Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
The Haydn paradox: from engaged affection to distant respect
The mystery that plagues the contemporary conception and reception of Haydn and his music has a long and remarkably unbroken history. Perhaps Haydn experienced the misfortune (an ironic one when one considers the frequency of premature deaths among his great contemporaries or near contemporaries) of living too long. Years before his death in 1809 he was considered so old that the French and English had already presumed him dead in 1805. Many wrote condolence letters and a Requiem Mass was planned in Paris. Haydn's music was both familiar and venerated. Raphael Georg Kiesewetter (1773–1850), writing in Vienna in 1846, reflected the perspective of the beginning of the nineteenth century in his Geschichte der europaeisch-abendlaendischen oder unsrer heutigen Musik. Haydn had ‘elevated all of instrumental music to a never before anticipated level of perfection’. Haydn had a ‘perfect knowledge of instrumental effects’ and with Mozart (for whom Haydn was the ‘example and ideal’) created a ‘new school which may be called the German or … the “Viennese” school’. Theirs was the ‘golden age’ of music. Most significantly, Haydn's instrumental works represented the standard of what was ‘true beauty’ in music.