We like to envision artists we admire as having lived vivid, melodramatic lives, starving in garrets, battling personal demons, struggling against the Philistines in a world not ready for them. It's a compelling narrative. That's probably why you'll never see a biopic on one of the greatest of all musicians: Franz Joseph Haydn.
Haydn's moderate, boring life and his imaginative music both seem to define his era, The Enlightenment. His music is the very model of reason, wit and optimism. A peer once criticized Haydn, noting that his church compositions lacked soul-searching depth. Haydn replied, "Since God has given me a cheerful heart, I should be be pardoned that I serve Him with a cheerful spirit."
Don't we all need to be cheered up? Well, happy birthday, Papa Haydn, born March 31, 1732.
Haydn is diminished in many eyes because he was so prolific: 104 symphonies, 68 string quartets, 26 operas, 39 piano trios, 47 piano sonatas and much more. How can there be depth in any one work? Well, few composers wrote more consistently excellent music than Haydn – perhaps only Bach. There is a freshness and sense of invention in all of it. I once spent several days listening to all 39 piano trios in succession, and they never felt repetitive.
Haydn pretty much standardized the structures of string quartets and symphonies and presented the template for sonata form – the interplay and harmonic tussling of two themes used in most first movements – that inspired Mozart and Beethoven.
I appreciate Haydn more and more with each passing year, his optimistic, clear-eyed musical presence a welcome antidote to dour Brahms, neurotic Mahler or anxiety-ridden Shostakovich. His music brightens my day, and I present here some of my favorites.
We'll start with a couple of single movements, and with Haydn, you have to start with the string quartets and symphonies. So first, an ear-worm … the opening movement of one of his final quartets, No. 66 in G Major. This one gets stuck in my head every time I hear it.
Next, one of his most famous movements, the wake-'em-up surprise andante movement from his Symphony No. 94, "The Surprise." This tune that we all sang as kindergarteners is transformed from the naïve to a fully charged symphonic statement.
By 'classical' music do you mean
Music from the 'classical' period (circa Mozart, before Beethoven), any orchestral music as played on 'classical' music stations, or all serious orchestra, chamber or piano compositions?
because Shostakovitch will sure as hell NOT relax you nor lower your blood pressure. listening to virtuoso speed pieces by chopin and liszt will probably not relax you and probably not lower your blood pressure. i don't think anyone would ever say that listening to elliot carter is relaxing.
probably you mean certain types of classical music will relax you, those with slower rhythms, pleasant harmonies and happy melodies.