be heard to suffer unless the suffering is balanced evenly by joy. But the world itself was suffering - in the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution roughly 40,000 died with 20,000 sent to the guillotine, followed by the Vendee Rebellion, which may have killed 700,000 Frenchmen, along with all the various revolutions that make up the total French Civil Wars from 1789 to 1801, in which a probable total of 1.4 million died. We then follow this with nineteen years of Napoleonic War, the highest estimate being that six million died in those. Haydn's symphonies had no way of coming to terms with a world in which such bloodshed was so visible, but his choral music.... (Nelson Mass Opening First 50 seconds/Peterson/Oslo Camerata)

Sacred music, particularly the Mass, is pitched to God and Christ and the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mother, and are precisely about the transfiguration of suffering. What we just heard was the beginning of what we now call the Lord Nelson Mass, named for Britain's heroic Admiral who lost his arm and then his life in the Napoleonic Wars. The Latin title is "Missa in Angustiis", or Mass for Anguished Times. It was written in 1798, and can be seen as a sequel to Haydn's mass of the year before, the Mass in Time of War which begins in serenity and ends in terrible turmoil. The Mass for Anguished Times is consistently dark in a spirit that perhaps no other of Haydn's voluminous works shares. The only real precedent for it is Mozart's unfinished Requiem and the hellish scenes of Don Giovanni, and at this point in history, Beethoven is still known far better as a pianist. 1798 is seven years after Mozart's death, five years before Beethoven's Eroica. Austria, perhaps the world, had only one verifiable musical genius to articulate the spirit of the times, and the spirit of the times were only getting darker.

The elderly Haydn was a seasoned traveller who'd spent much time feted in France and England, but he was forever a loyal subject to the Austrian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire without a subversive bone in his body. He was descended from Flemings and Croats, but the fate of Austria, it's triumphs and tragedies, were his. The Austria of his generation, ruled by Empress Maria Theresa, deeply Catholic, conservative, and declining, depleted first by the War of Austrian Succession in the 1740's, then by Prussia's conquering of Silesia, the most profitable Austrian province, in 1756, meant that the Austria of the time, like so many declining powers, turn especially to culture because they have to find their pride in something other than political achievement. Thanks to Haydn, they found it in music. And while France, until the 1780s at least, had a really great 18th century politically and especially intellectually, they found that their very achievements were exactly what pushed them into a generation long apocalypse.

Austria, on the other hand, had already known real suffering and decline and deprivation. Austrians were not taken in by utopian delusions of the world being anything but what it is. While France was in thrall to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with his notion that man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains; the German speaking lands were in thrall to the still very young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote that what little freedom remains to humans so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it. Who is to say which of them is right? All that we know for sure is that the assumption that humanity will always be in chains necessarily leads to complacency and widespread poverty, while the assumption that humanity must free themselves of their chains leads to mass murder. Neither option is good, but if faced with that dreadful choice, I suppose I'd rather be a living slave than a dead free man.

So the year is 1796, Napoleon would not yet be First Consul of the French Republic for another three years, and not crown himself Emperor of the French for another eight. But the decisive moment in the fortunes of the French republic came in this year with the appointment of this semi-Italian semi-soldier of fortune, not yet thirty years old, to be Commander in Chief of the French armies in Italy during the Wars of the First Coalition. The War of the First Coalition is basically France alone against Great Britain, Prussia, the Holy Roman Empire (meaning Austria at this point), Spain, and Holland - in addition to a few Italian city-states, all of which are terrified of the French Revolution spreading to their Empires as they would be for another hundred twenty years until even the upper classes were compelled by World War I to admit that sovereign monarchy is not a viable option in the chaos of the modern world.

In 1795, Napoleon prevents a coup d'etat in Paris with just a few garrisons. In 1796, Napoleon, now  Commander-in-Chief of the French armies in Italy, marches his batallions all the way through Italy to meet with the French troops in stationed Tyrol, southern Austria, and then march on Vienna. In 1797, Napoleon sieges Mantua and the 18,000 Austrian soldiers stationed there surrender. He then conquers the Republic of Venice, which had been a city-state for an unbroken thousand years. As part of the peace treaty between France and Austria, they share joint control of Venice.

When Haydn began the Creation in 1796, Austria was at war. When he finished it, Austria was at peace. But surely, Haydn, like everybody else in Austria, knew that war was always a possibility. If the ancien regime could be laid waste in France, the most powerful state in the world, the establishment could be laid waste anywhere.

But Haydn was no nobleman, he was the son of a wheelwright and a cook, who was always thankful that his father lived to see his son become the court musician of a prince. Haydn 'made it' in life at an exceedingly early age, but what of all the friends and family whose success forced him to leave behind? In Joseph Roth's The Radetzky March, about the decline of the Austrian empire, there's a heartbreaking scene between the newly enobled Baron von Trotta, a war hero, and his father, a simple Slovenian solder. Now that the Baron is a nobleman, codes of honor prevent him from behaving like like the peasant he still was at heart, or from sharing any of his true feelings for his father. They couldn't joke together, they couldn't reminisce, they couldn't show each other any of the love that doubtless was in their hearts. They had nothing left to say to each other, and disappeared from each other's lives into loneliness.

Haydn was generally a very cheerful man, and if his music is indication, was about as un-neurotic as a genius ever was. But how could even he, the rock star of his time who owed all his success to the aristocracy, have looked at the French Revolution and not realize that the French Revolution fought for the dignity of his parents, his brothers and sisters, his boyhood friends, of all the people he loved before he ever knew the good fortune that would be his lot?




Monday, December 11, 2017

It's Not Even Past #3 - Haydn's Creation - Still A Little Bit More

It's highly possible that the most underrated composer in the history of music is still Joseph Haydn. There are literally thousands of underrated composers out there and probably only a dozen or a dozen and a half who are genuinely overrated, but at least in my opinion, the founder of modern music is Haydn, not Bach.

I've written at least three or four long blogpost essays nobody reads about how Bach's place in music is overvalued, and I really don't want to write a fifth, but there is something about Bach that, to me, is too heavenly, too divorced from the human experience, too, as we Jews say, 'goyish.' When you get to know Mozart and Beethoven's music, they take on the quality of old friends, but when you get to know Bach, both the glory and the weakness of it is that it never stops being an extraordinary experience. The music is too perfect. There's expression aplenty in Bach, but it's not human expression, it's the expression of divine beings. These divine beings might feel compassion for our suffering, but they can't relate to it, and they rarely ever seem to relieve it. Furthermore, where's the humor in Bach? And most importantly, where's the fallibility? You can search far and wide for a compositional weakness in Bach, and you might find one every million measures. That, as far as I'm concerned, is the ultimate compositional weakness. It's like music assembled by a kind of celestial computer coding. He was so masterful at counterpoint that through his counterpoint he practically created the common harmonic language we use to this day.

But this was entirely an accident. Very few composers knew more than a few pieces by Bach until Mendelssohn worked mightily to revive him in the 1830s to a fame Bach never had in his lifetime, and performed Bach with a seraphic beauty which was antithetical to instruments and performing style of Bach's period. The Bach of the Romantic era was a completely different composer, grounded in harmony rather than counterpoint. As a personal interjection, when I hear Bach performed on original instruments, rendered little different from a generically excellent composer of the Baroque period, I wonder if I understand why Bach's employers in Leipzig offered Bach's job to Telemann or Graupner before him.

Bach's music is pure counterpoint and harmony, there is no flash, there is not even really a style of which one can speak. There is only pure substance; as the musicologist Jan Swafford put it, nobody ever wrote better notes than Bach. In the same way that Immanuel Kant is often considered pure analysis and thought and system that gives little consideration to stylistic clarity or common wisdom for layman readers, the vast, vast majority of Bach's is a pure contrapuntal and harmonic thought that gives little thought to instrumental color or rhythm. Both were revolutions for the humanities that gave them something like the rigor of science and for this pseudo-intellectual, both revolutions achieved more rewarding results when their successors turned their soft science back into art.

Whether it was actually Bach who actually codified common practice tonality or a combination of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti,  Rameau, Telemann, Pachebel, Froberger, Graupner, Kuhnau, and who knows how many other composers, what is much less deniable is that it's Haydn who first utilized how to use common practice tonality to the best effect. His symphonies, his string quartets, his piano trios, are little dramas of harmony. Platonic dialogues carried out in sound between two musical characters who propose ideas that seem to contradict each other in every way, but they work through every conceivable implication of their ideas until they can arrive at some kind of resolution, some synthesis, some livable compromise that allows life to go on.

The Symphony, Haydn's great contribution to the literature of the world, and arguably the greatest of all artistic contributions because it's literally the only place in the world where philosophy and abstract thought has demonstrable physical presence, is about the continuity of life, the pacification of the spirit. Perhaps I'm too much a fundamentalist in this regard, but having just taught a course on symphonies, I'm more in awe of them than ever before. I believe that in a way that songs and operas and ballets never could, absolute music gives us a way of coping with life's vicissitudes. If Greek tragedy is a ritual that purges us of our emotional tensions and repressions, then the grand symphonic tradition gives voice to those emotional tensions and repressions which are too primal for us to attach words. And when we hear them, we understand that there are dimensions out there where our anguish and contraditions are understood, and a place, somewhere in the universe, where they can be resolved. And knowing, as we now do, that there is a chance for some kind of resolution in some far off place, whether it's heaven, or somewhere in the elements of the universe, or simply in the dimension of music, we're free to look at the dimensions of life with much more equanimity, and solve our personal problems without the weight of unresolved passions bearing down on us. The problems of this world were never meant to be transcended, but thanks to music, we can direct the human urge to transcendence to the only dimension we know of where transcendence is truly possible, and the place where it's most possible is the symphony. And the transcendent possibility of the symphony begins with Haydn.

Beginning of Haydn 44 "Trauer" 2nd movement (Fricsay/RIAS)

And yet, in order to get to transcendence in the manner which we get in so many later symphonies, were the symphony becomes like a battleground of diminished and minor chords against which major-key happiness and triumph has to emerge transcendent, we first need the Haydn formula in which music is a conversation between light and darkness. Like in every high comedy, The Simpsons for example, every dark sentiment has to be immediately balanced so that the darkness isn't taken too seriously. In such a world where the imagination can't allow itself to get too turbulent, it's inevitable that formula creeps in. Just think of the Simpsons after Season 8 or 9...

In Haydn's case, his later Simpsons episodes came earlier in his career, when he was still figuring out how to make symphonies into immortal masterworks. Some of them have innovations that are truly astonishing, but with a number of exceptions, don't assume that early Haydn is as interesting as lots of musicologists want us to believe. There's no reason to listen to all 104-and-change Haydn symphonies. Start by listening to the last twelve, the London Symphonies, 93-104, when Haydn polished his equanimity of expression and wit to an agility that seems to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Then, perhaps, listen to his Paris Symphonies, 82-87, which are meant as grander statements for a larger orchestra, proto-Beethovenian perhaps though Haydn could have no way of knowing - and yet chamber orchestras always play them. Fill in the gap with the five symphonies in between 88-92, fulfilled for other commissions, and many people feel #88 is the greatest of all - though for those who care I'd probably put it in the top 5 with 92, 98, 100 and 103. Then listen to all the 'Name' symphonies. 29 of Haydn's symphonies have names. So far as I know, Haydn never gave any of his symphonies a name, but if a Haydn symphony has a name, that means that the symphony made an impression on someone over the last 200 years, and thought enough of it to call it something unique. Past there, there are a few worth getting to know, but as a homework assignment, I think that's more than enough.


Haydn, having capped his symphonic achievement with Symphony #104, a perfect fusion of light and darkness, has nowhere else to take the symphony after 1795. Anything after Haydn 104 would be a formula. The Symphony, taking place both in a world of metaphysical abstraction and also pitched to an aristocratic audience of this world, cannot at this time be heard to suffer unless the suffering is balanced evenly by joy. But the world itself was suffering - in the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution roughly 40,000 died with 20,000 sent to the guillotine, followed by the Vendee Rebellion, which may have killed 700,000 Frenchmen, along with all the various revolutions that make up the total French Civil Wars from 1789 to 1801, in which a probable total of 1.4 million died. We then follow this with nineteen years of Napoleonic War, the highest estimate being that six million died in those. Haydn's symphonies had no way of coming to terms with a world in which such bloodshed was so visible, but his choral music.... (Nelson Mass Opening First 50 seconds/Peterson/Oslo Camerata)

Sacred music, particularly the Mass, is pitched to God and Christ and the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mother, and are precisely about the transfiguration of suffering. What we just heard was the beginning of what we now call the Lord Nelson Mass, named for Britain's heroic Admiral who lost his arm and then his life in the Napoleonic Wars. The Latin title is "Missa in Angustiis", or Mass for Anguished Times. It was written in 1798, and can be seen as a sequel to Haydn's mass of the year before, the Mass in Time of War which begins in serenity and ends in terrible turmoil. The Mass for Anguished Times is consistently dark in a spirit that perhaps no other of Haydn's voluminous works shares. The only real precedent for it is Mozart's unfinished Requiem and the hellish scenes of Don Giovanni, and at this point in history, Beethoven is still known far better as a pianist. 1798 is seven years after Mozart's death, five years before Beethoven's Eroica. Austria, perhaps the world, had only one verifiable musical genius to articulate the spirit of the times, and the spirit of the times were only getting darker.

The elderly Haydn was a seasoned traveller who'd spent much time feted in France and England, but he was forever a loyal subject to the Austrian Crown and the Holy Roman Empire without a subversive bone in his body. He was descended from Flemings and Croats, but the fate of Austria, it's triumphs and tragedies, were his. The Austria of his generation, ruled by Empress Maria Theresa, deeply Catholic, conservative, and declining, depleted first by the War of Austrian Succession in the 1740's, then by Prussia's conquering of Silesia, the most profitable Austrian province, in 1756, meant that the Austria of the time, like so many declining powers, turn especially to culture because they have to find their pride in something other than political achievement. Thanks to Haydn, they found it in music. And while France, until the 1780s at least, had a really great 18th century politically and especially intellectually, they found that their very achievements were exactly what pushed them into a generation long apocalypse.

Austria, on the other hand, had already known real suffering and decline and deprivation. Austrians were not taken in by utopian delusions of the world being anything but what it is. While France was in thrall to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, with his notion that man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains; the German speaking lands were in thrall to the still very young Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who wrote that what little freedom remains to humans so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.

Napoleon would not yet be First Consul of the French Republic for another year, and not Emperor of the French for another six. But the decisive moment in the fortunes of the French republic came in 1796 with the appointment of this semi-Italian semi-soldier of fortune, not yet thirty years old, to be Commander in Chief of the French armies in the Wars of the First Coalition - pursued by a collection of European monarchies lead by Britain and Austria, terrified of the French Revolution spreading to their Empires as they would be for another hundred twenty years until even the upper classes were compelled by World War I to admit that sovereign monarchy is not a viable option in the chaos of the modern world.

It's Not Even Past Episode 3 - Haydn's Creation - Still Somewhat More

It's highly possible that the most underrated composer in the history of music is still Joseph Haydn. There are literally thousands of underrated composers out there and probably only a dozen or a dozen and a half who are genuinely overrated, but at least in my opinion, the founder of modern music is Haydn, not Bach.

I've written at least three or four long blogpost essays nobody reads about how Bach's place in music is overvalued, and I really don't want to write a fifth, but there is something about Bach that, to me, is too heavenly, too divorced from the human experience, too, as we Jews say, 'goyish.' When you get to know Mozart and Beethoven's music, they take on the quality of old friends, but when you get to know Bach, both the glory and the weakness of it is that it never stops being an extraordinary experience. The music is too perfect. There's expression aplenty in Bach, but it's not human expression, it's the expression of divine beings. These divine beings might feel compassion for our suffering, but they can't relate to it, and they rarely ever seem to relieve it. Furthermore, where's the humor in Bach? And most importantly, where's the fallibility? You can search far and wide for a compositional weakness in Bach, and you might find one every million measures. That, as far as I'm concerned, is the ultimate compositional weakness. It's like music assembled by a kind of celestial computer coding. He was so masterful at counterpoint that through his counterpoint he practically created the common harmonic language we use to this day.

But this was entirely an accident. Very few composers knew more than a few pieces by Bach until Mendelssohn worked mightily to revive him in the 1830s to a fame Bach never had in his lifetime, and performed Bach with a seraphic beauty which was antithetical to instruments and performing style of Bach's period. The Bach of the Romantic era was a completely different composer, grounded in harmony rather than counterpoint. As a personal interjection, when I hear Bach performed on original instruments, rendered little different from a generically excellent composer of the Baroque period, I wonder if I understand why Bach's employers in Leipzig offered Bach's job to Telemann or Graupner before him.

Bach's music is pure counterpoint and harmony, there is no flash, there is not even really a style of which one can speak. There is only pure substance; as the musicologist Jan Swafford put it, nobody ever wrote better notes than Bach. In the same way that Immanuel Kant is often considered pure analysis and thought and system that gives little consideration to stylistic clarity or common wisdom for layman readers, the vast, vast majority of Bach's is a pure contrapuntal and harmonic thought that gives little thought to instrumental color or rhythm. Both were revolutions for the humanities that gave them something like the rigor of science and for this pseudo-intellectual, both revolutions achieved more rewarding results when their successors turned their soft science back into art.

Whether it was actually Bach who actually codified common practice tonality or a combination of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti,  Rameau, Telemann, Pachebel, Froberger, Graupner, Kuhnau, and who knows how many other composers, what is much less deniable is that it's Haydn who first utilized how to use common practice tonality to the best effect. His symphonies, his string quartets, his piano trios, are little dramas of harmony. Platonic dialogues carried out in sound between two musical characters who propose ideas that seem to contradict each other in every way, but they work through every conceivable implication of their ideas until they can arrive at some kind of resolution, some synthesis, some livable compromise that allows life to go on.

The Symphony, Haydn's great contribution to the literature of the world, and arguably the greatest of all artistic contributions because it's literally the only place in the world where philosophy and abstract thought has demonstrable physical presence, is about the continuity of life, the pacification of the spirit. Perhaps I'm too much a fundamentalist in this regard, but having just taught a course on symphonies, I'm more in awe of them than ever before. I believe that in a way that songs and operas and ballets never could, absolute music gives us a way of coping with life's vicissitudes. If Greek tragedy is a ritual that purges us of our emotional tensions and repressions, then the grand symphonic tradition gives voice to those emotional tensions and repressions which are too primal for us to attach words. And when we hear them, we understand that there are dimensions out there where our anguish and contraditions are understood, and a place, somewhere in the universe, where they can be resolved. And knowing, as we now do, that there is a chance for some kind of resolution in some far off place, whether it's heaven, or somewhere in the elements of the universe, or simply in the dimension of music, we're free to look at the dimensions of life with much more equanimity, and solve our personal problems without the weight of unresolved passions bearing down on us. The problems of this world were never meant to be transcended, but thanks to music, we can direct the human urge to transcendence to the only dimension we know of where transcendence is truly possible, and the place where it's most possible is the symphony. And the transcendent possibility of the symphony begins with Haydn.

Beginning of Haydn 44 "Trauer" 2nd movement (Fricsay/RIAS)

And yet, in order to get to transcendence in the manner which we get in so many later symphonies, were the symphony becomes like a battleground of diminished and minor chords against which major-key happiness and triumph has to emerge transcendent, we first need the Haydn formula in which music is a conversation between light and darkness. Like in every high comedy, The Simpsons for example, every dark sentiment has to be immediately balanced so that the darkness isn't taken too seriously. In such a world where the imagination can't allow itself to get too turbulent, it's inevitable that formula creeps in. Just think of the Simpsons after Season 8 or 9...

In Haydn's case, his later Simpsons episodes came earlier in his career, when he was still figuring out how to make symphonies into immortal masterworks. Some of them have innovations that are truly astonishing, but with a number of exceptions, don't assume that early Haydn is as interesting as lots of musicologists want us to believe. There's no reason to listen to all 104-and-change Haydn symphonies. Start by listening to the last twelve, the London Symphonies, 93-104, when Haydn polished his equanimity of expression and wit to an agility that seems to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Then, perhaps, listen to his Paris Symphonies, 82-87, which are meant as grander statements for a larger orchestra, proto-Beethovenian perhaps though Haydn could have no way of knowing - and yet chamber orchestras always play them. Fill in the gap with the five symphonies in between 88-92, fulfilled for other commissions, and many people feel #88 is the greatest of all - though for those who care I'd probably put it in the top 5 with 92, 98, 100 and 103. Then listen to all the 'Name' symphonies. 29 of Haydn's symphonies have names. So far as I know, Haydn never gave any of his symphonies a name, but if a Haydn symphony has a name, that means that the symphony made an impression on someone over the last 200 years, and thought enough of it to call it something unique. Past there, there are a few worth getting to know, but as a homework assignment, I think that's more than enough.


Haydn, having capped his symphonic achievement with Symphony #104, a perfect fusion of light and darkness, has nowhere else to take the symphony after 1795. Anything after Haydn 104 would be a formula. The Symphony, taking place both in a world of metaphysical abstraction and also pitched to an aristocratic audience of this world, cannot at this time be heard to suffer unless the suffering is balanced evenly by joy. But the world itself was suffering - in the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution roughly 40,000 died with 20,000 sent to the guillotine, followed by the Vendee Rebellion, which may have killed 700,000 Frenchmen, along with all the various revolutions that make up the total French Civil Wars from 1789 to 1801, in which a probable total of 1.4 million died. We then follow this with nineteen years of Napoleonic War, the highest estimate being that six million died in those. Haydn's symphonies had no way of coming to terms with a world in which such bloodshed was so visible, but his choral music.... (Nelson Mass Opening First 50 seconds/Peterson/Oslo Camerata)

Sacred music, particularly the Mass, is pitched to God and Christ and the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mother, and are precisely about the transfiguration of suffering. What we just heard was the beginning of what we now call the Lord Nelson Mass, named for Britain's heroic Admiral who lost his arm and then his life in the Napoleonic Wars. The Latin title is "Missa in Angustiis", or Mass for Anguished Times. It was written in 1798, and can be seen as a sequel to Haydn's mass of the year before, the Mass in Time of War which begins in serenity and ends in terrible turmoil. The Mass for Anguished Times is consistently dark in a spirit that perhaps no other of Haydn's voluminous works shares. The only real precedent for it is Mozart's unfinished Requiem and the hellish scenes of Don Giovanni, and at this point in history, Beethoven is still only Haydn's pupil. 1798 is seven years after Mozart's death, five years before Beethoven's Eroica. Austria, perhaps the world, had only one verifiable musical genius to articulate the spirit of the times, and the spirit of the times were only getting darker.

Napoleon would not yet be First Consul of the French Republic for another year, and not Emperor of the French for another six. But the decisive moment in the fortunes of the French republic came in 1796 with the appointment of this semi-Italian semi-soldier of fortune, not yet thirty years old, to be Commander in Chief of the French armies in the Wars of the First Coalition - pursued by a collection of European monarchies lead by Britain and Austria, terrified of the French Revolution spreading to their Empires as they would be for another hundred twenty years until even the upper classes were compelled by World War I to admit that sovereign monarchy is not a viable option in the chaos of the modern world.




Sunday, December 10, 2017

It's Not Even Past - Haydn's Creation - Still A Little More

It's highly possible that the most underrated composer in the history of music is still Joseph Haydn. There are literally thousands of underrated composers out there and probably only a dozen or a dozen and a half who are genuinely overrated, but at least in my opinion, the founder of modern music is Haydn, not Bach.

I've written at least three or four long blogpost essays nobody reads about how Bach's place in music is overvalued, and I really don't want to write a fifth, but there is something about Bach that, to me, is too heavenly, too divorced from the human experience, too, as we Jews say, 'goyish.' When you get to know Mozart and Beethoven's music, they take on the quality of old friends, but when you get to know Bach, both the glory and the weakness of it is that it never stops being an extraordinary experience. The music is too perfect. There's expression aplenty in Bach, but it's not human expression, it's the expression of divine beings. These divine beings might feel compassion for our suffering, but they can't relate to it, and they rarely ever seem to relieve it. Furthermore, where's the humor in Bach? And most importantly, where's the fallibility? You can search far and wide for a compositional weakness in Bach, and you might find one every million measures. That, as far as I'm concerned, is the ultimate compositional weakness. It's like music assembled by a kind of celestial computer coding. He was so masterful at counterpoint that through his counterpoint he practically created the common harmonic language we use to this day.

But this was entirely an accident. Very few composers knew more than a few pieces by Bach until Mendelssohn worked mightily to revive him in the 1830s to a fame Bach never had in his lifetime, and performed Bach with a seraphic beauty which was antithetical to instruments and performing style of Bach's period. The Bach of the Romantic era was a completely different composer, grounded in harmony rather than counterpoint. As a personal interjection, when I hear Bach performed on original instruments, rendered little different from a generically excellent composer of the Baroque period, I wonder if I understand why Bach's employers in Leipzig offered Bach's job to Telemann or Graupner before him.

Bach's music is pure counterpoint and harmony, there is no flash, there is not even really a style of which one can speak. There is only pure substance; as the musicologist Jan Swafford put it, nobody ever wrote better notes than Bach. In the same way that Immanuel Kant is often considered pure analysis and thought and system that gives little consideration to stylistic clarity or common wisdom for layman readers, the vast, vast majority of Bach's is a pure contrapuntal and harmonic thought that gives little thought to instrumental color or rhythm. Both were revolutions for the humanities that gave them something like the rigor of science and for this pseudo-intellectual, both revolutions achieved more rewarding results when their successors turned their soft science back into art.

Whether it was actually Bach who actually codified common practice tonality or a combination of Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Scarlatti,  Rameau, Telemann, Pachebel, Froberger, Graupner, Kuhnau, and who knows how many other composers, what is much less deniable is that it's Haydn who first utilized how to use common practice tonality to the best effect. His symphonies, his string quartets, his piano trios, are little dramas of harmony. Platonic dialogues carried out in sound between two musical characters who propose ideas that seem to contradict each other in every way, but they work through every conceivable implication of their ideas until they can arrive at some kind of resolution, some synthesis, some livable compromise that allows life to go on.

The Symphony, Haydn's great contribution to the literature of the world, and arguably the greatest of all artistic contributions because it's literally the only place in the world where philosophy and abstract thought has demonstrable physical presence, is about the continuity of life, the pacification of the spirit. Perhaps I'm too much a fundamentalist in this regard, but having just taught a course on symphonies, I'm more in awe of them than ever before. I believe that in a way that songs and operas and ballets never could, absolute music gives us a way of coping with life's vicissitudes. If Greek tragedy is a ritual that purges us of our emotional tensions and repressions, then the grand symphonic tradition gives voice to those emotional tensions and repressions which are too primal for us to attach words. And when we hear them, we understand that there are dimensions out there where our anguish and contraditions are understood, and a place, somewhere in the universe, where they can be resolved. And knowing, as we now do, that there is a chance for some kind of resolution in some far off place, whether it's heaven, or somewhere in the elements of the universe, or simply in the dimension of music, we're free to look at the dimensions of life with much more equanimity, and solve our personal problems without the weight of unresolved passions bearing down on us. The problems of this world were never meant to be transcended, but thanks to music, we can direct the human urge to transcendence to the only dimension we know of where transcendence is truly possible, and the place where it's most possible is the symphony. And the transcendent possibility of the symphony begins with Haydn.

Beginning of Haydn 44 "Trauer" 2nd movement (Fricsay/RIAS)

And yet, in order to get to transcendence in the manner which we get in so many later symphonies, were the symphony becomes like a battleground of diminished and minor chords against which major-key happiness and triumph has to emerge transcendent, we first need the Haydn formula in which music is a conversation between light and darkness. Like in every high comedy, The Simpsons for example, every dark sentiment has to be immediately balanced so that the darkness isn't taken too seriously. In such a world where the imagination can't allow itself to get too turbulent, it's inevitable that formula creeps in. Just think of the Simpsons after Season 8 or 9...

In Haydn's case, his later Simpsons episodes came earlier in his career, when he was still figuring out how to make symphonies into immortal masterworks. Some of them have innovations that are truly astonishing, but with a number of exceptions, don't assume that early Haydn is as interesting as lots of musicologists want us to believe. There's no reason to listen to all 104-and-change Haydn symphonies. Start by listening to the last twelve, the London Symphonies, 93-104, when Haydn polished his equanimity of expression and wit to an agility that seems to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Then, perhaps, listen to his Paris Symphonies, 82-87, which are meant as grander statements for a larger orchestra, proto-Beethovenian perhaps though Haydn could have no way of knowing - and yet chamber orchestras always play them. Fill in the gap with the five symphonies in between 88-92, fulfilled for other commissions, and many people feel #88 is the greatest of all - though for those who care I'd probably put it in the top 5 with 92, 98, 100 and 103. Then listen to all the 'Name' symphonies. 29 of Haydn's symphonies have names. So far as I know, Haydn never gave any of his symphonies a name, but if a Haydn symphony has a name, that means that the symphony made an impression on someone over the last 200 years, and  thought enough of it to call it something unique. Past there, there are a few worth getting to know, but as a homework assignment, I think that's more than enough.