What’s “Haydn” in the Sibley Music Library?

January 19, 2015

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Librarian David Peter Coppen truly amazes me every time I meet with him to do research in Sibley’s Rare Books collection. Not only does he bring forth interesting documents, but he also points out other findings that set those items in context. I call him a musical detective and his passion for looking at clues is contagious.

To highlight the upcoming summer graduate seminar “Joseph Haydn’s Legacy,” David and I looked at samples from a collection of 190 items related to Haydn. This collection includes treasures too numerous to list in this blog but here are my personal highlights:

• The manuscript for “Canzonetta,” an excerpt from Philemon und Baucis, a Singspiel based on Book 8 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; in this puppet opera gods such as Jupiter and Mercury mix with lowly humans.
• First editions of the oratorio Die Worte des Erloesers am Kreuze (Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross) and the first complete edition of the string quartets.
• Facsimiles of the manuscripts of the “Farewell” Symphony (which features a seal from the Esterhazy Archives, pictured above) and the Piano Sonata no. 6 in A Major.

Holding such artifacts in your hands is very humbling at first, but looking at Haydn’s handwriting and seeing ink blotches and scratches over unwanted bars brings a sense of humanity to a composer who died over two centuries ago. Feeling the paper, as thick and soft as cloth, and the note heads embossed by the printing plates made me pause and think that today’s composers may have it easy with Finale, but beautifully printed music is a piece of art in itself.

– Sylvie Beaudette

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