In Search Of Haydn

  • Year:2012
  • Rating:G
  • Director:Phil Grabsky
  • Release Date:March 15, 2012
  • Distributor:Antidote Films
  • Running time:102 minutes
  • Film Worth:$12.00
  • FILMINK rates movies out of $20 - the score indicates the amount we believe a ticket to the movie to be worth

Its subject certainly deserves renewed attention and classical music fans will enjoy, but unfortunately this documentary never transcends its illustrated lecture feel.

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Despite its slightly mysterious title there is no great mystery to this straightforward documentary about the composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). The only mystery, perhaps, is why Haydn is not more celebrated as he was the leading composer of his day and, although he did not pass into the public consciousness as a household name like Mozart and Beethoven, both these composers revered him as the master.

As actress Juliet Stevenson's mellifluous voiceover informs us, Haydn was the son of a wheelwright but his obvious genius allowed him to be promoted in society beyond his humble origins. After a period as a scholarship choir boy and trainee composer he had the luck to gain patronage from the hugely wealthy Esterhazy family. The Prince of Esterhazy once boasted that there was nothing the Emperor of Austria could afford that he couldn't. A string of palaces - all with gorgeous music rooms of course - were testament to his wealth and taste. One of his palaces in what is now Hungary shows glimpses of a frescoed ceiling to rival the Sistine Chapel. Haydn, however, was no dilettante; despite the occasional dabble with a mistress and being a man about court. He made good use of his growing reputation and the well paid position to compose as much as he could. He enlarged the vocabulary of music and composed in the full range of forms; from symphonies, to concerti to string quartets. Music poured out of him for sixty years and he was still composing and experimenting in his final years.

Filmmaker Phil Grabsky wrote, shot and directed this feature-length tribute. There is plenty of Haydn's great music around (in short snatches rather than extended performances alas), but he has trouble raising the whole above the level of an illustrated lecture. The actual information is dry and is no more than one could glean from twenty minutes on Wikipedia. For visuals he has mostly to rely on panning across old paintings or dollying down long ornate palace interiors. Various musicologists and composers provide the traditional talking heads. Perhaps more suited to television, the film nevertheless will please classical music fans and Haydn is certainly owed a renewed assessment and a current audience.

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