It is easier to love Haydn, for here was a man who quarreled with no one but his wife, hailed his competitors as his friends, suffused his music with gaiety, and was constitutionally incapable of tragedy.
He had no advantages of birth. His father was a wagonmaker and house painter at Rohrau, a little town on the Austro-Hungarian frontier. His mother had been cook for the counts of Harrach. Both parents were of Slavic-Croatian, not German, stock, and many of Haydn’s melodies echo Croatian songs. He was the second of twelve children, of whom six died in infancy. He was baptized Franz Josef Haydn; however, it was customary to call children by their second name.
Aged six, he was sent to live with a relative, Johann Matthias Franck, who kept a school in Hainburg. There his day began with classes from seven to ten, then Mass, then home for dinner, then classes from twelve to three, then instruction in music. He was trained to piety, and never lost it. His mother longed to make him a priest, and she was deeply grieved when he chose the hazardous life of a musician. Franck encouraged the boy’s predilection for music, taught him all that was in his own range, and held him to a severe regimen of study. In old age Haydn recalled and forgave: “I shall be grateful to that man as long as I live for keeping me so hard at work, though I used to get more floggings than food.”26 After two years with Franck, Joseph was taken to Vienna by Georg Reutter, Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s; Reutter thought his “weak, sweet voice” could find some modest place in a choir. So, at the age of eight, the timid-eager lad went to live in the Kantorei, or Singers’ School, adjoining the stately cathedral. There he received lessons in arithmetic, writing, Latin, religion, singing, and violin. He sang in the cathedral and in the Imperial Chapel, but he was so poorly fed that he welcomed calls to sing in private homes, where he could fill his stomach besides singing his songs.
In 1745 his brother Michael, five years his junior, joined him in the Kantorei. About this time Joseph’s voice began to break. He was invited to keep his soprano by having himself castrated, but his parents refused consent. Reutter kept him as long as possible; then, in 1748, Joseph, now sixteen, found himself free and penniless, and with no grace of person to win fortune’s smile. His face was pitted with smallpox, his nose was outstanding, his legs were too short for his body, his dress was shabby, his gait awkward, his manner shy. He was not yet skilled in any instrument, but he was already turning over compositions in his head.
A fellow chorister offered him an attic room, and Anton Buchholz lent him 150 florins, which honest Haydn later repaid. He had to fetch water up to his garret every day, but he secured an old clavier, took pupils, and survived. On most days he worked sixteen hours, sometimes more. He played the violin in a church; he played the organ in the private chapel of Count Haugwitz, minister to Maria Theresa; he sang tenor, now and then, in St. Stephen’s. The famous Metastasio had an apartment in the same building; he secured Haydn as music teacher for the daughter of a friend; through Metastasio Haydn met Porpora; Haydn agreed to serve this prince of singing masters in any capacity, in return for instruction in composition. He received the precious lessons, cleaned the maestro’s shoes, coat, and wig, and provided clavier accompaniment for Porpora and pupils. Said Haydn in retrospect: “Young people can learn from my example that something can come out of nothing. What I am is all the result of the direst need.”27
Through his new friends he became acquainted with Gluck and Dittersdorf, and several members of the nobility. Karl Joseph von Fürnberg took him (1755) for a long stay at his country house, Weinzierl, near Melk; there Haydn found an orchestra of eight pieces, and some leisure to compose. Now he wrote his first quartets. To the sonata structure of three movements, which he adopted from Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach, he added a minuet, scored the four movements for four pieces, and gave the instrumental quartet its modern form. He returned to Vienna in 1756, attracted distinguished pupils like the Countess von Thun, and (1759) accepted the post of Musikdirektor for Count Maximilian von Morzin, whose private orchestra of twelve to sixteen pieces played at Vienna in winter and, in summer, in the Count’s villa at Lukavec in Bohemia. For this ensemble Haydn wrote his first symphony (1759).
As he was now earning two hundred florins per year, with board and lodging, he thought he could risk the gamble of marriage. Among his pupils were two daughters of a wigmaker; he fell in love with the younger one, but she became a nun, and the father prevailed upon Haydn to marry the sister, Maria Anna (1760). She was thirty-one, he twenty-eight. She proved to be quarrelsome, bigoted, wasteful and barren. “She doesn’t care a straw,” said Haydn, “whether her husband is an artist or a cobbler.”28 He began to look at other women.
The audience in Morzin’s home occasionally included Prince Pál Anton Esterházy. When Morzin disbanded his orchestra the Prince engaged Haydn (1761) as assistant music director for his country seat at Eisenstadt in Hungary. The contract called for four hundred florins per year with a seat at the officers’ table; and “it is especially observed that when the orchestra shall be summoned to perform before company, the … musicians shall appear in uniform, … in white stockings, white linen, and … a queue or a tiewig.”29 At Eisenstadt the Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, busied himself with church music; Haydn prepared concerts and composed music for them. He had under him fourteen musicians, seven singers, and a chorus chosen from the servants of the Prince. The small size of the orchestra, and the character of the audience, shared in determining the light and amiable quality of the music written by Haydn for the Esterházy family. His genial spirit made him popular with the musicians; they called him “Papa Haydn” soon after his coming to Eisenstadt, though he was then only twenty-nine.30 For them he composed sonatas, trios, quartets, concertos, songs, cantatas, and some thirty symphonies. Many of these compositions, though by contract they belonged to the Prince, were published or circulated in manuscript, in Vienna, Leipzig, Amsterdam, Paris, and London, and gave Haydn, by 1766, an international reputation.
When Pal Anton died (March 18, 1762) he was succeeded, as head of the Esterházy family, by his brother Miklós József, who loved music almost as much as his diamond-studded uniform. He played well on the viola di bordone (a variant of the viola da gamba), and was a kindly master to Haydn in the nearly thirty years of their association. Said Haydn: “My Prince was always satisfied with my works. I not only had the encouragement of constant approval, but as conductor of an orchestra I could make experiments, observe what produced an effect and what weakened it, and was thus in a position to improve, alter, … and be as bold as I pleased. I was cut off from the world, there was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.”31
Werner died on March 5, 1766, and Haydn became Kapellmeister. Soon afterward the household moved into the new palace—the Schloss Esterházy—which Miklós had built at the southern end of the Neusiedler See in northwestern Hungary. The Prince was so fond of this place that he lived there from early spring through autumn; in winter he removed, sometimes with his musicians, to Vienna. The players and singers resented this rural isolation, especially since they were separated, for three seasons of the year, from their wives and children; but they were well paid, and dared not complain. Once, to hint to Miklós that his musicians were longing for a leave of absence, Haydn composed the Farewell Symphony (No. 5), in which, toward the end, one instrument after another disappeared from the score, the musician put out his candle, took up his music and his instrument, and left the stage. The Prince saw the point, and arranged for an early departure of the troupe to Vienna.
Haydn, by exception, was allowed to have his wife with him at Esterháza, but he did not appreciate the privilege. In 1779 he fell in love with Luigia Polzelli, a mediocre singer who had been engaged for Esterháza along with her violinist husband Antonio. Haydn seems to have felt that since the Catholic Church did not allow him to divorce his troublesome wife, it should, in mercy, permit him a diversion or two; and he made little effort to conceal his liaison. Antonio was too old and ill to make effective protest, and knew that he was kept on the rolls only because the Kapellmeister relished Luigia. She had come to Esterháza with a two-year-old son; in 1783 she bore another boy, whom gossip credited to Papa Haydn; he took both the boys to his heart, and helped them throughout his life.
During those busy years at Esterháza Haydn, lacking outside stimulus and competition, developed slowly as a composer. He produced nothing memorable till he was thirty-two—an age at which Mozart had completed his oeuvre except for The Magic Flute and the Requiem. Haydn’s finest works came after he was fifty: his first major symphony when he was nearly sixty, The Creation when he was sixty-six. He wrote several operas for performance at Esterháza, but when Prague invited him to present an opera there, in a series that was to include The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, he demurred in a letter of noble modesty (December, 1787):
You desire an opera buff a from me.... If you intend to stage it at Prague I cannot oblige you. My operas are inseparable from the company for which I wrote them, and would never produce their calculated effect apart from their native surroundings. It would be quite another matter if I had the honor of being commissioned to write a new opera for your theater. Even then, however, it would be a risk to put myself in competition with the great Mozart. If I could only inspire every lover of music, especially among the great, with feelings as deep, and comprehension as clear, as my own, in listening to the inimitable works of Mozart, then surely the nations would contend for the possession of such a jewel within their borders. Prague must strive to retain this treasure within her grasp, but not without fitting reward. The want of this often saddens the life of a great genius, and offers small encouragement for further efforts and future times. I feel indignant that Mozart has not yet been engaged at any imperial or royal court. Pardon my wandering from the subject; Mozart is a man very dear to me.32
Haydn himself was longing for some court where his talent might more widely spread its wings, but he had to be content with royal compliments. Gifts arrived from Ferdinand IV of Naples, Frederick William II of Prussia, and the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna of Russia. In 1781 Charles III of Spain sent him a golden snuffbox set with diamonds, and the Spanish ambassador at Vienna traveled to Esterháza to present the little treasure in person. Perhaps Boccherini, then settled in Madrid, had a hand in this, for he so zealously adopted Haydn’s style that he was nicknamed “Haydn’s wife.”33 When the cathedral chapter at Cadiz decided to commission a musical setting for the “Seven Last Words of Our Saviour” it applied to Haydn, who responded with an oratorio (1785) that was soon performed in many lands—in the United States as early as 1791. In 1784 a Paris producer asked for six symphonies; Haydn obliged with six Paris Symphonies. Several invitations came to him to conduct concerts in London. Haydn felt bound to Esterháza by loyalty as well as contract, but his private letters revealed his increasing eagerness for a larger stage.
On September 28, 1790, Prince Miklós József died. The new Prince, Anton Esterházy, cared little for music; he dismissed nearly all the musicians, but kept Haydn nominally in his service, gave him a yearly pension of fourteen hundred florins, and allowed him to live wherever he pleased. Haydn almost precipitately moved to Vienna. Several proposals were now made to him, most urgently from Johann Peter Salomon, who announced, “I have come from London to fetch you; we shall conclude our accord tomorrow.” He offered £300 for a new opera, £ 300 more for six symphonies, £ 200 more for their copyright, £200 more for twenty concerts in England, £ 200 more for a concert to be given there for Haydn’s benefit—£1,200 in all. Haydn knew no English, and dreaded the Channel crossing. Mozart begged him not to take on such labors and risks: “Oh, Papa, you have had no education for the wide world, and you speak so few languages!” Haydn answered, “But my language is understood all over the world.”34 He sold the house Prince Miklós József had given him in Eisenstadt, provided for his wife and his mistress, and set off on the great adventure. He spent with Mozart the final days before departure. Mozart wept to see him go; “I’m afraid, Papa, that this will be our last farewell.”
Haydn and Salomon left Vienna December 15, 1790, and reached London January 1, 1791. His first concert (March 11) was a triumph. The Morning Chronicle ended its report by saying: “We cannot suppress our very anxious hope that the first musical genius of the age may be induced by our liberal welcome to take up his residence in England.”35 All the concerts went well, and on May 16 a benefit concert gladdened Haydn with £350. In that month he attended the Handel Commemoration Concert in Westminster Abbey and heard the Messiah; he was so impressed that he wept, saying, humbly, “Handel, the master of us all.”36 Burney suggested that Oxford give the new Handel an honorary degree; it was offered; Haydn went up to the university in July, became a doctor of music, and conducted there his Symphony in G Major (No. 92); he had composed it three years before, but henceforth history knew it as the Oxford Symphony. Its lovely slow movement recalls the old English ballad “Lord Randall.”
Having had a view of the English countryside as a divine transfiguration of seed and rain, Haydn, after returning to London, gladly accepted invitations to country houses. There and in the city he won many friends by his cheerful readiness to play and sing at private gatherings. He took advanced pupils to teach them composition. One of these was a comely and wealthy widow, Johanna Schroeter. Though he was sixty the aura of his fame went to her head, and she tendered him her love. He said later, “In all likelihood I should have married her if I had been single.”37 Meanwhile his wife importuned him to come home. In a letter to Luigia Polzelli he grumbled: “My wife, that infernal beast, wrote me so many things that I was forced to answer that I was never coming back.”38
Despite three women on his conscience and his purse, he worked hard and now composed six (Nos. 93-98) of his twelve London Symphonies. They show a remarkable development from his productions at Eisenstadt and Esterháza. Perhaps Mozart’s symphonies had stimulated him, or he had been put on his mettle by the reception given him in England, or hearing Handel had stirred in him depths untouched by his quiet environment in the Hungarian hills, or his love affairs had moved him to tender sentiments as well as simple joy. He found it difficult to leave England, but he was under contract with Prince Anton Esterházy, who now insisted that Haydn return to share in the festivities prepared for the coronation of the Emperor Francis II. So, toward the end of June, 1792, he braved the Channel again, passed from Calais to Brussels to Bonn, met Beethoven (then twenty-two), attended the coronation at Frankfurt, and reached Vienna July 29.
No newspaper mentioned his return, no concerts were arranged for him, the court ignored him. Mozart would have welcomed him, but Mozart was no more. Haydn wrote to the widow, offered gratis lessons to Mozart’s son, and urged publishers to print more of Mozart’s music. He went to live with his wife in the house which is now preserved as a Haydn museum (Haydngasse 19). The wife wished him to put the property in her name; he refused. His quarrels with her were intensified. Beethoven came in December, 1792, to study with him. The two geniuses did not harmonize: Beethoven was proud and domineering; Haydn called him “that great Mogul,”39 and was too absorbed in his own work to correct his pupil’s exercises conscientiously. Beethoven secretly found another teacher, but continued to take lessons from Haydn. “I have learned nothing from him,” said the young Titan;40 however, many of his early pieces follow Haydn’s style, and some were dedicated to the old master.
Appreciation of Haydn grew in Austria, and at Rohrau, in 1792, Count von Harrach set up a monument to the town’s now famous son. But the memory of triumphs and friendships in England was still warm, and when Salomon offered him a second engagement in London, with a commission to write six new symphonies, the composer readily agreed. He left Vienna on January 19, 1794, and reached London on February 4. This stay of eighteen months in England was as heartening a success as the first. The second set ofLondon Symphonies (Nos. 99-104) was well received, a benefit concertnetted Haydn £400, pupils paid him a guinea per lesson, and Mrs. Schroeter lived nearby. He was again a favorite with the aristocracy; both the King and the King’s enemy, the Prince of Wales, received him; the Queen offered him a residence at Windsor for the summer if he would remain in England for another season. He excused himself on the ground that the new Prince Esterházy was summoning him, and he could not so long absent himself from his wife (!). Prince Anton had died; his successor, Prince Miklós II, wished to restore orchestral performances at Eisenstadt. So, his trunks packed and his pockets full, Haydn left London August 15, 1795, and made his way home.
After a visit to his own statue at Rohrau, he reported to Miklós II at Eisenstadt, and organized music for various occasions there. Except for summer and autumn, however, he lived in his own house on the outskirts of Vienna. In the years 1796-97 Napoleon was driving the Austrians before him in Italy, and the rise of revolutionary sentiment in Austria threatened the Haps-burg monarchy. Haydn recalled how the emotion aroused by the singing of “God Save the King” had strengthened the Hanoverian dynasty in England; might not a national anthem do likewise for Emperor Francis II? His friend Baron Gottfried van Swieten (son of Maria Theresa’s physician) suggested this to Count von Saurau, minister of the interior; Saurau appointed Leopold Haschka to compose a text; the poet responded with “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, unsern guten Kaiser Franz!” Haydn adapted to these words the tune of an old Croat song, and the result was a simple but stirring anthem. It was first publicly sung on the Emperor’s birthday, February 12, 1797, in all the principal theaters of the Austro-Hungarian realm. It continued, with some change of words, to be the Austrian national hymn until 1938. Haydn developed the melody, with variations, into the second movement of his string quartet Opus 76, No. 3.
Still under the spell of Handel, Haydn tried next to rival the Messiah. Salomon had offered him a libretto compiled from Milton’s Paradise Lost; van Swieten translated the libretto into German, and Haydn composed his massive oratorio Die Schöpfung. The Creation was performed before an invited audience in the palace of Prince von Schwarzenberg April 29-30, 1798. So great a crowd gathered outside the palace that fifty mounted police (we are assured) were needed to keep order.41 The Prince financed a public performance in the National Theater March 19, 1799, and gave all the proceeds (four thousand florins) to the composer. The auditors greeted the music with almost religious fervor; soon the oratorio was heard in almost every major city in Christendom. The Catholic Church condemned the composition as too lighthearted for so august a theme, and Schiller agreed with Beethoven in ridiculing Haydn’s mimicry of Eden’s animals; but Goethe acclaimed the work, and in Prussia it was more frequently performed in the nineteenth century than any other choral composition.
Van Swieten offered another libretto, adapted from James Thomson’s The Seasons. Haydn labored over it for nearly two years (1799-1801), at much cost to his health; The Seasons, he said, “has broken my back.” The première (April 24, 1801) was well received, but the piece aroused no wide or lasting enthusiasm. After conducting The Seven Last Words of Christ for a hospital benefit, Haydn retired from active life.
His wife had died on March 20, 1800, but he was now too old to enjoy his freedom, though not too old to enjoy his fame. He was recognized as the dean of composers; a dozen cities voted him honors; famous musicians—Cherubini, the Webers, Ignaz Pleyel, Hummel—came to pay him homage. Nevertheless rheumatism, dizziness, and other ailments left him melancholy, irritable, and fearfully pious. Camille Pleyel, visiting him in 1805, found him “holding a rosary in his hands, and I believe he passes almost the whole day in prayer. He says always that his end is near. … We did not stay long, for we saw that he wished to pray.”42 In that year a false report spread that Haydn had died. Cherubini wrote a cantata on his death, and Paris planned a memorial concert with Mozart’sRequiem; then word came that the old man was still alive. When Haydn heard of this he remarked, “I would have traveled to Paris to conduct the Requiem myself.”43
He made his last public appearance on March 27, 1809, when The Creation was sung at the University of Vienna to celebrate his approaching seventy-sixth birthday. Prince Esterházy sent his carriage to take the invalid to the concert; Haydn was borne in an armchair into the hall amid an audience of nobles and celebrities; princesses wrapped their shawls around his shivering body; Beethoven knelt and kissed his hand. Emotion overcame the old composer; he had to be taken home in the intermission.
On May 12, 1809, Napoleon’s artillery began to bombard Vienna. A cannonball fell near Haydn’s house, shaking it and the inmates, but Haydn assured them, “Children, don’t be frightened; where Haydn is no harm can come to you.” It proved true except for himself; the bombardment shattered his nervous system. When the French took the city Napoleon ordered a guard of honor to be placed before the composer’s home. A French officer, entering, sang an aria from The Creation in “so manly and sublime a style” that Haydn embraced him. On May 31 he died, aged seventy-seven. All the major cities of Europe held services in his memory.
Haydn’s historic achievement was in the development of musical forms. He gave the orchestra a new vitality by balancing the strings with wind and percussion instruments. Building upon the work of Sammartini, Stamitz, and Karl Philipp Emanuel Bach, he established the structure of the sonata as the exposition, elaboration, and recapitulation of contrasted themes. He prepared the divertimento for Mozart as less formal than the suite, and better adapted for social gatherings. He gave the string quartet its classic configuration by extending it to four movements, and by giving the first movement “sonata form.” Here his successors had to use the same number and quality of instruments that Haydn had employed, and he achieved in several instances a cheerful and tender loveliness to which some of us return with relief from the laborious involutions of Beethoven’s later quartets.
Nine or ten of the 104 Haydn symphonies still live. The names they bear were not his choice, but were applied by commentators or editors. We have noted elsewhere the evolution of the sinfonia (i.e., assembled sounds) from the overture through the experiments of Sammartini and Stamitz; many others preceded Haydn in molding the structure of the “classic” symphony; and when he emerged from Esterháza into a wider world he was not too old to learn from Mozart how to fill out the structure with significance and feeling. The Oxford Symphony marks his rise to greater amplitude and power, and the London Symphonies show him in his fullest symphonic reach. No. 101 (the Clock Symphony) is delightful, and No. 104 is quite up to Mozart.
Generally we perceive in his music a kindly, gracious nature which may never have felt the depths of grief or love, and which had been compelled to produce too rapidly to permit the maturing of concept, theme, or phrase. Haydn was too happy to be profoundly great, and spoke too often to say much. And yet there is a treasure of pure and placid delight in these playful scores; here, as he put it, “the weary and worn, or the man burdened with affairs, may enjoy some solace and refreshment.”44
Haydn fell out of fashion soon after his death. His works reflected a stable feudal world, and an environment of aristocratic security and ease; they were too gay and self-content to satisfy a century of revolutions, crises, and romantic ecstasies and despair. He came back into favor when Brahms praised him and Debussy wrote Homage à Haydn (1909). Men then realized that though the Raphael and the Michelangelo of music who followed him poured deeper thought with subtler mastery into their compositions, they were able to do this because Haydn and his predecessors had molded the forms to receive their gold. “I know that God has bestowed a talent upon me,” Haydn said, “and I thank Him for it. I think I have done my duty, and been of use; … let others do the same.”45