Do you ever turn to music to lift your spirits when you are down? Few of us would question the ability of music to do this, but have you ever stopped to think how or why?
It is more likely that when we are in need of a pick-me-up we will, instead, select music which reflects more closely our frame of mind at the time than actively seek out something to shift us into a different mood: few of us are disciplined enough to make that mental resolve. But if we should overhear something uplifting not necessarily of our choosing, on the radio, for example, we can soon find ourselves transported to a different and happier place.
We know music can do this; it doesn’t much matter why.
Acknowledging that, therefore, means that all we need to know is whose music we need to call upon to effect this shift. Simple enough on the face of it, but the choice can be daunting and almost so overwhelming that we give up trying and resort to the quicker, simpler, option of selecting the melancholy.
To the rescue, one completely reliable, cast-iron default, who will never disappoint: the Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), perhaps the most underrated of the greats. When Sir Simon Rattle, the newly appointed music director of the London Symphony Orchestra, was asked which composer he would invite to dinner, his answer was an unhesitating ‘Haydn’; and I’m fairly certain it was one of the world’s leading cellists, Stephen Isserlis, who recently questioned whether Haydn was even capable of writing a sorrowful note.
Haydn, teacher of Mozart and Beethoven, dispels the myth that classical music needs to be serious. The man had a real sense of humour, and his audiences came to know it in his vast output, which included over 50 string quintets and more than 100 symphonies (earning him the nickname of Father of each of these disciplines).
Haydn’s 1st Cello Concerto lay hidden for nearly 200 years when it was conclusively identified as being by his hand in 1961. It is a piece brimming with exuberance. Spare yourself a few minutes to listen to this really spirited last movement, here played by Stephen Isserlis. This is chamber music at its very finest: a ‘can’t-see-the join’ collaboration between soloist and fellow musicians. It can be tempting to take this movement too quickly to demonstrate virtuosity, it is technically very demanding, but to do so is to risk tripping up and losing sight of the melody. No such danger here.
So the next time you’re feeling a little bluesy, know for certain that Haydn is your instant fail-safe remedy. We will visit his music and life again, but try this for starters. It’s fun, pure and simple.