Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Farewell Symphony

The Farewell Symphony

Anna Harwell Celenza
Illustrator:  Joann E. Kitchel 
For ages 5 to 10
Charlesbridge, 2000   ISBN: 978-1570914065

Prince Nicolas is not an easy man to please, especially if you are his court composer. For Joseph Haydn and the musicians in the orchestra life is just one performance after another; in the palace, the gardens, for dinner, for dances, when guests arrive, music needs to be played. It is a whirl of activity which is made all the more complicated when the Prince goes to his summer palace in Hungary for the summer.

At first all is well but as the summer wears on the musicians in the orchestra start to miss their families. They ask Haydn if he would ask the Prince to let them send for their wives and children to join them but the Prince will not allow such "impertinence" and if the musicians want to keep their jobs they had better not bring up the subject again. Haydn and his musicians resign themselves to being without their families for a few more weeks.

Unfortunately after a few weeks have gone by the Prince still does not return home. Fall is all around them and they are all still far from their loved ones. Haydn has to come up with some way to make the Prince understand that it is time to go home. In the end what clever Haydn does is to give the Prince the message in musical form. Haydn writes the Farewell Symphony. Through the music Haydn expresses the feelings of the musicians; their anger, their sorrow, and their dislike. The last movement in the piece in particular made the Prince think as one by one the musicians leave the stage as the piece is being played.

The author of this unique book brings Haydn’s dilemma to life and helps the reader understand how the clever composer used music to get a point across. It is interesting to discover that there is a real story behind a piece of music, a story full of the normal problems of everyday life.