Josef Haydn

haydnJoseph Haydn seems to us now a figure of the remote past, so great have been the changes in the world of music since he lived. But his name will always be read in the golden book of classical music, and whatever the revolutionary processes of art may bring, the time will never come when his most important works will be forgotten. Compared with Mozart, however, we notice a strange dissimilarity. The popularity of Haydn has decreased while that of Mozart has considerable increased since their day. In fact, while Haydn in his lifetime became a dominating figure in the world of music and reaped a rich harvest of fame and earthly goods, only a few of the immense quantity of his works have preserved their vitality up to the present time. On the contrary, Mozart, who had to fight with squalid misery and was buried in the grave of the poor, has risen after his death to the most exalted height and his instrumental works as well as his operas have still in cur modern day a place of honor on the stage and on the concert platform. It will be interesting to investigate the reasons for this odd dispensation of fortune.

Haydn’s life was a long, sane and, on the whole, fortunate existence. For many years he remained obscure, but if he had his time of trial he never experienced a time of real failure.

With practical wisdom he conquered the fates and became eminent. In the history of art his position is of the first importance. He was the originator of the string quartet and of the symphony and he established the basis of the modern orchestra. Without him Beethoven would have been impossible.

Franz Joseph Haydn was born on the last day of March, 1732, at Rohrau, a small town on the confines of Austria and Hungary. His father was a cartwright and his mother before her marriage had been a cook in the family of Count Harrach, the lord of the village. The father united to his trade the office of parish sexton. He had a fine tenor voice, was fond of the organ and music in general. On one of those journeys which the artisans of Germany often undertake, being at Frankfort0on-the-Main, he learned to play a little on the harp and in holidays after church he used to play this instrument while his wife sang. The birth of Joseph did not alter the habits of this peaceful family. The little domestic concert was repeated every week and the child sawed an accompaniment on an improvised fiddle.

A cousin of the cartwright, whose name was Frankh, a schoolmaster at Hainburg, came to Rohrau one Sunday and assisted at the trio. He remarked that the child, then scarcely six years old, kept the time with astonishing precision, and as he was well acquainted with music he proposed to his relations to take little Joseph to his home and to teach him the first elements of music.

He set out accordingly for Hainburg in 1738. Frankh, who gave his young cousin, to use Haydn’s own expression, “more cuffs than gingerbread,” soon taught his young pupil not only to play the violin and other instruments, but also to understand Latin and to sing at the parish desk in a style which spread his reputation through the district.

A drummer being wanted for a local procession, young Haydn undertook the part. Unfortunately he was so small of stature that the instrument had to be carried before him on the back of a colleague. That this colleague happened to be a hunchback only made the incident more ludicrous. Haydn had rather a partiality for the drum, “a satisfying instrument,” as Meredith says, “because of its rotundity.” According to Pohl, the particular instrument upon which he performed on the occasion is still preserved in the choir of the church of Hainburg.

The schoolmaster’s wife seems to have had peculiar views about cleanliness. She compelled the boy to wear a wig. “I could not help it,” Haydn remarked to Dies, his friend and biographer, “much to my own distress, that I was gradually getting very dirty and though I thought a good deal of my little person, I was not always able to avoid spots of dirt on my clothes, of which I was dreadfully ashamed.”

At all events, even if deplorable neglected in these personal matters, he was really making progress with his art. Haydn himself, looking back upon these days, says: “Our Almighty Father, to Whom above all I owe the most profound gratitude, had endowed me with so much facility in music that even in my sixth year I was bold enough to sing some masses in the choir.”

Haydn had been two years with Frankh when a piece of good fortune befell him. Chance brought to Frankh’s home Reutter, the Court Capellmeister of St. Stephen cathedral church of Vienna. He was in search of children to recruit his choir. The schoolmaster proposed his little relative. Reutter gave him a canon to sing at sight. The precision, purity of tone, the expression with which the child executed it, surprised him, but he was especially charmed with the beauty of his voice. He only remarked that he did not shake and asked him: “How is it that you cannot shake?” “How can you expect me to shake,” replied the boy, “when Herr Frankh himself cannot shake?” The great man, then drawing the child toward him, taught him to make the vibrations in his throat required to produce this special effect. The boy immediately made a good shake and Reutter, enchanted with the success of the child scholar, flung a handful of cherries into Haydn’s cap and, of course did not return along to Vienna; he took the young shaker, then about eight years old, along with him. Vienna was now to be Haydn’s home for ten years.

Many interesting details have been printed regarding the Choir School of St. Stephen and its routine in Haydn’s time. The “cantorei” or choir school was of very ancient foundation – as early as 1441. The school consisted of a cantor (later Capellmeister), a sub-cantor, two ushers and six scholars. They all resided together and had meals in common. But, although ample allowance had originally been made for the board, lodging and clothing of the scholars, the increased cost of living resulted in the boys of Haydn’s time being poorly fed and scantily clad.

At thirteen haydn tried to compose a mass, but was ridiculed by Reutter, and being full of good sense at that early period the boy was aware, therefore, of the necessity of learning harmony and counterpoint. None of the masters of Vienna, however, would give lessons gratis to a boy of the choir who had no patronage. On the other hand, “sweet are the uses of adversity,” since a master would have prevented him from committing some faults, but would probably have suffocated his originality.

Like Rousseau he bought, at a second hand shop some theoretical books, among others Gradus parnassum of Lux and Mattheson’s Volkommener Capellmeister, dry treatises which Haydn made his constant companions. Without either money or fire, shivering with cold in his garret, oppressed with sleep as he pursued his studies to a late hour of the night by the side of a harpsichord out of repair and falling to pieces in all parts, he was still happy. The days and years flew on rapid wings, and he has often said that he never enjoyed such felicity at any other period of his life. Although it may sound paradoxical, these hardships and obstacles were instrumental in fecundating and fructifying his genius, and to this self teaching Haydn owes, most likely, the gigantic steps he made in art.

At the age of nineteen he was expelled from the class of choristers in consequence of a mischief he perpetrated, cutting off the pig tail of one of his comrades. Obliged to seek a shelter, chance threw in his way a wig maker named Keller, who, when at the cathedral, had often admired the beauty of the boy’s voice, and who offered him an asylum. Keller received him as a son, sharing with him his humble fare and charging his wife with the care of his clothing Haydn was, consequently, able to pursue his studies. His residence here had, however, a fatal influence on his future life. Keller had two daughters. His wife and he soon planned to marry one of them to the young musician, and spoke to him on the subject. Haydn, absorbed in his own meditations, made no objection. It is easy to understand that such an union was anything rather than happy. As Haydn himself remarked, it did not matter to her whether he were a cobbler or an artist. She used his manuscript scores as curling papers and under-lays for the pastry, and wrote to him later, when he was in England, for money to buy “a widow home,” in the belief that Haydn would die before he returned.

In 1759 Prince Esterhazy, a Hungarian nobleman of enormous wealth and passionately devoted to music, appointed Haydn as vice-cappellmeister in his service. It was certainly a providential event for Haydn, for it freed him from anxiety about his daily bread; but the conditions of the agreement would be considered today as utterly humiliating for an artist. Here are some of them:

“When the orchestra shall be summoned to perform before company, the vice-capellmeister and all the musicians shall appear in uniform, and the said Joseph Haydn shall take care that he and the members o the orchestra shall appear in white stockings, white linen, and either with a pigtail or a tiewig.”

“He shall abstain from undue familiarity and from vulgarity in eating, drinking and conversation.”

These and other similar conditions have afforded matter for a good deal of astonishment and indignation at the thought of a great composer placed in the position of a servant! However, these things should be judged in relation to the customs of the age. There was no idea in Haydn’s native country of the dignity of art, at any rate so far as musicians were concerned. Mozart, also had to live with the archbishop’s household and dine at the servant’s table!

Haydn had been about a year in the service, when Prince Anton died (1762). He was succeeded by his brother, Nicolaus, who rejoiced in the soubriquet of “The Magnificent.” Nicolaus loved ostentation and glitter above all things, wearing a uniform bedecked with diamonds. He loved music, was a performer himself and played the “baryton,” a stringed instrument similar to the viola da gamba, something between a viola and violoncello, in general use up to the end of the eighteenth century. Haydn was continually pestered to provide new works for the noble player and thought it would flatter him if he himself learned to handle the baryton. This was a mistake, for when Haydn made his debut with the instrument the prince gave him to understand that he disapproved of such rivalry. Haydn wrote a surprising amount of music for the baryton, no fewer than one hundred and seventy-five compositions. They have gone to oblivion together with the instrument which called them into life.

At this time he wrote also several quarters and symphonies. His fame wasnow manifestly spreading. thus the Viener Diarium for 1766 includes him among the most distinguished musicians of Vienna, and describes him as “the darling of our nation.” “His amiable disposition,” says the panegyrist, “speaks through every one of his works. His music had beauty, purity and a delicate and noble simplicity which commends it to every hearer.”

In regard to his personal appearance, his biographers say that Haydn was below the middle height and his legs were somewhat too short for his body. His expression was animated, yet at the same time temperate and gentle. His face wore a stern look when is repose, but in conversation it was smiling and cheerful. His nose was aquiline and disfigured by a polypus, which he always refused to have removed, and his face was deeply pitted with the smallpox. This latter disease was probably the cause of the dark complexion which earned him the byname of “the Moor.” His under-lip was large and hanging, his jaw massive.

Haydn considered himself an ugly man and felicitated himself on the fact that it must be for something deeper than beauty that so many women fell in love with him! In fact, Haydn took considerable pains to attract the fairer sex, and he was never at a loss for the suave turning of a compliment. To the day of his death he would never receive visitors unless he was fully dressed; and the arrangement of his room was so exact and methodical that the least disorder caused him much annoyance. The plan which he had laid down for himself in his eighteenth year he continued, with very little alteration, to the end of his life. It was one of incessant industry, and it might serve to prove the exception to the rule which characterized all genius as whimsical and irregular. Haydn spoke in the broad Austrian dialect, and his conversation was sprinkled with the humorous turns of expression common to the Austrian people. He spoke Italian fluently and a little French.

Haydn’s Income

The salary he received was not large as we would now consider it – about $390 yearly, in addition to which he had certain allowances in kind – but it was sufficient to free him from financial worry, had it not been for the extravagance and bad management of his wife. His compositions also brought him some profits. He may have saved ?200 before 1796, the year he started for London. The fact is that when he set out for the English capital he had not only to draw upon the generosity of the prince for the cost of the journey, but had to sell his home to provide for his wife until his return.

At Esterhaz, the home of the prince, he wrote nearly all his operas, most of his arias and songs, the music for the “marionette theater” (of which he was particularly fond) and the great part of his orchestral and chamber works. the operatic works were essentially pieces d’ occasion and most of them have perished.

Haydn, like all geniuses, had a host of opponents. In 1778 he applied for membership to the Tonkunstler Societat, for whom he had written his oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia. Once would have expected such a body to receive him with open arms. Instead of that they asked a sum of 300 florins for the admission and the promise to compose for them whenever they chose to ask him. These exorbitant conditions, probably dictated by jealousy, were not accepted by Haydn, and he withdrew his application. As often happens with similar musical organizations, they delay the recognition of a fellow musician until he has become famous, and then, when he does not need their support any more, they run after him and are eager to honor him. In fact, later, after his second visit to London, when the entire world hailed him as a musical hero, the Tonkunstler Societat welcomed Hadyn, at a special meeting and with one voice appointed him “assessor senior” for life. In return for this distinction Haydn was generous (or weak?) enough to forget the previous affront and to present the society with his immortal oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons.

If Haydn was thus less appreciated at home than he deserved to be, there were others who knew the full value of his work. The king of Spain, to whom Haydn sent the score of his opera, L’isola Disabitata, showed his sense of the honor by the gift of a gold snuff-box set in brilliants. Other marks of royal attention were bestowed upon him by Prince Henry of Prussia, who sent him a gold medal and his portrait in return for the dedication of six new quartets; and Kind Wilhelm, who gave him the famous gold ring which Haydn used to regard as a talisman, which he always wore when composing.

Haydn no doubt catered to the favor of royalty. The miraculous power he attributed to that ring is a  proof that, according to his views, “inferior beings” owe a real worship to the might of the earth. In return for this devotion powerful monarchs rewarded him with their high patronage. In our democratic times we would surely not recommend such servility as worthy of imitation, although we must take notice of the fact that this was one of the principal causes of the artistic and pecuniary success of Haydn. Bad enough that other great musicians who – like Mozart and Beethoven – disdained to “stoop to conquer” had to suffer in consequence of their noble pride.

We have seen that Haydn’s marital life was far from happy. It is therefore no wonder that Haydn sought compensation in some other affection. Among the musicians who had been engaged for the Esterhazy service were a couple named Polzelli; the husband a violinist, the wife a second rate vocalist. Luigia was a lively Italian girl of nineteen. Also her marriage seems not to have been made in Heaven, and Haydn first pitied her and ultimately fell passionately in love with her. Signora Polzelli was clearly an unscrupulous woman.

Unlike Mozart, Haydn took into consideration that one cannot live on glory alone. He entered into business relations with Artaria, the Vienna music publisher, and William Foster of London. The latter published eighty-two symphonies, twenty-four quartets and the Seven Words of Our Saviour on the Cross. This oratorio he composed for Cadiz. Haydn tells us about this solemn ceremony. The bishop ascended the pulpit, pronounced one of the “Seven Words” and delivered a discourse thereon. Then came the music. The bishop then proceeded in like manner with the second work, and so on, the orchestra falling in at the conclusion of each discourse. This work created a profound impression. It was published afterwards with choruses and solos, and the composer seems to have preferred it to all his other compositions.

The Visit to London

With the death of the Prince in 1790 the Esterhazy chapter of Haydn’s artistic career came to a close, and Haydn embraced the opportunity to carry out the long meditated project of paying his first visit to London. The violinist Salomon was going to organize in London a series of concerts on a large scale and he went to Vienna to engage Haydn. It was no easy decision to embark on such an extensive journey. First of all he was near sixty. One of his reasons for his hesitation was the deep attachment to Mozart. “I only wish,” he said, “I could impress upon every great man the same deep sympathy and profound appreciation I myself feel for Mozart’s iminitable music; then all nations would vie with each other to possess such a genius within their frontiers. It enrages me to think that the unparalleled Mozart is not yet engaged at any Imperial Court. I love that man so dearly!” Mozart heartily reciprocated this affection.

This noble trait alone would stamp Haydn as a lofty figure in art. It sounds almost like fiction that a musician – unfortunately musicians are inclined to jealousy and envy – should feel so deep a veneration for a younger rival and – what is more – give him the benefit of such an enthusiastic testimonial which would alone suffice to establish his fame. We should all take this wonderful example of altruism as our guiding star. “Oh, papa!” Mozart said to Haydn, in loving anxiety over his departure for England, “you have had no education for the wide, wide, world, and you speak so few languages.” Haydn answered: “My language is understood all over the world.”

At length Salomon won the point and everything was arranged for the London visit. Haydn was to have:

One thousand dollars for a benefit concert.

The composer paid his traveling expenses, being assisted in that matter by an advance of four hundred and fifty florins for the prince, which he refunded later.

The hospitality with which he was received in London gratified Haydn extremely. He wrote to Frau von Genzinger, an amiable and highly cultivated woman, for whom he entertained a pure and elevating friendship, that his presence in London having been announced in all newspapers within three days of his arrival and he had received the most flattering attentions from the nobility. Haydn soon gauged the musical taste of the English public. He doubted as to which of two evils he should choose; whether to insist on his stipulated composition being placed in the first part of the concert program, when its effect would have been marred by the continual noisy entrance of late comers, or in the second, when the considerable portion of the audience would be asleep before it began! Haydn chose the latter as the preferable alternative and the loud chord (Paukenschlag) of the Andante in his Surprise Symphony is said to have been a very comical device he hit upon for rousing the slumberers.

On this occasion Haydn witnessed a “Handel Festival.” He had never before heard a performance in which the orchestra and the chorus together numbered a thousand persons. The solo singers and instrumentalists were the best of the day. A guinea was the price of admission and an advertisement in the Gazetteer announced that “ladies will not be admitted in hats and are particularly requested to come without feathers and with very small hoops if any.” When at the Hallelujah Chorus the whole assemble, including the King, rose to their feet, Haydn wept like a child, exclaiming in overpowering emotion, “Handel is the master of us all!”

Haydn received at Oxford the degree of Doctor of Music and his Oxford Symphony, composed for the occasion, was performed with great applause. His Doctor’s degree had some influence in causing him to be unusually feted. River parties, picnics and banquets were given in his honor, he was very often the guest of the nobility and was in every way lionized.

Upon Haydn’s return to Vienna the young Beethoven arranged to have lessons from him. It is generally known that these lessons were practically a failure, for Haydn after his great London success had grown above giving lessons even to a promising genius. In Vienna he was the idol of society and his whole time was occupied by engagements of many kinds and it cannot be denied that he neglected his pupil.

His second visit to London was still more successful. Haydn remarked in his diary: “It is only in England that one can earn 4,000 Gulden in one evening.” He was often invited to Carlton House by the Prince of Wales, who was himself a distinguished amateur; only he sometimes forgot to pay the soloists. Haydn, after waiting several months, at last sent from Vienna a bill for 100 guineas for twenty-six attendances at Carlton House, a very moderate demand which was discharged at once.

One of Haydn’s most original souvenirs followed him to Vienna from a Leicester manufacturer who sent him a complimentary letter accompanied by six pairs of stockings into which were woven airs from Haydn’s compositions. Another curious gift was that of a talking parrot which was sold for 1,400 florins after Haydn’s death.

Two Famous Oratorios

It is peculiar that the Creation and the Seasons, the two most important works of Haydn, were children of old age. The first of the two met with some hostility from his contemporaries. Schiller called it “a meaningless hodge-podge” and Beethoven made merry over its imitation of beasts and birds. The best parts of it however not those imitating natural sounds, but those which suggest the glorious phenomena of the creation, the sun, the moon, the ocean, etc.

The Seasons bears signs of mental effort. Perhaps the subject was not congenial to the author. The Emperor Francis Joseph once asked Haydn which of the two oratorios he himself preferred. “The Creation,” he answered, “because in this work angels speak, and their talk is of God. In the Seasons no one higher speaks than the farmer Simon.” Both oratorios, however, added considerable to Haydn’s fame and fortune. The effort was too much for him. An illness followed, which left him a broken man. To Dies he exclaimed: “The Seasons brought on my weakness. I ought never to have undertaken that work.” He composed very little after that.

After several years of seclusion Haydn appeared in public for the last time (1808) when the Creation was performed in Vienna. Salieri conducted. Haydn’s entrance into the Hall of the university where the concert was given was announced by a burst of trumpets and drums and by loud cheers of the audience. Haydn was so much excited over the enthusiasm that it was thought well to take him home at the conclusion of the first part. As he was carried out Beethoven stooped to kiss his hands and forehead.

Haydn died May 31, 1809, at the age of 77 years, as Vienna was being bombarded by the French. On the 15th of June Mozart’s Requiem was performed at the SchottenKirche. Many French officers were among the mourners and the guard of honor was chiefly composed of French soldiers.

Haydn had a kind of fear of his own narrow individuality, which he considered often an obstacle to the free display of fantasy and invention. He frequently put down on paper a certain number of notes taken at random, marked the time, and obliged himself to make something out of them.

Bland, a London publisher, had been sent over to Vienna by Salomon (7\1787) to coax Haydn into an engagement. When he was admitted he found the composer in the act of shaving, and complaining of the bluntness of the razor. “I would give by best quartet for a good razor!” Bland immediately ran back to his lodging and returning with his own razors of good English steel, presented them to Haydn, who gave him in exchange his latest quartet still familiarly known as the Rasirmesser Quartett (Razor quartet).

Elements of Haydn’s Success

The reduced circumstances of his youth which prevented him from taking lessons, which would probably have moulded his genius into narrow, restraining rules and, as often happens, dimmed his originality.

The hardships he had to suffer during the time of his artistic development which, compelling him to seek his own way without and guidance, instead of harming his career resulted in fecundating and fructifying his musical gifts.

His obsequiousness toward those who stood highest upon the social ladder, which won him their patronage, honors and wealth. Haydn was evidently satisfied that it was the duty of an artist to pay homage to the mighty of the earth.

The practical trend of his nature which, in spite of his loft ideals, did not allow him to lose sight of the fact that “the jingling of the guinea helps the hurt that honor feels.”

The unselfish recognition and ungrudging praise he bestowed upon his fellow artists, which found the noblest expression in his behavior toward the transcending Mozart.