Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Still Seekin' Haydn

Terry Teachout has a good new article on Joseph Haydn. What intrigues me, in comparison to my post on Haydn, is that his recommended recordings are sort of at the opposite pole from mine -- I recommended mostly recent, "historically informed" performances, while he goes for the big-band, modern instrument performances, including two classics I don't much care for: Thomas Beecham's recordings of the London symphonies (which I carp about at length in my post), and Herbert Von Karajan's recording of The Creation (good soloists, but a mediocre choir and kind of soupy orchestral textures).

I'm not mentioning this as an argument about who's right -- coughmecough -- it's just that it illustrates a divide I've noticed among people who follow classical-period music: the divide between HIP-sters (people who prefer HIP, or "Historically Informed Performance") and non-HIP-sters (those, who prefer it the other way). The split is most evident in classical-period music -- Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, possibly Schubert -- because the majority of Baroque performances now are HIP or HIP-influenced, and performances of Romantic music on original instruments are (and should be) considered kind of freakish. Even with the classicists, of course, it's not an either/or thing; I named recordings by Bernstein and Klemperer among my favorite Haydn recordings, and I might add some others like Hans Rosbaud's mono recordings of symphonies 92 and 104.

Still, I think the split is a real one, especially when it comes to Haydn. I go for Haydn performances that sound kind of rough, extroverted, even vulgar sometimes (as Haydn's music is sometimes vulgar). I like prominent brass and timpani -- if Haydn included timpani parts in a symphony, it's because he wanted them to make a hell of a noise -- and relatively fast tempos. My one objection to Bernstein's Haydn is that he takes the "minuet" movements too slowly; a lot of these movements are marked "allegro" and they should be played that way. (Many of Haydn's so-called minuets are really scherzi, fast, rough, joke-filled dances of the kind Beethoven would include in his symphonies; indeed, Haydn invented the term "scherzo" for a set of string quartets, though he later reverted to the term "minuet.") I may underrate Beecham's Haydn --David Hurwitz makes a good case for him here and here -- but I just find his Haydn too elegant and sweet in comparison to the more unpredictable, risky-sounding Haydn of Bernstein, Klemperer, and the better HIP-sters (Bruggen, Fey, Jacobs, the Apponyi and Mosaiques Quartets).

I should add hastily that my interest in HIP has nothing whatsoever to do with the idea that it's more "authentic." When HIP started taking off, you often heard it described as "authentic" or "as the composer would have heard it," an absurd description that justifiably offended many music lovers with the implication that their favorite performers (Furtwangler, Toscanini, whoever) were "inauthentic," when in fact they were an authentic part of a long performing tradition. In truth there's no such thing as authentic performance, and the better HIP performers understand that; indeed, some HIP performances of Beethoven are less observant of his metronome markings than, say, Rene Liebowitz's cycle from the early '60s. The point of using the old instruments is, basically, that they sound cool, or give the music a rough edge or a special sound that it doesn't always have with modern instruments (with Mozart's music, for example, his writing for winds often sounds better with period instruments, simply because the old instruments "blend" better in this music). So while I guess I'm an HIP-ster, I'm not a dogmatic one. In fact I'm not dogmatic at all, and that's absolutely final and I'll hear no more argument on the subject.

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