Music With Ease

Music with Ease > Classical Music > Francis Joseph Haydn

Francis Joseph Haydn
(Franz Joseph Haydn)

Sound -- immortal Music sound!
Bid the golden Words go round!
Every heart and tongue proclaim
Haydn’s power, and Haydn’s fame!
-- Barry Cornwall

So much for the first pair of great composers. They can be followed chronologically and conveniently by another pair-Haydn and Mozart. Though Bach and Handel never met, Haydn and Mozart often did. They had a sincere regard for each other too. It was Mozart who, recognising his brother composer as his foster-father in music, called him by the fond title of "Papa Haydn," which sticks to him yet. We also, though for other reasons, may well call him "Papa." He was the father of most of the instrumental forms of music which are regarded as fixed forms to-day -- the symphony, the sonata, the string quartet, and the like. That is to say, he wrote works in these departments which every composer feels to be the right sort of models to follow; just as in writing a novel one might follow the model of Scott, or Dickens, or Thackeray. Haydn came into the world exactly at the right time. Music, before he began to write, had descended to the dead level of the commonplace, for the best days of Bach and Handel were over, and the other living composers were but pigmies by comparison. It was Haydn’s province to give music a fresh direction, and to raise up from the old foundation a new style at once pleasing and ennobling.

Francis Joseph Hayden

Francis Joseph Haydn began his career, to use his own phrase, as "a poor devil," lived to enjoy a comfortable competency, and died heavy alike with years and honours. He was born at Rohrau, a village on the confines of Austria and Hungary, on the 31st of March 1732. The home was a humble thatched structure of one story, with a barn attached. Though rebuilt (for it had been swept away by a flood), it still stands, much the same as it did when Haydn, then a celebrity, returned to Rohrau in 1795, and knelt down on its threshold and kissed the ground. Beethoven was shown a picture of it when lying on his deathbed. "Strange," he said, "that so great a man should have had so lowly an origin." Haydn was proud of his lowly origin because he had, as he put it, "made something out of nothing." His people were certainly poor enough. the father was a wheelwright, and the mother had been a nobleman’s cook. But both, luckily, were musical. The father was village organist: "a great lover of music," his famous son said, "and played the harp without knowing a note of music."

By and by the little Joseph, to give the composer the Christian name he usually bore, began, in his own childish fashion, to assist in the domestic concerts by pretending to play the fiddle with two pieces of stick. These "wooden" performances were not thrown away. One day a neighboring schoolmaster named Frankh happened to look in, and seeing the boy sawing bravely with his sham fiddle, offered to take him into his house and educate him. The wheelwright was delighted, and the mother gave her reluctant consent.

Frankh did fairly well by the boy, teaching him to read and write and to play on a real violin and several other instruments besides. Stories are told of his getting flogged when he should have got fed. But he was cheerful fellow, and in play hours he revenged himself by transferring the master’s blows to a big drum on which he practised a lot. There is a funny story told in illustration of his expertness with this same instrument. A drummer was wanted for a procession, and Frankh fixed on Haydn. Haydn did not mind, but he was so small that the drum had to be carried before him on the back of another boy, who happened to be a hunchback. The effect must have been comical enough. Haydn retained his early skill on the drum. When rehearsing a concert during his second visit to London, the regular drummer was found to be absent. "Can any one here play the drum?" Haydn asked. "I can," promptly replied young George (afterwards Sir George) Smart, who was sitting among the violinists. But Smart somehow failed to satisfy the conductor, who, in fact, took the drumsticks from him, and after a practical illustration remarked, "That is how we use the drumsticks in Germany." "Oh, very well," replied the unbashed Smart, "if you like it better that way we can also do it so in London."

When Haydn was nearly nine he had a second piece of luck. The choirmaster of St. Stephen’s, Vienna, came to see schoolmaster Frankh. The musical prodigy was of course produced. He sang a song, and when it was finished the pleased visitor cried. "Bravo!" as he flung a handful of cherries into Haydn’s cap. "But my little man," he asked, "How is it you cannot do the shake?" for there was a trill in the song which Haydn had ignored. "How can you expect me to shake when Herr Frankh himself cannot shake?" was the bold reply. The result of this interview was Haydn’s being carried away to Vienna as a chorister in St. Stephen’s, where he was to spend the remaining years of such formal study as he ever passed through.

He tells us that he "learnt singing, the clavier, and the violin from good masters," besides writing and ciphering, and a little Latin and theology. His instinct for composition now began to assert itself, and he covered every scrap of music paper he could lay hands on. He would write for twelve voices as readily as for two, innocently believing that "it must be all right if the paper be nice and full." His masters seem really to have paid little attention to him, but he had the art of picking up things quickly, and by dint of hard work he managed to get on. "When my comrades were playing," he says, "I used to take my little clavier under my arm, and go out where I would be undisturbed so as to practise by myself."

It must not, however, be supposed that he was unlike other boys in the matter of fun and mischief. Thus we find him scrambling about the scaffolding when some additions were being made to the Imperial Chapel. The Empress had caught the St. Stephen’s choristers at this game more than once, but the boys paid no heed to her threats and prohibitions. One day when Haydn was balancing himself aloft, far above his schoolfellows, the Empress saw him from her windows and sent a Court official to "give that fair-haired blockhead a good thrashing." Many years afterwards, when he was bandmaster to Prince Esterhazy, the fair-haired blockhead had an opportunity of thanking the Empress for this mark of royal favour.

Haydn got on very well at St. Stephen’s until his voice began to break. So far the Empress had been pleased with his singing, but now she declared that "young Haydn sings like a crow." As if he could help his voice breaking! The opinion of the Empress was law to the choirmaster; so he began to look for an opportunity of getting rid of the boy. It came soon enough, and unfortunately it was Haydn himself who provided it. Always fond of practical joking, he one day tried a pair of new scissors on the pig-tail of a fellow chorister. The pig-tail was clean removed, and the joker was condemned to be caned. In vain Haydn begged to be let off, declaring he would rather leave than submit to the indignity. The choirmaster said he would have to leave in any case, but he must first be caned. So it was: at the age of sixteen Haydn was thrown out on the world, with "three wretched shirts and a worn-out coat," an empty purse, a keen appetite, and practically no friends.

He got himself housed in a miserable garret with an acquaintance named Spangler, and looked about for any and every means of earning a living. "For eight long years," he says, "I was forced to knock about wretchedly, giving lessons to the young." He did more than that. He sang in choirs, played at balls and weddings and baptisms, made arrangements of musical works for anybody who would employ him, and even took part in street serenades by playing the violin. Presently he gathered about him a few pupils, who provided him with at least the bare necessaries of life. Every spare moment he devoted to the study of composition. To his dingy attic he brought, one by one, as he could afford them, all the known theoretical works, and thoroughly mastered them without help. Ultimately he did get some assistance when he became accompanist to Niccolo Porpora, a famous singing-master of the time, whom Handel, who had some rivalry with him, used to call "Old Borbora." It is odd to rad of Haydn acting as a lackey to Porpora: blacking his boots and trimming his wig and brushing his coast and running his errands and -- playing his accompaniments. But Haydn apparently thought nothing of it. He wanted to fit himself for his profession, and he had to get his instruction as he went along, at whatever cost to his dignity.

Luckily his pecuniary affairs soon improved greatly. He raised his terms for pupils, and was fortunate enough to be appointed music director to the Bohemian Count Morzin, who kept an orchestra at his countryhouse. His salary from the Count amounted to about £20, with board and lodgings. It made in reality his only fixed and assured income. But he must have a wife, whatever his income! Up to this time he had not seemed to be "built for love." It is told of him that he got wildly agitated when he was accompanying a young Countess whose neckerchief became disarranged for a moment. But Haydn had several love affairs. For the present his fate was sealed. He had been giving lessons to the youngest daughter of a wig-maker named Keller. As often happens in similar circumstances (Mozart was a victim), he fell in love with his pupil, but for some unexplained reason she decided to wear, not a bride’s but a nun’s veil. "Never mind," said the wig-maker to Haydn, "you shall have my other daughter." And Haydn did have the other daughter, though she was three years his senior.

Her name was Anna Maria, and he married her, in November 1760, not for better but for worse. Frau Haydn, as some has described her, was "a regular Xantippe; heartless, unsociable, quarrelsome, extravagant, andbigoted." Carpani says she was "not pretty nor yet ugly." Her manners, he adds, "were immaculate, but she had a wooden head, and when she had fixed on a caprice there was no way to change it." She had an excess of religious piety which took forms that greatly disturbed her husband in his work. For she had the house always full of priests, and gave them grand dinners and suppers and luncheons, to which Haydn’s thrifty soul objected. Haydn said she did not care a straw whether he were an artist or a shoemaker. She used his music manuscripts as curling-papers and underlays for the pastry; and once when he was away from home she wrote to him that if he should die there was not enough money in the house to bury him. She even told him when he was in London that she had seen a charming house which would make her "such a nice widow’s residence," and asked him to send the cash to buy it. Frau Haydn saw out her seventy years without getting a taste of the widowhood she longed for. Haydn survived her nine years. He bought the house she had coveted, "and now," he wrote in 1806, "it is I who am living in it -- as a widower." That house (it stands in a suburb of Vienna) has been preserved by Haydn’s admirers almost as it was, and has been turned into a kind of museum containing portraits and mementos of the master, the original manuscripts of the Creation, and other interesting relics. What would Frau Haydn have thought if she could have foreseen all this?

For a long time Haydn tried making the best of it with her; but there came a day when he realised that to live entirely apart was the only solution of the problem. He made his wife a sufficient allowance, and he had the approval of his own conscience, which is all a man need think about. His was a childless union, and that no doubt embittered the situation. After the separation he fell in love with a married woman, an Italian singer named Polzelli, aged nineteen. She was not happy with her husband, and he had found his wife impossible; and they confided their sorrows to each other, and solaced themselves with flirtation. Haydn wrote to Polzelli that "if only four eyes were closed" they would get married. But the four eyes were long in closing, and by that time Haydn was disillusioned and too old to marry.

The composer’s engagement with Count Morzin soon came to an end, but he was almost immediately secured as musical director to the Esterhazy family, in whose service he remained for thirty years. Great families kept a band of their own in those days, and the Esterhazys were able by their wealth and vast possessions to maintain a sort of regal magnificence. The Esterhazy whom Haydn was engaged to serve was a man of extravagant tastes, who went about in a diamond-embroidered coat. He had an opera-house and a concert-room attached to his palace, and he gathered about him a large company of first-class performers, over whom Haydn was now set in command. To some natures the post would have proved tedious and irksome. But Haydn was a man of philosophic contentment, inclined to look rather at the advantages than the disadvantages of his situation. "As conductor of the orchestra," he says, "I could make experiments and observe effects, and was thus in a position to improve, alter , add, or omit as I pleased. It is true that I was cut off from the world, but I was safe from intrusion, and thus was I forced to become original."

At any rate, there was always plenty for the band-master to do. Royalties, nobles and aristocrats were constantly at Esterhaz, and the band was daily in request. The Prince was very proud of his musical establishment, and would have it regarded as the best of its kind in Europe. This meant for Haydn untiring rehearsal and drilling besides arranging works and writing original compositions. During his tenure of office he composed a large number of symphonies, operas, masses, concertos, trios, quartets, and other vocal and instrumental works. Gradually his music got to be known far and wide, and publishers were ready to bring out his compositions almost as fast as he could put them on paper. Invitations came to him to visit Paris and London. Bur for a long time he would no be drawn from his seclusion.

At last, in 1790, a violinist named Salomon made him promise to visit London. My name is Salomon," he bluntly announce, as he was shown into Haydn’s room one morning. "I have come from London to fetch you. We will settle terms to-morrow." Three years before this, a London music publisher named Bland had gone over to Vienna to try and coax him. When he called, Bland found him shaving, and complaining loudly of the bluntness of his razor. "I would give my best quartet for a good razor," he exclaimed impatiently. Bland took the hint and hurried off to fetch a better tool. Haydn was as good as his word. He presented Bland with his latest quartet, which is still commonly known as the Razor Quartet.

Well, Salomon succeeded where Bland had failed: Haydn agreed to go to London. The arrangement was that he should have £300 for sic symphonies and £200 for their copyright; £200 for twenty new compositions to be produced by himself at the same number of concerts; and £200 from a benefit concert. This was tempting, yet Haydn was not quite happy about going. A long journey was not to be lightly undertaking in those pre-railway days, and Haydn was nearly threescore. Moreover, he felt parting with his friends, especially with Mozart, "a man very dear to me." As he said. It was a beautiful thing, this regard of the two greatest composers of their time for each other. Haydn called Mozart "the most comprehensive, original, extraordinary musical genius ever known in this or any age or nation." Once he wrote: "I only wish I could impress upon every friend of mine, and on great men in particular, the same deep musical sympathy and profound appreciation which I myself feel for Mozart’s inimitable music; then nations would vie with each other to possess such a jewel within their frontiers… Forgive my excitement! I love the man so dearly." And Mozart loved him. A new string quartet of Haydn’s was being rehearsed, when Kozeluch, a popular composer who was jealous of Haydn, leaned forward to Mozart at a certain bold passage and whispered: "I would not have done that." "Nor I," promptly rejoined Mozart; "and do you know why? Because neither you nor I would have had such an idea." And now, when Mozart thought of parting with Haydn, he was sadly concerned. "Oh Papa," he said, "you have had no education for the wide, wide world, and you speak too few languages." When it came to the actual farewell, the tears sprang to his eyes, and he said affectingly: "This is good-bye; we shall never meet again." The words proved true. A year later Mozart was lying in a pauper’s grave. Haydn was inconsolable at the loss. When he started for home at the end of his London visit, his saddest reflection was that there would be no Mozart to meet him. His shrewish wife had tried to poison his mind against his friend by writing that Mozart had been disparaging his genius. "I cannot believe it," he cried; "if it is true, I will forgive him." As late as 1807, he burst into tears when Mozart’s name was mentioned, and then, recovering himself, remarked: "Pardon me! I must ever weep at the name of my Mozart."

Haydn did not like London so well as Handel and Mendelssoh did. His landlord charged him too much. Everything was "terribly dear." The fogs gave him rheumatism and made him wrap up in flannel from head to foot. The street noises worried him; and so on. But London made up for all this by its flattering reception of the visitor. He received so many invitations that he wrote home: "I could dine out every day." Poets praised him in doubtful verse; musical societies of all kinds made him their guest. He was introduced to no end of notabilities. One was Herschel, the great astronomer, who had been a poor musician before a lucky marriage put him in the way of fame. "His landlady was a widow," Haydn tells. "She fell in love with him, married him, and gave him a dowry of £100,000." Haydn was surprised at the idea of a man sitting out of doors to study the stars "in the most intense cold for five or six hours at a time." More interesting to him was Mrs. Billington. There is no more familiar anecdote than that which connects Haydn with Sir Joshua Reynold’s portrait of this distinguished vocalist. Haydn one day found Mrs. Billington sitting to Reynold’s, who was painting her as St. Cecilia listening to the angels. "It is like," said Haydn, "but there is a strange mistake. You have painted her listening to the angels, whereas you ought to have represented the angels as listening to her." Could compliment be more charming? At St. Paul’s Cathedral the visitor heard 4000 Charity Children sing, and was "more touched by this innocent and reverent music than by any I ever heard in my life." He went to Oxford to be made a Doctor of music, and grumbled at having to walk about for three days in his gorgeous robe of cherry and cream coloured silk. These excitements contrasted strangely with the quiet drowsy life of Esterhaz; and although Haydn evidently felt flattered, he often expressed a wish to escape from so much attention in order to get peace for work.

His concerts were a great success, though he was not altogether pleased with his audiences. Fresh from the dinner-table, they sometimes fell asleep during the slow movements of his symphonies, and naturally he did not like it. He had a keen sense of humour, and he thought of a little joke, which resulted in the well-known Surprise symphony. The slow movement of this symphony opens and proceeds in the most subdued manner, and just at the moment when the audience may be imagined to have comfortably settled for their nap, a sudden crashing fortissimo chord is introduced. "There all the women will scream," chuckled Haydn. It certainly gave them a "surprise!" If Haydn’s audience occasionally fell asleep, they at least paid their money; and, on the whole, he was perfectly satisfied. After his benefit concert, on May 16, 1791, he made the following graceful acknowledgement in the Morning Chronicle: "Mr. Haydn, extremely flattered with his reception in a country which he had long been ambitious of visiting, and penetrated with the patronage with which he has been honoured by its animated and generous inhabitants, should think himself guilty of the greatest ingratitude if he did not take the earliest opportunity of making his most grateful acknowledgements to the English Public in general, as well as to his particular friends, for the zeal which they have manifested at his concert, which has been supported by such distinguished marks of favour and approbation as will be remembered by him with infinite delight as long as he lives."

Thus ended the composer’s first visit to London. He came again in 1794, when a series of pre-arranged concerts brought him something like £2000, which made him comfortable for the rest of his days. During this visit the Prince Wales, afterwards George IV., "commanded" his attendance at Carlton House no fewer than twenty-six times. At one concert George III, and Queen Caroline attended, and Haydn was presented to the King. "You have written a great deal, Dr. Haydn," said George. "Yes, sire, more than is good for me," was the reply. "Certainly not!" rejoined his Majesty. He was then presented to the Queen, and asked to sing some German songs. "My voice," he said, pointing to the tip of his little finger, "is now no bigger than that"; but he sat down to the piano and sang one of his own songs. He was repeatedly invited by the Queen to Buckingham Palace, and she tried to persuade him to settle in England. "You shall have a house at Windsor during the summer months," she said; and then, looking towards the King, she added: "We can sometimes make music tête-à-tête." "Oh, I am not jealous of Haydn," interposed the King; "he is a good, honourable German." These pleasantries were all very well, but Haydn was not inclined to give his professional services even to royalty for nothing. He sent in a bill for a hundred guineas for his appearances at Carlton House and Buckingham Palace, and Parliament thought it expedient to pay the bill and say nothing. Among the other favours bestowed upon him during this visit, mention should be made of the present of a fine talking parrot, which was sold for £140 after his death.

When he went back to Vienna this time, in 1795, it was practically to retire from professional and public life. He had made money, and he could rest on his laurels. Yet it was after this, when he was sixty-six years old, that he composed the tuneful and brilliant oratorio of the Creation, a work which, perhaps, more than any other, has kept his name before the musical masses. It seems to have been directly prompted, by the hearing of Handel’s oratorios in London. He had attended the Handel Commemoration in Westminster Abbey in 1791, and was much impressed with the grandeur of the performances. When the Hallelujah Chorus was sung he wept like a child. "Handel is the master of us all," he said. "Never was I so pious," he afterwards wrote, "as when I was composing the Creation. I knelt down every day and prayed God to strengthen me for my work." The new oratorio made an extraordinary effect when first performed in 1798. The whole audience was deeply moved, and Haydn confessed that he could not describe his own sensations. "One moment," he said, "I was as cold as ice, the next I seemed on fire. More than once I was afraid I should have a stroke." It is recorded that Beethoven, alluding to the oratorio, once remarked to Haydn: "Oh! dear master, it is far from being a creation." But the story is very likely an invention.

The success of the Creation led Haydn to try another work somewhat on the same lines, and the result was the Seasons, a setting of Thomson’s poem, which has been performed by our choral societies times without number. It shows no trace of the "failing power" of which Haydn had now begun to complain. But the strain of its composition proved too much for him. Indeed he always said himself that the Seasons gave him the finishing stroke. His last years were a constant struggle with the infirmities of age; and when his presence was specially desired at a performance of the Creation in 1808, he had to be carried in an armchair to his place in the concert hall. At the words "And there was light" he was completely overcome, and pointing upwards exclaimed, "It came from thence." He became more and more agitated as the performance went on, and at last had to be carried out. People of the highest rank crowded around to take leave of him, and Beethoven fervently stooped and kissed his forehead, a pretty act of homage, in view of certain circumstances of which we shall learn later.

In the following year Vienna was occupied by the French, thanks to Napoleon’s rampage, and one day while the city was being bombarded a round-shot fell into Haydn’s garden. At the same time Beethoven was buried away in a cellar, his ears stuffed with cotton-wool, for he feared that the booming of the cannon might make his deafness worse. The French domination was a grief to the patriot Haydn, but he had no personal fear. Art is independent of nationality. Haydn’s music was well known and appreciated in France, and the conquerors paid every possible respect to the dying composer. The pleasing story of the French officer visiting him and singing "In native worth" at his bedside is familiar. On the 26th of May he called his household around him for the last time, and having been carried to the piano, played his own Austrian Hymn three times over in the midst of the weeping listeners. Five days afterwards, on the 31st of May 1809, Francis Joseph Haydn passed to his rest. Not long before, he had said regretfully: "I have only just learnt how to use the wind instruments, and now that I do understand them, I must leave the world."

They buried him in a churchyard not far from his house, and the grave remained unmarked for five years, when one of Haydn’s pupils raised handsome stone over it. Then, in 1820, Prince Esterhazy ordered the exhumation of the remains for re-interment near the scene of Haydn’s long labours at Esterhaz. When the coffin was opened, the startling discovery was made that the skull was missing. Inquiries were instituted, and it was proved that the desecration had taken place two days after the funeral. A wretched "student of phrenology" named Peter had conceived the idea of making a collection of skulls for study. He bribed the sexton and got Haydn’s skull. When he was done with it he passed it to another person, who buried it in his back-garden. Then, when he was dying, he ordered it to be restored to Peter, who in turn bequeathed it to a Dr. Haller, from whose keeping it subsequently found its way to the Anatomical Museum at Vienna, where it still is, and where in fact it formed the subject of a lecture in the spring of 1909. Its proper place is, of course, in Haydn’s grave.

There have been too many desecrations of this kind. We have already heard about the alleged Bach skeleton. When Beethoven’s grave was opened in 1863, a medical man was actually allowed to cut away the ear passages of the corpse to investigate the cause of the composer’s deafness, while some ghoulish person bolted with two of the teeth. Donizetti’s skull was stolen before the funeral, and was afterwards sold to a pork-butcher, who used it as a money-bowl! Fortunately in these later days we are more reverential in regard to memorials of the great dead.

Haydn’s figure does not seem to have been repossessing. His complexion was so dark that one called him a Moor and another a black. He was unusually pitted with smallpox, a universal disfigurement in those pre-vaccination times. His legs were short, and he had a long beaked nose, with nostrils of different shape. But who does not know Papa Haydn by his portraits? From these we can almost read his character. That face is, as Mr. Haweis says, notable quite as much for what it does not as for what it does express. No soaring ambition, no avarice, no impatience, very little excitability, no malice. On the other hand, it indicates a flow of even health, an exceeding good-humour, combined with a vivacity which seems to say: "I must lose my temper sometimes, but I cannot lose it for long"; a geniality which it took much to disturb, a digestion which it took more to impair; a power of work steady and uninterrupted; a healthy, devotional feeling (he was a devout Catholic); a strong sense of humour; a capacity for enjoying all the world’s good things, without any morbid craving for irregular indulgence; affections warm but intense; a presence accepted and beloved; a mind contented almost anywhere, attaching supreme importance to one thing, and one thing only -- the composing of music, and pursuing this object with the steady instinct of one who believed himself to have been sent into the world for that purpose alone. Such was Francis Joseph Haydn.

He told Carpani that at the thought of God his heart leaped for joy, and that he could not help his music he said, "that God has bestowed a talent upon me, and I thank Him for it. I think I have done my duty and been of use in my generation; let others do the same." He was fond of dress, always liked to compose in his best clothes, and if he meant to do anything particularly well, he put on a ring which had been presented to him by the King of Prussia. An entirely lovable man; and his music, though some superior persons would fain call it old-fashioned, is just as lovable.

Search this Site




See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

Music With Ease | About Us | Contact Us | Privacy | Sitemap | Copyright | Terms of Use

© 2005-23 All Rights Reserved.