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Giving Haydn his head ...

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Denis McCaldin Denis McCaldin | 10:57 UK time, Monday, 6 July 2009

haydn_death_mask.jpgMonday to Friday the 6th - 11th July must be the best week so far for Haydn on Radio 3. Although I don't quite follow the logic of scheduling it just over a month after his anniversary, I'm delighted that there's so much on offer. Because the dates fall between the end of Wimbledon and the beginning of the Proms, it fits nicely into my timetable, and hopefully in many other listeners' diaries too. Daily programmes start with Breakfast and conclude with The Essay at 11 pm.

A recent Radio 3 blog was about 'visual radio', and the advances in digital techniques that went into making the recent BBC Phil video of their Bridgewater Hall concert available on the iPlayer. For me, the chance to catch some of this week's rarities is even more of a bonus. Ever since my schoolboy days of wolfing down my tea to listen to various radio serials, I've wanted to be able to catch up with missed programmes, and this week the iPlayer should be a great boon.

The first programme I want to be sure to catch is The Return of Tobias, scheduled for Monday 6 July at 6.45 pm. Performances of this score are rare because although there is some fine music, the libretto it is in the old Italian oratorio style and is woefully undramatic. It was premiered in 1775 for the Viennese equivalent of our Musicians' Benevolent Fund and was a big success. There were only three choruses, the remainder being recitatives and gargantuan arias in the opera seria style. When Haydn revived it for the same charity in 1784, he pruned many of the arias and added two new choruses. The second 'Svanisce in un momento', is a tempestuous D minor piece which anticipates The Storm featured in the BBC Philharmonic concert currently on the iPLayer. Haydn was too shrewd a businessman not to see the value of this chorus, and later issued it separately with sacred words as 'Insanae et vanae curae'.

I'm particularly glad to see The Essay series scheduled for each weekday at 11 pm. This is kind of project that radio does exceptionally well. Monday has the Bishop of Salisbury on the late masses, where I hope he will underline the influence of the Handel oratorios that Haydn heard in London. Haydn and Cosmology (Wednesday) will hopefully expand on the ideas Charles Hazlewood introduced into his recent TV documentary. As a medical expert, Robert Winston should bring something special to the Haydn's Head programme on Friday. After his burial, some well-wishers arranged for Haydn's head to be cut off and sent to Vienna University for phrenological examination. They had the misguided idea that they might find out something about giftedness from his cranial bumps! Much skullduggery [sic] followed, and incredibly, it was not until 1954 that the composer's head and body were finally reunited!

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