High Drama at Haydn

Every year Joseph Haydn comes for a few days to the town in which I live when I’m in England. For about five days there are two concerts daily, and for me, it is a great luxury to have a string quartet playing almost on my doorstep. I am fond of Haydn’s chamber music.

But there is no disguising the fact that the little festival to celebrate the life and works of Papa Haydn has a definite atmosphere of its own, not so much fin de siècle as fin de-civilisation. Although I am myself a pensioner, I am usually by far the youngest member of the audience; the prevalence of walking sticks and other aids in the audience is very high.

Haydn: The Symphonies ... Buy New $699.99 (as of 10:40 EDT - Details) I appreciate that not everyone is at leisure to attend lunchtime recitals, though that does not explain the absence of middle-aged people and younger in the evening; and admittedly the tickets are not cheap. But neither does that explain the absence of a single young person in the audience. If there were some star of popular music at twice the price, the difficulty would be in keeping them out rather than in attracting them in; the money would be no object.

There was something strange and unusual about the audience that I noticed: It concentrated intensely and without difficulty. It did not feel that terrible itch that seems to affect most people nowadays—the need to be distracted from whatever they are doing something else, as if that something else were to bring them a satisfaction that their present activity does not. Where stimulation is constant, boredom inevitably results, and it is unassuageable. For those accustomed to constant stimulation, boredom is built into the very fabric of the universe, as it were, or even of being itself.

In one of the concerts, however, I realized that I was myself half-modern. In the middle of a string quartet I happened to look downwards in the direction of my breast pocket and there, to my horror, saw the red light of my telephone winking at me. I thought I had left this instrument of the devil at home, but evidently I was mistaken and had not. I think I must have blushed.

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