Interview by Margarida Mota-Bull
As stated on Faber and Faber’s website, Richard
Wigmore is a distinguished musicologist, who specialised
in the Viennese Classical period and Lieder. He has written
many CD notes, concert programme notes, newspaper and magazine
articles on Haydn. He writes regularly for Gramophone, BBC
Music Magazine and the Daily Telegraph and is
a frequent broadcaster on BBC Radio 3. His previous publications
include Schubert: The
Complete Song Texts. To coincide with
the 200th anniversary of Joseph Haydn’s death, Faber
is launching The Pocket Guide to Haydn, written by Richard Wigmore
review . It is in relation to
this that I interviewed Mr Wigmore.
MMB: Apart from the obvious fact that it is
the 200th anniversary of Joseph Haydn’s death, why
write this guide about Haydn?
RW: This is part of a series of Faber
Pocket Guides on various subjects and was partially motivated
by Nicholas Kenyon’s Pocket Guide to Mozart, which I reviewed
for Gramophone. I felt that I could do something similar but
simultaneously a little different. A lot has been written on
Mozart but not on Haydn so I felt that this book would fill
a gap in the market. I have written extensively about Haydn
so my idea was to compile a good deal of information and personal
observations into a very compact format.
MMB: Your book – The Faber Pocket Guide to
Haydn – is, as the name indicates of course, more a guide rather
than a biography.
RW: Yes, you see, with Haydn, contrary
to Mozart, if one is not interested in his music then one does
not care to find out about his life. Haydn’s life was longer
but far less interesting than Mozart’s. This is why Haydn’s
music is the most important section of the book. I decided to
dedicate approximately two thirds of it to his music and slightly
less than one third to his life.
MMB: Did you have to follow a template or
guidelines stipulated by the publisher? If no, why did you structure
the book in this manner?
RW: No, there wasn’t a template as such.
I partly followed the structure laid out in Nicholas Kenyon’s
pocket guide to Mozart, however I made my own emphasis. For
example, such features as “Haydn on CD” and “A chronology of
Haydn’s life” were my own idea.
MMB: Right at the start of the book, you present
the reader with a so-called “Haydn Top 20” or his 20 works that
you could least live without. What makes these works so special
for you? And why do you think they rate above the others?
RW: This is of course a very personal
choice and I actually changed my mind a few times. In general,
these are the works that move me; the most exciting works that
give me musical enrichment. This is of course an artificial
selection and these are arguably Haydn’s greatest works. I could
have easily added another twenty but I think that the ones I
listed represent his range over a wide variety of musical genres.
I believe they give a complete picture of Haydn’s music personality.
MMB: Still in connection with your top 20,
your list contains a few of Haydn’s religious works like The
Creation, The Seven Last Words and a couple of masses. How
do you think Haydn’s religious faith influenced his work?
RW: Well, with Haydn, as with Bach, is
difficult to say: Did he write great religious music because
he was a religious man or because he was a great composer? Haydn
was a catholic and definitely much more religious than Mozart
or Beethoven. The Creation was an act of devotion. Haydn
believed in God and that his genius was divinely inspired. He
prayed to God everyday to help him complete The Creation.
God and religion were important to Haydn but in a different
way than to Bach. Typical of the Enlightenment, Haydn’s religious
themes are more joyful and cheerful rather than centring on
human weakness, suffering, sin and punishment. Haydn’s religious
music is more a celebration of how wonderful it is that we live
in a beautiful world created by God. So God is important to
Haydn and is his inspiration but it is difficult to say if The
Creation would have been different should Haydn be a man
of less faith. I believe he would still create great music because
he was a great composer. On a purely speculative basis, one
could say that perhaps Haydn would not have written the two
great oratorios: The Creation and The Seasons,
however he would still have written the masses whether he was
religious or not because these were part of his job.
MMB: You wrote about symphony no. 45, Farewell,
which is a piece I particularly like. It’s a great symphony
and the reason why Haydn wrote it shows a man who had good sense
of humour but who was also subtle and witty. Would you agree?
And do you think that these qualities are demonstrated in some
of Haydn’s works?
RW: Oh! Definitely! Haydn is one of the
wittiest of all composers. We can find a lot of humour in his
music. For example, his use of rhythm: he adds pauses and silences
that are totally unexpected. These sudden stops of the music
can be mysterious, dramatic, comic and witty at the same time.
Another symphony comes to mind, the Surprise, number
94, with its “crash” effect in the middle of a very soft passage.
The Farewell symphony is witty in the last movement when
the musicians stand up, blow out their candles and walk away
but the first three movements are very troubled yet rather original.
You see, Haydn liked to tease his listeners and produce things
that the listener was not expecting. That is all part of his
MMB: As I am also a foreigner living in England,
I found of particular interest Haydn’s impressions about England
and the English, which you mention on page 55. Haydn’s notes
are highly amusing. Most of all I found incredible that some
of the things he mentioned are still visible characteristics
of the English, which are possibly more obvious to somebody
like me. As an Englishman what do you think of Haydn’s remarks
and do you think they are still true in the present times?
RW: Yes, Haydn’s remarks are very amusing
and the features of London life are the same in 1795 and in
2009, both when he talks about the drinking – Haydn was quite
shocked – and about the weather. His comments on the fog and
the oddities of the legal system are also very amusing. Haydn
was a very sharp observer of the London scene and had a very
good eye for social detail. He captured it all in his notebooks,
which he kept during his visits to London.
MMB: Of Haydn’s symphonies, the 104 London
is my favourite. It is also on your top 20. What, in your opinion,
makes this symphony so good?
RW: The London, Haydn’s symphony
number 104, was the last of the twelve symphonies that he had
been contracted to compose for London. It turned out that it
was also his last, though at the time he didn’t know it of course,
but it was the last of the twelve so he was determined to create
something very grand and this he did. The London is a
full portrait of Haydn’s music. It has grandeur, lyricism, real
drama, especially in the first two movements and one can say
that it anticipates Beethoven. If one of Haydn’s symphonies
has everything then this is the number 104. It shows Haydn at
its most mature as a composer.
MMB: On pages 284-289 you describe Haydn’s
best known and arguably greatest work The Creation. What
do you think of Haydn’s depiction of chaos in this work?
RW: Yes, you can say it is arguably his
greatest work. Most people would say it is; personally, I would
put The Seasons slightly higher. But, yes, The Creation
is the most visionary, most forward looking piece of music in
the 18th century. The depiction of chaos, in the
beginning of the piece is almost impressionistic in style and
the orchestral colours are amazing; not just in the beginning
but throughout the entire work. It has fantastic individual
instrument writing: For example, there is some wonderful writing
for the clarinet, for the bassoon and for all the woodwinds.
It is in a sense a strange piece, a bit of a paradox because
it is written in the classical sonata form but the harmonies
and the colours are unlike anything written in the 18th
century. In fact, if one listens to The Creation for
the first time, without knowing it is by Haydn, one may think
it was written by a composer in the 1820s or 1830s. Some parts
even sound like Wagner! So it is a piece where Haydn demonstrates
clearly that he was totally ahead of his time.
MMB: Haydn’s operas: I like Haydn’s Armida
and particularly L’anima del filosofo. In dramatic and
narrative terms I do not think they can equal Mozart’s later
operas but I think that there are some great moments in both
pieces. What is your personal opinion of the two? Are there
any recordings you would recommend?
RW: Yes, I would agree that Haydn’s operas
cannot equal Mozart’s later ones in dramatic terms but yes,
it is also true that there are some great moments in Haydn’s.
Armida first, has some powerful arias in Act III, in
the magic forest, and the sextet at the very end of the opera
is fantastic. These sections in particular have some lovely
orchestral colours but the problem with Armida is that
it moves too slowly. The first two acts really only have one
dramatic element, one situation that stretches over nearly two
hours. I can imagine what a nightmare it must be for any director
or producer to try and stage this opera. It is similar with
L’anima del filosofo but in this particular case, the
libretto is also very bad. Haydn, unlike Mozart, never rejected
a bad libretto; he seemed to simply accept what was presented
to him with little critical sense. With regards to L’anima
del filosofo, one might say that the opera was not completely
finished. As you know, due to politics, it was never performed
in Haydn’s lifetime; its first ever performance only took place
in 1951. I believe that Haydn would have revised the work, as
some things in the opera don’t work very well: For example,
the second death of Euridice, dealt with in bare recitative,
is very anticlimactic. So I think that Haydn would have revised
and improved the work if he had had the opportunity. There are
good recordings of both operas and I mention them in the section
“Haydn on CD” – actually, the operas are possibly better appreciated
on CD, as the slow pace doesn’t matter as much as on stage –
Armida recorded by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and L’anima
del filosofo by Christopher Hogwood; both feature Cecilia
Now, Margarida, I am sorry but unfortunately,
I don’t have much time left, so I can only answer one more question.
Is that all right?
MMB: Of course, Mr Wigmore. I still have various
questions but I will choose one that is particularly important
RW: Yes, that is very good. Thank you.
MMB: You often state in the book that Haydn’s
influence on the music of Mozart is seen throughout but that
this is seldom reciprocal. In what way do you think Haydn influenced
Mozart? And, in your opinion, what are the similarities and
differences between the 2 composers?
RW: Oh! That’s a very long question; it’s
a very good question! Well... Haydn was twenty-four years older
than Mozart so it would be natural for the younger man to look
up to the older but Mozart didn’t value other composers much,
however he truly valued Haydn and admired him above all other
living composers. As you know, the two men were friends even
if for a relatively brief time from 1783 onwards and their meetings
were most frequent during 1789-90, then Haydn left for London
and of course Mozart died while he was there. Haydn really influenced
Mozart in chamber music, particularly in the string quartets.
Haydn developed the string quartet admirably; in fact, he was
the father of the string quartet. He composed his string quartets
in a conversational style of writing and Mozart learned so much
from them – he called Haydn his musical father and, as you know,
he dedicated his set of six string quartets, published in 1785,
to Haydn – but of course Mozart being Mozart even though he
learned from Haydn, when he composed his string quartets, he
made them very much his own. In Mozart, you get more chromaticism
and it has the effect of pathos, melancholy, sadness even; in
Haydn there is also chromaticism – in The Creation for
example – but it’s different, more optimistic than Mozart’s.
Also Haydn was more of an orchestral composer. Mozart’s inspiration
is more operatically based. He creates more lyrical, operatic
melodies and that is the reason why Mozart has a more instant
appeal: he makes more tunes, he wrote more melodically. Haydn
was more interested in ways of structuring the music, in its
format so that I would say he had a bigger sense of adventure.
MMB: Well, Mr Wigmore, as we must finish,
I just want to thank you very much for your time.
RW: Thank you for interviewing me and
please send me an e-mail when the interview is published so
that I can read it.
MMB: Certainly. And may I just add that it
was really interesting talking to you.
RW: Thank you.
Margarida Mota-Bull interviewed
Richard Wigmore on 9th Feb 2009.
The Faber Pocket
Guide to Haydn by Richard
Margarida Mota-Bull has written
a novel set against the background of opera and structured within
a musical frame, entitled "Canto di Tenore" see http://www.ebooksforpleasure.com/canto-di-tenore.html