You can’t put Haydn in a box.
You can’t put Bach in a box either, because he’ll find a way to squirm out of it — those endlessly growing and weaving themes, you know, but Haydn is more deceptive.
Because he worked during that eighteenth century movement of reaction and refinement, you might think it would be easy to shove him into a box that would tell you everything about him.
But no. He is too unpredictable, too full of surprises, too quick with sleight of hand. He takes you to unexpected places, makes you wait, teases you with tense dissonances and embellishments. Oh, and those rubatos. Yes, he plays with time, too.
_ _ _
In 2001, I had the privilege of living overseas. When I returned, the first question many friends and acquaintances asked was, “What are the people there like?”
I suppose it was a natural question, particularly from those who’d never lived anywhere but the United States, but it bothered me, even as I was telling them that the people were like people everywhere—some great, some not so great.
We have an unfortunate tendency to categorize, classify, label.
I suppose it simplifies life, tells us the differences between food, animal, vegetable, mineral, and insect. It’s good to know which is which. I wouldn’t want to mistake a tulip bulb for a nut and bite into it, as so many squirrels do. But, even within those classifications, as useful as they are, it’s equally useful to realize there are variants. Matter is not simple; art is not simple; and people, definitely people, are not simple at all.
I worry about the ease with which we stuff people into boxes and slap labels on them, the ease with which we’re content to keep them there, even when the boxes are the wrong shape and size, the labels inaccurate.
My weeks with Haydn, analyzing, practicing, playing, have given me pause. There’s so much depth in his masterfully layered notes—so much between the lines, a wealth of human feeling and knowledge and imagination. Oh, what we would miss if we crammed him into a box and were content to leave him there.
The container would be full, but we would be empty.
Recommended listening: Haydn Piano Sonata in Eb Hob. XVI: 52, Movement II