Joseph Haydn – A Man and Artist: As He Lived

Music of Yesterday

A Man and Artist: As He Lived

by W.S.B. Mathews.

haydnJoseph Haydn is an epoch making figure in the development of what we properly call “modern music”. It was his lot to be born of a music loving parentage, although in humble circumstances, and at an early age to be inducted into the duties of a choir boy in one of the largest cathedrals of the world, where he distinguished himself for years as solo artist, meanwhile receiving a little instruction in other departments of music and practicing it diligently – living in music. After his voice began to change, he had some years of hand to mouth existence as teacher of violin, organ or piano, and as musician in each one of the capacities, wherever he could find opportunity, to earn a little money. Meanwhile he composed persistently and with his boon companions made music diligently whenever opportunity offered. The story is well known of the street players attracting the attention of a nobleman by the quality of the serenade they played, and the author of this charming music turning out to be also one of the players themselves. It was Haydn – actuated, no doubt, by the double motive of picking up a little money of of trying his new and consequently favorite work upon a public where it would stand or fall upon its own merits.

After some years of this kind of experience, which as an all around education was by no means to be despised, it was Haydn’s good fortune to be appointed chief of the musical establishment of one of the wealthiest and most cultivated nobleman in the whole world, Prince Esterhazy. In this position he remained in active service for about thirty years, producing a constant succession of novelties of every kind, from opera for marionettes to grand opera, symphony and all grades of chamber music. He did this not for an employer of the modern kind, seeking merely for magnificence, but for an empoyers who was himself a good musician.

Much has been made by some writers of his lowly condition, his “eating with servants” and the like. He did eat with servants. So we all do if we eat with those who work, for all who work are servants, although some are of more honor than others. The higher ministry of the Esterhazy establishment must have contained a considerable number of men and women of character, ability and breeding. Just as we now see the great corporations employing “servants” upon salaries larger than the people of this flourishing country pay to Theodore Roosevelt, so also in the Esterhazy establishment there must have been not a few men of an order superior to any with whom Haydn had previously been brought into close contact. The standard of conduct was also high, as we learn from the terms of the contract which Haydn signed. The contract begins by carefully discriminating the boundaries of the authority of the worn out director, one Gregorius Werner, and that of the new vice-kapellmeister, and then goes on:

“The said Joseph Haydn shall be considered and treated as a member of the household. Therefore His Serene Highness is graciously pleased to place confidence in his conducting himself as becomes an honorable official of a princely house. He must be temperate, not showing himself overbearing towards his musicians, but mild and lenient, straightforward and composed”. “Seeing that the other musicians are referred for directions to the said vice-kapellmeister, therefore he should take the more care to conduct himself in an exemplary manner, abstaining from undue familiarity and from vulgarity in eating, drinking and conversation, not dispensing with the respect due him, but acting uprightly and influencing his subordinates to preserve such harmony as is becoming in them”.

Thus Joseph Haydn found himself, at the age of twenty nine, placed in a position of distinct honor and confidence, under obligations to remain a gentleman, if he were already one, or to become one straightway if he had the art still to acquire. Was ever composer better placed to develop his talents unhampered?

The old Prince Paul Anton lived only a year to enjoy the services of his new musical director. But he was succeeded by Prince Nicolaus, know later as “The Magnificent”, for his fondness of show, who was a kind hearted man, an enthusiastic musician, playing the barytone, a viol now obsolete, and so closely related to the musical life of his private orchestra and opera that no less than 175 compositions are catalogued by Haydn for this instruments with varying accompaniment – in all of which the Prince was the solo artist. It necessarily follows, from the active participation of the Prince in the music, that he followed with a living appreciation the constant efforts of his musical director to add to the entertainment of the guests.

In 1764 the grand palace at Esterhaz was opened, a place credited with having cost several millions of dollars, and of being comparable in magnificence with Versailles only. This became the habitual residence of the Prince, and there he was all the time surrounded by a circle of guests, attracted from all parts of the world, attracted by his own reputation and the fame of the place – guests of the most diversified talents and celebrity, royalty being a not infrequent visitor. It was the desire of the Prince to have the best musical establishment in Europe, and he looked to Haydn to give it to him. Naturally he took a vast pride in the growing celebrity of his musician, and no doubt promoted his growing reputation through his own appreciation and taking pains to demonstrate to his guests the charming musical inventor absorbed in his service.

The variety of the musical demands upon him in Esterhaz was most extraordinary. There was a theatre of marionettes, which were made to play serious drama and grand opera. “Armide”, for instance, was a favorite character, and for this drama, Haydn wrote music. There was a complete opera company of singers, and for this Haydn wrote music to the number of eight or ten operas, some of which were elaborate and serious. Unfortunately nothing remains of this part of his work except a few extracts, because the music itself was burned in the theatre, in 1779, and although immediately rebuilt the Haydn compositions of years of labor could not be so readily replaced.

It does not appear, from Haydn’s rather scanty biographical material, that he was at all given to political discussion, or to giving himself trouble in his mind regarding the way in which it pleased the nobility and royalty to manage the world in which he lived; performing his own duties according to his best talents, he naturally depended upon his superiors to do the same in their more responsible position.

It gives a striking impression of his reputation when we read of his agreeing with William Forster, of London, as early as 1781, to supply certain music on condition of his being paid royalties for the English publication. In pursuance of this agreement, Forster published within the ensuing six years no less than 82 symphonies, 24 quartets, 24 vocal pieces (solos, duets and trios) and “The Last Seven Words” – a series of instrumental Adagios, each meant to last ten minutes, for church use upon Good Friday. He afterwards wrote some choruses and solos to this work for performance at Esterhaz. The very large number of symphonies by Haydn which Forster published during the short period of six years is conclusive measure of his commanding reputation as a great composer.

Haydn’s active service lasted until the death of his patron, in 1790, when, upon his accession, Count Anton immediately reduced his musical establishment to the needs of the church service. Prince Nicolaus had pensioned Haydn in his will with the annual sum of 1000 florins; this the new Prince augmented by 400 florins more upon condition that he retain the name of kapellmeister to the Esterhazy establishment, his only exacted service consisting of supplying new music for two occasions in every year.

As symphonist he greatly advanced instrumentation, because, as he himself said, having an orchestra under his continual control, he was able to try things and improve until a sought for effect had been reached. For instrumental music in general, and especially for the sonata form, he performed for music a very important service, in bringing into it more of the spirit of the folksong than had previously been the case.

Many circumstances confirm the belief that the Britons perfected fold melody, resting upon the natural symmetries and the principal chords of the keys; several centuries before like forms were in use elsewhere. Particularly important was their service in discovering the art of the sentimental melody, having natural pathos, universally appreciable, by reason of its simplicity and tender grace. While this foundation gradually made its way into popular music, it was condemned by the church writers all the way down, and yet all the church writers had been boys of the people, and their counterpoint more and more squared itself by plain ideas of harmony, until we find Handel frankly diatonic, and at the same time predominantly metrical, with underlying expectations of phrases of two measures and periods of eight.

I suppose that this sort of thing must have been introduced into Italian opera just as soon as some clever composer realized the obligation to give the serving man music to sing after his kind. But it never began to get into instrumental music much, excepting into dance forms, until Haydn created the spirit for it and Mozart showed the beautiful effect of such melodies. Now, while there is always under the Haydn music this metrical expectation of the radical symmetries of the dance, there are not so very many melodies of this kind. In one of the symphoines in D, for instance (No. 5, in the Wittmann collection – Peters), the Largo Cantabile is a very pretty melody of this kind, and I do not think that any example can be found earlier than Haydn. So, also, in the sonatas for piano, we have in the finale (in minuet rhythm) of the 3d sonata in the Schirmer Library the symmetries of the folk song kept up for some time. In the Adagio of the same there is a charming Cantilena, embellished after the Italian style of the day.

It was a great opportunity for Haydn that so soon after his duties had ceased at Exterhaz the London visits gave him occasion to go over his work and cull out for this new market the bets features’ and these we find in the London symphonies. Moreover, the London visit gave him new life. It brought him into a new and very strong environment. His concerts were pecuniarily successful, he was in demand for all sorts of private entertainments, in which royalty itself was not lacking, and he met other and fresher specimens of “the handsomest woman in the world”, an ideal which had ever haunted him in Vienna. He had already taught the young Mozart, whom, he had assured his father, he regarded as the equal of, or superior to, any other composer in the world. The London episodes occupied much of the time during five years, he being each time in London during two musical seasons.

The conclusion of this study points plainly to the even and sincerer elements in the Haydn personality; to his indefatigable industry as composer, and to the fact that his music is always primarily musical, while the element of emotional expression is much less marked in his works than in those who came after him, or even in those of Bach himself. I think there were two Haydns – a before Mozart Haydn and an after Mozart Haydn, for Mozart died while Haydn was in London the first time. When Haydn came back to Vienna he composed his “Creation” and his “Seasons”, works in which Mozart elements of very tender sweetness are more marked than in any of his purely instrumental works.

The symphony form of Haydn, Mozart enlarged and greatly ennobled; after Mozart, Beethoven continued the deepening and the broadening. But the form Haydn had more to do with establishing than Mozart; Beethoven, however, made his own sonata form, that is, he added elements of his own.