25 March 2012

In search of Francesco Giuseppe

I had seen the earlier In Search of Beethoven, and at the MFA, with Dr Cienniwa (harpsichordist for the première of Lunar Glare); and I can affirm that its reputation for excellence is deserved. For that very reason (even if I had not been additionally interested because of my recent application for Haydnista status) I should have made time for In Search of Haydn.

The new film is every bit as good — beautiful to watch, glorious to listen to in all its musical examples (the greater part of which are executed by PI [Period Instrument] ensembles/instrumentalists), and unflaggingly engaging in the interviews with conductors, performers, and yea, even the occasional historian — as that on Beethoven. (A fact which, incidentally, has me keen to check out his first effort, on Mozart.) If anything, this film had an added poignancy, since “Papa” is not anywhere so well represented on film as his more celebrated pupil (unless there’s a cult film out there on Haydn's Wig Hair).

Perforce it had an additional sentimental impact on yours truly, since so many of the musical examples are pieces I’ve heard for the first time within the past six or nine months — and because it echoed no few historical facts which I learnt first via Gurn Blanston’s [not his real name] biographical survey, over in Haydn’s Haus at the Good Music Guide forum. Visually it was on many points ultimate satisfaction of curiosity which I’ve nurtured since I was a mere slip of an undergrad, as the director brought his camera to the village of “Papa’s” birth, to the Cathedral of St Stephen in Vienna, to the Esterházy compound in Eisenstadt, and particularly to the grounds and some of the rich interiors of Esterháza itself.

In both films, the director (Phil Grabsky) worked with a great sensitivity to the subject, and with an admirable narrative detachment. The project is obviously the result of that combination of general historical interest and musical admiration, yet Grabsky keeps out of the way, and even his extensive use of interviews gives a sense both of academic balance, and of oral history — curious to say, since of course the subject has been dead more than 200 years. But then, of course, to us performers, composers both living and ancient become a sort of partner.

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