Classic Mornings

A Life in Haydn


Some people have a hidden life. I came upon an article in which Hungarian conductor Adam Fischer talked about having a “Haydn life.” 

Fischer, who is the older brother of conductor Iván Fischer, is the only living conductor to have recorded all of the symphonies of Franz Joseph Haydn. He explained to Stephen Moss of The Guardian back in 2008 that the Haydn project tells the story of his life over the years. His daughter went to school when he was recording Symphony #35, his son took his final exams with Symphony #82, his niece got married with Symphony #32, etc. On September 9th, we celebrated Adam Fischer’s 65th birthday on the Classic Morning Prelude. Although we made Haydn a part of our celebration, Fischer may well have made “ hidin’ ” a part of his. I found no references to any public festivities to mark the occasion.

Pianist Simon Trpčeski shares a little of his private life in the notes to his new recording of Tchaikovsky’s 1st and 2nd piano concertos. He says that ever since he heard Tchaikovsky’s 2nd piano concerto, he wanted to play it one day. He hoped to feel its “sunny side” – its positive energy. He adds that he finished learning it the day before his daughter was born. It’s the first piece he played after she came into the world, and so he dedicated the new recording to his daughter Lara. Simon Trpčeski is from Skopje, Macedonia. His new recording is with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra led by Vasily Petrenko (Onyx 4135). We listened to the finale of th on the Classic Morning Prelude of September 22nd.

Speaking of little people, the thought recently came to mind that some of you may have spent some time with children at an amusement park this past summer. That sparked a fun thought, which I shared on a recent Classic Morning Prelude. You know how amusement parks have signs where young children get in line for kiddie rides? As you may know, some of those signs have a horizontal line some 4 feet above the ground. The sign informs you that anyone taller than that is not permitted on those rides, which are reserved for small children. That led me to wonder whether there should be a rule that virtuosi performers shoud not be permitted to play works intended for beginners. They should leave those works for the “little” players. At that point, I played a dazzling performance by pianist Zoltán Kocsis of the opening of Mozart’s 16th piano sonata, which Mozart called a “Little Sonata for Beginners” (Harmonia Mundi 903006). Kocsis was far from being a beginner at the time.

I then reminded listeners of a  recording from the mid 1980s featuring Katia & Marielle Labèque – the Labeque sisters from France. They charmed us with a childhood photo on the cover of that recording. In the photo, the two of them were dressed up as adults. It was a recording of works for piano duet that were written for children (Philips 420159).  I suggested that it was like walking on your knees to be able to get onto a kiddie ride. I played their performance of the Spanish dance which concludes the suite of piano duet pieces that Gabriel Fauré wrote for a young girl by the name of Dolly. The Labèques were not children when they made that recording, and didn’t sound like children. They sounded like the Labèque sisters!  I asked listeners to think of those children waiting in line and watching kids old enough to ride on every coaster in the park taking up places on the kiddie rides.

Actually, I was just having a little fun with the metaphor. Little people can take their cues from the so-called “big kids” and already begin to share in the excitement, even while they’re waiting until they’re as tall as the horizontal line at the entrance to the grown-up rides, musically speaking. I went on to play a performance featuring Sarah Chang’s debut recording at age 9 (EMI 54352). On that recording she used a quarter-size violin. I’m guessing that she never imagined that she was on a “kiddie ride” at the time – nor has anyone else who has enjoyed that recording over the years. We heard her perform one of the Paganini caprices for solo violin. It’s always fun to listen back to that recording knowing that Sarah Chang has been going on the “big rides” for a long time now – and raising the bar for young people to aspire to as they perform.

Christopher Hogwood raised the bar in terms of setting standards for the performance of early music. He passed away on September 24th, just 2 weeks after his 73rd birthday. Hogwood, the English keyboard player, conductor and music scholar was most often associated with the Academy of Ancient Music, which he founded back in 1973. Actually, it was a re-founding in modern times of a society that dates back to the 18th Century.

Hogwood was a champion of performing music from the medieval, renaissance, baroque and classical eras in a historically informed way. He was concerned about finding evidence of performance practices in earlier times. Ivan Hewtt’s September 25th article in The Telegraph quotes Hogwood from a 1984 article in Opernwelt in which he nearly apologized when, for lack of evidence, one of his ensembles simply had to rely upon a bit of inspired guess work and simply do their best.

We remembered Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music from among some of their best, including a performance of the Canon by Johann Pachelbel (which you hear if you visit the Academy of Ancient Music’s home page) and the Air from Johann Sebastian Bach’s 3rd orchestral suite. Hogwood was also a member of the more famous Academy of our time – the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields – as a keyboard player. Among his 200 or so recordings are the complete symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven. A recording project involving another composer’s complete symphonies was shelved after it had begun.  During that time you might say that Hogwood spent a little of his life in Haydn too.

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