The West

Prolific composer s story is finally told
Joseph Haydn. Picture: Supplied.

Award-winning British filmmaker Phil Grabsky has been making documentaries for 25 years.

His cinema, TV and DVD films include Muhammad Ali: Through the Eyes of the World, The Boy who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, The Boy Mir: Ten Years in Afghanistan, Leonardo Live and the first-ever 3-D arts film, Tim Marlow on British Sculpture at the Royal Academy of Arts. And, of course, the hugely popular - especially here in Australia - In Search of Mozart and In Search of Beethoven.

Now comes Grabsky's In Search of Haydn, a documentary about the life and music of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), one of the greatest and most prolific composers of all time.

Like the previous two films of what forms a loose Viennese classical trilogy, In Search of Haydn features interviews with leading musicologists, extracts from the composer's personal letters and superlative performances of extended musical extracts by such artists as pianists Ronald Brautigam and Emanuel Ax, orchestras Les Talens Lyriques and The Orchestra of the 18th Century, the Endellion String Quartet and The Classical Opera Company.

"With Mozart I could assume that people would have Tom Hulce (who played Mozart in the movie Amadeus) in their minds," Grabsky says on the line from London. "Then along the way I could say 'Well, he wasn't actually like that'.

"With Beethoven you think: deaf, miserable, throwing things around, leaving his chamber pot under the piano . . . actually, he wasn't like that either."

With Haydn it was different. "Most people have no idea of him at all. So this was my approach 'This is the man Mozart and Beethoven looked up to. You know nothing about him: this is his biography. More importantly, have a listen to his music'."

Here are some bare facts to get you started: owing to long periods of stable employment, Haydn's life was largely uneventful, though he did have a long-running affair with an opera singer and his musical triumphs in Paris and London are legendary. As a composer, he has been credited with virtually inventing the string quartet and developing the modern symphony. His music is witty, charming and highly inventive - and the music of Mozart and Beethoven is unthinkable without it.

Like Haydn, Grabsky ranges far and wide when it comes to forms and subject matter. And yet there is an underlying theme to his work.

So what is the connection between an 18th century Austrian composer with a boy growing up in contemporary Afghanistan?

"The connection is human potential," Grabsky says. "Whether you're a servant of a court in 18th century Austria or a poor yet hardworking, cheeky and optimistic young boy living in northern Afghanistan, both are wonderful examples of what we can achieve under difficult circumstances." <div class="endnote">


The West Australian

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