IN SEARCH OF HAYDN
The last in Phil Grabsky's composers trilogy (after Beethoven and Mozart), the film explores the performance - and interpretation - of Joseph Haydn's music, with performances from the world's greatest musicians and orchestras. Haydn, a prolific Austrian composer (1732 - 1809), is often called 'father of the symphony' and 'father of the string quartet'.
Review by Louise Keller:
In the vein of his earlier documentaries about the musical genius of Mozart and Beethoven, Paul Grabsky's third and final film explores Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, canvassing the acclaimed composer's life and music. Although he may not be as revered as his contemporaries Mozart and Beethoven, Haydn achieved much - in musical terms. Additionally, he was acclaimed internationally, lived a long life and was financially secure. The film is competently made and targeted at those interested in classical music, although it does not have the passion of the other two films.
The formula Grabsky used for Mozart (2006) and Beethoven (2009) is similar here, in that interviews with historians, musicians, composers and writers are integrated with narration, the text of letters and performances, in which we hear Haydn's beautiful music. Although it is inevitable for Haydn and his music to be compared to that of Mozart and Beethoven, both of whom greatly admired him, it is a shame his music and talents are compared in this way. One composer of note is quoted saying that in terms of craft, imagination, inventiveness and output, Haydn plays second fiddle to no-one. (Haydn befriended Mozart, believing him to be extremely talented and taught Beethoven in Vienna for a year.)
Franz Joseph Haydn was born in the town of Rohrau, east of Vienna, near the Hungarian border in 1732. His sense of fun was noted from an early age: his time as a choirboy at St Stephans in Vienna was cut short when he snipped off the pigtail of the choirboy in the row in front.
Although he gave lessons in composition to augment his income, his career was essentially that of a Kapellmeister or court musician with the Esterházy royal household, dividing his time between Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt and later on Eszterháza. This was one of the most beautiful palaces in Hungary; Prince Nicolas' version of Versailles, a three storey palace with 126 rooms and 2 concert halls. Haydn was not blessed with good looks and had a badly pock-marked face from a childhood bout of small box and a polyp on his large nose. This did not seem to be a deterrent to the ladies - both he and his wife Maria Anna Aloysia Apollonia Keller took lovers.
Haydn was considered to be diplomatic and his music spiritual; unlike Mozart and Beethoven who both wanted to impress and exhibit their considerable skills at the keyboard. Using his imagination, Haydn was like an explorer who chose to work around the rules, without breaking them. I was interested to hear the different descriptions of the way the composers created the element of surprise through their music. Mozart was subtle, keeping any musical surprise well hidden; Beethoven was explosive, while Haydn displayed his surprises in overt fashion.
In the final evaluation, I felt slightly disappointed in this documentary, which seems to go through the motions rather than excite its audience with conviction. Surely, the composer known as the Father of the Symphony and Father of the String Quartet deserves better than the perfunctory.
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IN SEARCH OF HAYDN (G)
NARRATION: Juliet Stevenson
DIRECTOR: Phil Grabsky
SCRIPT: Phil Grabsky
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Antidote Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 15, 2012