- Reviving Haydn: New Appreciations in the Twentieth Century by Bryan Proksch
When talking to scholars from older generations, one often hears comments about the astonishing turnaround that the reception of Joseph Haydn’s music underwent in their lifetime, i.e., the second part of the twentieth century. Viewed in a larger context, however, this rise of Haydn’s fame seems but an aftershock of an even more decisive turnaround that took place sometime in the first half of the century. Bryan Proksch has set out to examine the roots of this consequential change, and describes the gradual emancipation of Haydn—his becoming an equal of Mozart and Beethoven—as a multifaceted process, one that was too gradual to be dated with any precision, did not emanate from one geographic center (let alone a single musician or scholar), and was diagnosed even by those who contributed to it only post facto, once the “new appreciations” (of the book’s title) had more or less become general currency. In our days such a non-authoritarian conclusion may seem trendy, perhaps suspiciously so, but the book convincingly argues that the metamorphosis of Haydn’s reception has indeed exemplified this kind of multifocal process, the motivations behind which can at best be hinted at rather than scrupulously documented in a positivist manner.
Out of the book’s nine chapters, the first two seek to reconstruct the nineteenth-century context from which the twentieth century gradually deviated. Proksch sensitively outlines the progression in which Haydn came increasingly to be viewed as a mere stepping-stone toward Ludwig van Beethoven—an interpretation that inevitably stood in the way of an appreciation of his works on their own terms, even in a period when the audience still maintained a sincere and spontaneous interest in Haydn’s music. The means through which the composer’s aesthetic anachronism could be demonstrated were manifold—the construction of a “Haydn style” of performance (Hans von Bülow) or a “Haydn era” of music history (Eduard Hanslick) (p. 38) inevitably created a kind of quarantine, which seemingly assured Haydn’s special position but at the same time sidelined him as irrelevant.
With chapter 3, the book enters the twentieth century and sets out on a journey, each station of which focuses on a certain geographic locale and a few well-known figures whose views about Haydn’s music seemed more (for lack of a better word) “realistic” than those of most of their contemporaries. First there is a detailed account of Jules Écorcheville’s famous 1909 commission that resulted in half a dozen works written on the theme B–A–D–D–G (a somewhat odd musical encoding of the letters of the name Haydn); Camille Saint-Saëns, the “Neoclassicist infused with Haydn,” is discussed in particular detail (p. 77). Chapter 4 also examines the French scene, gathering evidence of Haydn’s presence in Vincent d’Indy’s scholarship and analyses as well as in the work of his students. [End Page 86]
The following two chapters are dedicated to two major figures who valued Haydn for his role in establishing an Austro-German tradition. Heinrich Schenker’s diverse approaches to the composer are explored in a detailed manner, and the close dependence of his ostensibly “objective” analyses on the changing political climate and Schenker’s life conditions is demonstrated most persuasively. The discussion of Arnold Schoenberg’s views on Haydn (in chapter 6) in part relies on unpublished sources, and skillfully demonstrates how Schoenberg used Haydn’s example to promote his own compositional practice—a topic that recurs in several other case studies of the volume.
Chapter 7 would at first sight seem an “aside,” but Proksch’s drawing on diverse primary sources allows for precious insights into the American musical scene that are not merely of local interest. The final pair of chapters (nos. 8 and 9) focuses on the “Anglophone Haydn,” which—paradoxically—at first proved...