In Search of Haydn | Film review
Phil Grabsky’s series of hit docs on classical composers continues.
Continuing his remarkably accessible series on classical composers, director Phil Grabsky follows In Search of Mozart and In Search of Beethoven with a look at the musician whose approval Wolfgang and Ludwig sought. Joseph Haydn was overshadowed by his successors but an experimenter in his own right, democratic in his desire to have his music widely heard and all the more extraordinary for being organized and methodical rather than a tortured genius.
The relatively dry biographical material may limit the appeal of this installment, but what In Search of Haydn excels at is what has always been this series’ strength. Music is not an easy subject to explicate on film, yet Grabsky assembles historians, pianists and opera singers to demonstrate exactly what makes Haydn important. The film dissects sonatas to show us the emphasis Haydn placed on the element of surprise; we learn how his boyhood background in singing influenced his operatic composition. Experts describe how he broke with established rules of harmony and where he compares to and diverges from Mozart. The movie even notes instances when Beethoven’s work seems designed as homage or improvement. You don’t need to be interested in classical music to find the results engrossing.