Few would argue with the statement that Haydn composed some of the most important and brilliant music in the Western classical canon. And the older I get, the more I am finding that his compositions (in a similar way to Bach’s) have the power to restore balance when I feel off-key, and enrich my days.
But Haydn’s music isn’t just for miserable old fogeys; I consistently find that even the youngest of my students quickly learn to enjoy his music more than most, its appealing melodies and jaunty, humorous spirit never far away.
Of course, children (and older beginners) can only make this discovery if teachers make a point of introducing Haydn’s oeuvre to their students. And Schott Music’s latest publications My First Haydn may be just the ticket for ensuring this happens.
The book joins Schott’s imaginative “My First…” series of music books, each featuring a major keyboard composer. I have previously reviewed My First Schumann and My First Beethoven and My First Haydn follows the same format to a tee, so do check those earlier reviews.
But for now let’s dig into this latest in the series…
The “Easiest Piano Pieces”…
Haydn wrote such an astonishing wealth of keyboard music that editor Wilhelm Ohmen must have felt spoilt for choice.
As a brief aside, for those interested in gaining an overview of this repertoire, I heartily recommend Eleanor Bailie’s excellent The Pianist’s Repertoire: Haydn (available here), which includes in-depth pedagogic advice about Haydn’s entire output, together with a graded list of his most important pieces.
From this abundant storehouse, Ohmen picks:
- A selection of 6 Minuets
- A selection of 10 German Dances
- Andante from Symphony No.53 “L’Impériale” (arr. Emonts)
- Andante from Sonata in C (Hob.XVI:1)
- Sonata in G major Hob.XVI:8 (complete)
- Scherzo from Sonata in F major Hob.XVI:9
- Sonata in C major Hob.XVI:35 (complete)
- Serenade from String Quartet in F (arr. Ohmen)
- Andante from Symphony No.94 “Surprise” (arr. Ohmen)
- Presto from Sonata in G major Hob.XVI:11
- Variations in G major Hob.XVII:2
- Il Maestro e lo scolare Hob.XVII a/1 (Piano Duet)
- Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (from The Emperor Quartet) (arr.Haydn)
This is an enterprising and welcome selection, with plenty of very easy short pieces suitable for elementary players (UK Grade 2) as well as two complete Sonatas (the G major Hob.XVI:8 is suitable for around Grade 2-3, while the C major Hob.XVI:35 would suit players around Grade 6 level, and makes an excellent first “complete” Sonata).
On balance, I think that this collection offers the best introduction to Haydn’s music that I’ve yet come across.
As with previous titles in this series, the book enjoys a vividly illustrated cover reminiscent of a children’s encyclopaedia. Within, the 64 pages appear on quality cream paper.
After the Contents page, there’s a timeline and succinct biography of the composer which appears in both German and English. The information is minimal, but hopefully sufficient to awaken curiosity and inspire further investigation.
The music is beautifully engraved, with spacious notation and ample fingering suggestions throughout. Dynamic markings (largely absent in Haydn’s keyboard writing) are few, Ohmen having wisely (in my view) resisted the temptation to add editorial markings.
Ornament realisations are explained in small music text, and a quick comparison of the Sonatas with the benchmark Wiener Urtext Edition revealed consistent reliability here.
In short, this is a fine example of the helpful but low-key editing that I consider perfect for educational publications at this level.
With this series I wonder whether the presentation is perhaps pitched at a younger audience than the content itself. That said, one of my adult students has been collecting the set and regards the cover images as “nostalgic”, a salient reminder that we should never prejudge any book by its cover!
For younger players, this latest arrival could prove to be the most useful of the series yet, given the music’s suitability, range and appeal. As with the previous books, My First Haydn includes enough material, and at a sufficiently broad level, to keep players happily returning and dipping in over a 2-4 year period.
I can only commend editor Wilhelm Ohmen for his excellent musical choices, expert editing and overall vision for the series. This really is an ideal place to start anyone’s exploration of the great keyboard music of Haydn!