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Can Haydn recover from the frigid love of Boulez?

September 24, 2017 by norman lebrecht

29 comments.


From the new Lebrecht Album of the Week:

When Pierre Boulez became music director of the New York Philharmonic in the 1970s, he refused to conduct Mozart, inserting Haydn instead. It did no good for Haydn. The Mozart lovers deserted in droves, while the cerebral types that Boulez hoped to attract were dismayed to find just as much frivolity in Papa Haydn as in the ‘trivial’ Amadeus. Haydn’s reputation has taken years to recover.

The instant appeal of this recording is that…

Read on here.

And here.


Comments (29)

  1. Julian Reynolds says:

    ==refused to conduct Mozart.

    NOT TRUE:

    1977 Feb 10, 11, 12, 15 / NYPO Subscription Season / Boulez

    Orchestras New York Philharmonic
    Conductors Boulez, Pierre
    Soloists Perlman, Itzhak / Violin

    Wagner / Siegfried Idyll
    Mozart / Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K.216
    Intermission
    Ravel / Tzigane, Rapsodie de concert for Violin and Orchestra
    Varese [Varèse] / Ionisation
    Varese [Varèse] / Arcana

    1. norman lebrecht says:

      I am relying on what Boulez told me. He refused, then slightly relented.

  2. Julian Reynolds says:

    ====refused to conduct Mozart.

    Other Mozart with NYPO

    Piano concerto 27 with de Laroccha
    5th violin concerto with the concert master
    piano concerto 9 with Dichter and 19 with Serkin and 24 with Eschenbach
    SInfonia Concertante
    Posthorn Serenade
    LINZ symphony
    2nd Horn Concerto

  3. Julian Reynolds says:

    ====refused to conduct Mozart.

    Yet more Mozart with NYPO

    1st flute concerto
    cto for flute and harp
    clarinet cto
    39th and 40th symphony
    Rondo for Piano and Orch
    Magic Flute overture
    concert aria “Vorrei spiegarvi, oh Dio,” K.418

  4. Julian Reynolds says:

    ====refused to conduct Mozart.

    Yet more Mozart with NYPO

    Piano cto 15

    No offence, Norman, but this sort of info is very easy to check.
    Your article comes across as a bit over-dramatic.

  5. Louy says:

    Habituelle désinvolture de Mr Lebrecht.
    Pour un Mozart plus récent et enregistré :Gran Partita interprété et enregistré à Pleyel.

    1. Pedro says:

      Yes. i was there. Superb.

  6. Dan P. says:

    I’m trying to follow the logic of this statement. Boulez, who only conducted a limited number of weeks each seasons, conducted Mozart – but so did the many other conductors who filled up the concert season with the Philharmonic each year. However, during one year he (and other conductors who appeared that season) showcased Haydn’s works. Haydn, at that time was not – except for the late symphonies – hardly performed on symphony orchestra concerts – at least in New York. But at the same time, an annual two-month summer festival called Mostly Mozart, which still goes on, was held in the very same hall – so there was hardly a shortage of major, minor, and obscure works by Mozart being performed in the city regularly.

    Then there is the question of what evidence there is tying a decreased attendance specifically due to the purported “lack” of Mozart performances during the main season. How would one even correlate the two? Guest conductors were probably conducting Mozart at the same rate as before, whatever that was.

    My recollection was that there WAS a dip in attendance, but the talk of the time had nothing to do with Mozart or Haydn, which to be honest, was not Boulez’ strong suit. The fact was that the more elderly subscription holders were not anxious to hear Varese, Berg, Schoenberg, Webern, etc. on a regular basis. Of course, the elderly were replaced in part by the number of young people who came specifically to hear those composers. I was certainly one.

    But why single out Boulez for not being the most scintillating Haydn performer? Not every composer finds a soul mate in every conductor. Did you ever hear Toscanini conduct Haydn and Mozart? He conducted them rarely – and admitted that he didn’t understand Mozart – but I’m not sure that drove away anybody. Then again, he didn’t conduct Varese.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Every last friday of the month we – that is, all the older staff members – quietly gather in the wine cellar here to listen to old recordings with Xenakis, Varèse, Boulez, Stockhausen, Nono and Globokar and such guys, and nostalgically commemorate those beautiful old days when the future was bright. And then we get weepy and drunk, in honor of PB.

      Sally

  7. Talking about Boulez and Haydn, I happen to be reading/listening the following stuffs about these two guys in the recent weeks.

    ==========

    + “Pierre Boulez – Die Partitur der Geste und das Theater der Avantgarde” by Martin Zenck

    https://www.fink.de/katalog/titel/978-3-7705-5998-5.html

    This newly published books deals with the Boulez as intellectual, writer, theorist, conductor and interpreter. It’s the first comprehensive literature on these topics auf Deutsch. What I find especially worth reading is the chapter about PB’s thoughts on theater.

    ==========

    + The Haydn 2032 Project by Giovanni Antonini

    http://www.haydn2032.com

    Judging from the 4CDs published so far, I find the whole concept, which combines music performance, musicology and photography, quite refreshing. At least we can see they have put some efforts in making something not boring, not just another encyclopedic recording of Haydn’s symphonies. But the editorial quality of the CD booklets is somehow disappointing, which might indicate that it is not a flagship project as it seems to be at the first sight. Upon causal reading, we can already easily find some rudimentary copy & paste errors between versions of different languages. They also try to make their artistic cooperation with “Magnum Photographers” as a big selling point, although I find some of the curated photos kinda kitsch.

    G.Antonini seems to be one of the hotter HIP performers nowadays. Having heard his concert live several times, personally I don’t dislike his interpretations. Some of his Beethoven recordings are actually excellent, albeit not groundbreaking. His Haydn, however, is clearly not the best I have ever heard. But I like the programming in this series. It namely combines Haydn symphonies with less well-known pieces of his own and his contemporaries.

    ==========
    + Yannick Nézet Seguin $ COE perform Haydn 44

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WmdWjg9_wDc

    Although YNS is kinda mainstream today, I have to admit that I like him tremendously. On the other hand, COE has been a vastly undervalued orchestra. But for me personally it is clearly one of the top 10 in the world. Just listen to their Haydn 44 in Philharmonie de Paris. I would say it immediately outperforms 95% of the Haydn recordings on the market. At least. No matter HIP or non-HIP.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Such freewheeling comments about performances/recordings are worthless if there is no explanation and / or argument WHY this or that is, or is not, liked. Everybody can say I do / don’t like this or that but without any argument, such expressions are entirely meaningless.

      My PA doesn’t like broccoli but who cares?

      1. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

        For people who buy and listen to music according to The Penguin Stereo Record Guide, and for those whose favorite songs are the so called “Top 20”, yes, they are worthless.

        But I am sure there are still people who have brain, can think independently. The book is there, the music is there, just read/listen if you would like to.

        Beschriebene Musik ist wie erzähltes Mittagessen.

      2. John Borstlap says:

        I only dislike broccoli on specific days, not in general.

        Sally

        1. Gaffney Feskoe says:

          I love broccoli, but President George H. W. Bush famously does not. But I also love the music of Bruckner too. Not sure of Bush’s opinion of Bruckner.

          1. John Borstlap says:

            HItler was a vegetarian and loved Wagner and dogs. The composer got thus associated with crime on a cosmic scale but why not vegetarianism and dogs?

  8. Bruce says:

    I was unaware that Boulez had had any effect whatsoever on Haydn’s reputation. Seems like it would/should happen the other way around: what kind of musician is he if he can’t make Haydn — which is immensely enjoyable — enjoyable?

    P.S. I don’t think I would ever buy, or listen to, that recording. It would be a total mismatch, like hearing Glenn Gould play Chopin.

    1. John Borstlap says:

      PB had no effect whatsoever on any composer’s reputation, and only fuelled a profound resistance to ‘modernist music’ with audiences in the central performance culture.

  9. harold braun says:

    A look at the performance database at the NYPO website confirms that he actually conducted more works by Mozart than Haydn….Sometimes a little research goes a long way,or,as my teacher said,always do your homework!

    1. Dan P. says:

      Seeing that Boulez conducted the Philharmonic only a certain number of weeks each season and that the Philharmonic represented a certain percentage of the total performances in Lincoln Center alone, I’m not sure how the number of his performances of any composer he conducted (outside those representing his core interests) really matter? Perhaps someone can explain.

  10. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    I was trying to reply to Bruce and basically just said something about Glenn Gould. Then all my posts got censored without any reason whatsoever. What’s going on here?

  11. Analeck Kram-Hammerbauer says:

    What I said was basically

    “Maybe Glenn Gould didn’t play Chopin because he didn’t like his music. But it didn’t mean that he could not play this kind of sentimental stuffs very well. I was fascinated by his early recording of Brahms’ intermezzi. I find it heartbreakingly beautiful.”

    What taboo is violated here?

    1. John Borstlap says:

      Probably calling Chopin’s oeuvre “this kind of sentimental stuffs”. Lovers of Chopin are particularly sensitive.

  12. George says:

    When Boulez assumed the directorship of the NY Phil, Haydn was very underplayed. Boulez didn’t necessarily dislike Mozart, but he just focused more on Haydn to increase his reputation. In fact, he didn’t so much focus more on Haydn as he played more obscure works by Haydn (most of the Mozart works he played were already standard in the repertoire.) in fact the Haydn works he played were obscure but not unimportant. He did early symphonies like 3 “Hornsignal”, 49 “La passione”, 53 “L’imperiale”, 60 “Il distratto”, all of which were memorable enough to get nicknames. He also did 86 (one of the Paris symphonies) and 95 (the only London symphony in a minor key). He said in an interview that he considered the late mass s to be among Haydn’s most beautiful works, and he pulled two less popular masses out of the archives before the early music specialists took them over, the Harmony Mass and the Theriesenmesse. (The Paukenmesse and the Nelson mass were more standard. I think Bernstein also did one of the abscure masses as a guest conductor during Boulez’s tenure.) Perhaps the most remarkable was a performance of excerpts from the opera L’incontro improvviso, which I understand he did with a narrator instead of recitatives.

    As for Mozart he certainly had great admiration. In various interviews and essays, he praised works such as the Jupiter symphony, Don Giovanni, and the Gran partita (which he recorded).he admired Mozart’s counterpoint and chromaticism, as well as his approach toward writing opera. Although, it is somewhat bizarre that when appropriate played all the Mozart concerti under a team of conductors including Boulez, Maderna, and Martin, Boulez was given the first four concerti, which are not even really by Mozart.

    1. harold braun says:

      Haydn was actually added to the NYPO not by Boulez,but by Bernstein,his precedessor.He performed,and recorded,all Paris and London symphonies there(plus No.88,his favorite).and The Creation.

      1. harold braun says:

        Plus Nelson and Harmony Mass

      2. Dan P. says:

        Yes – Bernstein did a lot for Haydn during his tenure, but having a Haydn thread going through a single season was a Boulez programming idea – along with Stravinsky (who I think was paired with Haydn that year) and a year of Liszt tone poems another year. As for Boulez’ performances of Mozart Piano Concertos 1-4, he performed and recorded them in the late 50s with Yvonne Loriod.

    2. John Borstlap says:

      Whatever PB’s qualities as a conductor, of which there are very divergent opinions, it is a very good idea to programm Haydn at all, he is far not enough performed in live concerts.

      1. Dan P. says:

        To me, it seems when Mozart was making a big resurgence in the popular consciousness in the 1960s and was seen as having a relatable sensibility (remember the movie “Elvira Madigan” and label referencing it on all recordings of the 21st Concerto?) Haydn had much less visibility or contact with the popular crowd, for whom Haydn probably seemed quaint and old fashioned if they knew the name at all. So, it was good to hear the Philharmonic make a stab at bringing a lot of works to the public..

        But I’d like to add a story about one such occasion when it wasn’t a good night for Haydn. Boulez was conducting one of the later symphonies (I forget which one now) that had a variation movement. And, after each variation, some guy in the audience – just one – started clapping vociferously. After EACH variation. Maybe he was drunk, maybe he was making a statement of some kind. As I recall, the performance was neither remarkably good or noticeably bad. Dutiful is probably the best description. But I think everyone would have agreed that this was one of the creepier experiences inside of Avery Fischer Hall.

  13. Quin says:

    No one today in Islington would willingly pay money to attend a Boulez concert. He is so passé. We would rather have Mongolian throat singing.


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