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Josef Haydn


Josef Haydn

By Harriette Brower

In Josef Haydn we have one of the classic composers, a sweet, gentle spirit, who suffered many privations in early life, and through his own industrious efforts rose to positions of respect and honor, the result of unremitting toil and devotion to a noble ideal. Like many of the other great musicians, through hardship and sorrow he won his place among the elect.

Fifteen leagues south of Vienna, amid marshy flats along the river Leitha, lies the small village of Rehrau. At the end of the straggling street which constitutes the village, stood a low thatched cottage and next to it a wheelwright's shop, with a small patch of greensward before it. The master wheelwright, Mathias Haydn, was sexton, too, of the little church on the hill. He was a worthy man and very religious. A deep love for music was part of the man's nature, and it was shared to a large extent by his wife Maria. Every Sunday evening he would bring out his harp, on which he had taught himself to play, and he and his wife would sing songs and hymns, accompanied by the harp. The children, too, would add their voices to the concert. The little boy Josef, sat near his father and watched his playing with rapt attention. Sometimes he would take two sticks and make believe play the violin, just as he had seen the village schoolmaster do. And when he sang hymns with the others, his voice was sweet and true. The father watched the child with interest, and a new hope rose within him. His own life had been a bitter disappointment, for he had been unable to satisfy his longing for a knowledge of the art he loved. Perhaps Josef might one day become a musician—indeed he might even rise to be Capellmeister.

Little Josef was born March 31, 1732. The mother had a secret desire that the boy should join the priesthood, but the father, as we have seen, hoped he would make a musical career, and determined, though poor in this world's goods, to aid him in every possible way.

About this time a distant relative, one Johann Mathias Frankh by name, arrived at the Haydn cottage on a visit. He was a schoolmaster at Hainburg, a little town four leagues away. During the regular evening concert he took particular notice of Josef and his toy violin. The child's sweet voice indicated that he had the makings of a good musician. At last he said: "If you will let me take Sepperl, I will see he is properly taught; I can see he promises well."

The parents were quite willing and as for little Sepperl, he was simply overjoyed, for he longed to learn more about the beautiful music which filled his soul. He went with his new cousin, as he called Frankh, without any hesitation, and with the expectation that his childish day dreams were to be realized.

A new world indeed opened to the six year old boy, but it was not all beautiful. Frankh was a careful and strict teacher; Josef not only was taught to sing well, but learned much about various instruments. He had school lessons also. But his life in other ways was hard and cheerless. The wife of his cousin treated him with the utmost indifference, never looking after his clothing or his well being in any way. After a time his destitute and neglected appearance was a source of misery to the refined, sensitive boy, but he tried to realize that present conditions could not last forever, and he bravely endeavored to make the best of them. Meanwhile the training of his voice was well advanced and when not in school he could nearly always be found in church, listening to the organ and the singing. Not long after, he was admitted to the choir, where his sweet young voice joined in the church anthems. Always before his mind was a great city where he knew he would find the most beautiful music—the music of his dreams. That city was Vienna, but it lay far away. Josef looked down at his ragged clothing and wondered if he would ever see that magical city.

One morning his cousin told him there would be a procession through the town in honor of a prominent citizen who had just passed away. A drummer was needed and the cousin had proposed Josef. He showed the boy how to make the strokes for a march, with the result that Josef walked in the procession and felt quite proud of this exhibition of his skill. The very drum he used that day is preserved in the little church at Hamburg.

A great event occurred in Josef's prospects at the end of his second year of school life at Hamburg. The Capellmeister, Reutter by name, of St. Stephen's cathedral in Vienna, came to see his friend, the pastor of Hamburg. He happened to say he was looking for a few good voices for the choir. "I can find you one at least," said the pastor; "he is a scholar of Frankh, the schoolmaster, and has a sweet voice."

Josef was sent for and the schoolmaster soon returned leading him by the hand.

"Well my little fellow," said the Capellmeister, drawing him to his knee, "can you make a shake?"

"No sir, but neither can my cousin Frankh."

Reutter laughed at this frankness, and then proceeded to show him how the shake was done. Josef after a few trials was able to perform the shake to the entire satisfaction of his teacher. After testing him on a portion of a mass the Capellmeister was willing to take him to the Cantorei or Choir school of St. Stephen's in Vienna. The boy's heart gave a great leap. Vienna, the city of his dreams. And he was really going there! He could scarcely believe in his good fortune. If he could have known all that was to befall him there, he might not have been so eager to go. But he was only a little eight-year-old boy, and childhood's dreams are rosy.

Once arrived at the Cantorei, Josef plunged into his studies with great fervor, and his progress was most rapid. He was now possessed with a desire to compose, but had not the slightest idea how to go about such a feat. However, he hoarded every scrap of music paper he could find and covered it with notes. Reutter gave no encouragement to such proceedings. One day he asked what the boy was about, and when he heard the lad was composing a "Salve Regina," for twelve voices, he remarked it would be better to write it for two voices before attempting it in twelve. "And if you must try your hand at composition," added Reutter more kindly, "write variations on the motets and vespers which are played in church."

As neither the Capellmeister nor any of the teachers offered to show Josef the principles of composition, he was thrown upon his own resources. With much self denial he scraped together enough money to buy two books which he had seen at the second hand bookseller's and which he had longed to possess. One was Fox's "Gradus ad Parnassum," a treatise on composition and counterpoint; the other Matheson's "The Complete Capellmeister." Happy in the possession of these books, Josef used every moment outside of school and choir practise to study them. He loved fun and games as well as any boy, but music always came first. The desire to perfect himself was so strong that he often added several hours each day to those already required, working sixteen or eighteen hours out of the twenty-four.

And thus a number of years slipped away amid these happy surroundings. Little Josef was now a likely lad of about fifteen years. It was arranged that his younger brother Michael was to come to the Cantorei. Josef looked eagerly forward to this event, planning how he would help the little one over the beginning and show him the pleasant things that would happen to him in the new life. But the elder brother could not foresee the sorrow and privation in store for him. From the moment Michael's pure young voice filled the vast spaces of the cathedral, it was plain that Josef's singing could not compete with it. His soprano showed signs of breaking, and gradually the principal solo parts, which had always fallen to him, were given to the new chorister. On a special church day, when there was more elaborate music, the "Salve Regina," which had always been given to Josef, was sung so beautifully by the little brother, that the Emperor and Empress were delighted, and they presented the young singer with twenty ducats.

Poor Josef! He realized that his place was virtually taken by the brother he had welcomed so joyously only a short time before. No one was to blame of course; it was one of those things that could not be avoided. But what actually caused him to leave St. Stephen's was a boyish prank played on one of the choir boys, who sat in front of him. Taking up a new pair of shears lying near, he snipped off, in a mischievous moment, the boy's pigtail. For this jest he was punished and then dismissed from the school. He could hardly realize it, in his first dazed, angry condition. Not to enjoy the busy life any more, not to see Michael and the others and have a comfortable home and sing in the Cathedral. How he lived after that he hardly knew. But several miserable days went by. One rainy night a young man whom he had known before, came upon him near the Cathedral, and was struck by his white, pinched face. He asked where the boy was living. "Nowhere—I am starving," was the reply. Honest Franz Spangler was touched at once.

"We can't stand here in the rain," he said. "You know I haven't a palace to offer, but you are welcome to share my poor place for one night anyway. Then we shall see."

It was indeed a poor garret where the Spanglers lived, but the cheerful fire and warm bread and milk were luxuries to the starving lad. Best of all was it to curl up on the floor, beside the dying embers and fall into refreshing slumber. The next morning the world looked brighter. He had made up his mind not to try and see his brother; he would support himself by music. He did not know just how he was going to do this, but determined to fight for it and never give in.

Spangler, deeply touched by the boy's forlorn case, offered to let him occupy a corner of his garret until he could find work, and Josef gratefully accepted. The boy hoped he could quickly find something to do; but many weary months were spent in looking for employment and in seeking to secure pupils, before there was the slightest sign of success. Thinly clad as he was and with the vigorous appetite of seventeen, which was scarcely ever appeased, he struggled on, hopeful that spring would bring some sort of good cheer.

But spring came, yet no employment was in sight. His sole earnings had been the coppers thrown to him as he stood singing in the snow covered streets, during the long cold winter. Now it was spring, and hope rose within him. He had been taught to have simple faith in God, and felt sure that in some way his needs would be met.

At last the tide turned slightly. A few pupils attracted by the small fee he charged, took lessons on the clavier; he got a few engagements to play violin at balls and parties, while some budding composers got him to revise their manuscripts for a small fee. All these cheering signs of better times made Josef hopeful and grateful. One day a special piece of good fortune came his way. A man who loved music, at whose house he had sometimes played, sent him a hundred and fifty florins, to be repaid without interest whenever convenient.

This sum seemed to Haydn a real fortune. He was able to leave the Spanglers and take up a garret of his own. There was no stove in it and winter was coming on; it was only partly light, even at midday, but the youth was happy. For he had acquired a little worm-eaten spinet, and he had added to his treasures the first six sonatas of Emmanuel Bach.

On the third floor of the house which contained the garret, lived a celebrated Italian poet, Metastasio. Haydn and the poet struck up an acquaintance, which resulted in the musician's introduction to the poet's favorite pupil, Marianne Martinez. Also through Metastasio, Haydn met Nicolo Porpora, an eminent teacher of singing and composition. About this time another avenue opened to him. It was a fashion in Vienna to pick up a few florins by serenading prominent persons. A manager of one of the principal theaters in Vienna, Felix Kurz, had recently married a beautiful woman, whose loveliness was much talked of. It occurred to Haydn to take a couple of companions along and serenade the lady, playing some of his own music. Soon after they had begun to play the house door opened and Kurz himself stood there in dressing gown and slippers. "Whose music was that you were playing?" he asked. "My own," was the answer. "Indeed; then just step inside." The three entered, wondering. They were presented to Madame, then were given refreshments. "Come and see me to-morrow," said Kurz when the boys left; "I think I have some work for you."

Haydn called next day and learned the manager had written a libretto of a comic opera which he called "The Devil on two Sticks," and was looking for some one to compose the music. In one place there was to be a tempest at sea, and Haydn was asked how he would represent that. As he had never seen the sea, he was at a loss how to express it. The manager said he himself had never seen the ocean, but to his mind it was like this, and he began to toss his arms wildly about. Haydn tried every way he could think of to represent the ocean, but Kurz was not satisfied. At last he flung his hands down with a crash on each end of the keyboard and brought them together in the middle. "That's it, that's it," cried the manager and embraced the youth excitedly. All went well with the rest of the opera. It was finished and produced, but did not make much stir, a fact which was not displeasing to the composer, as he was not proud of his first attempt.

His acquaintance with Porpora promised better things. The singing master had noticed his skill in playing the harpsichord, and offered to engage him as accompanist. Haydn gladly accepted at once, hoping to pick up much musical knowledge in this way. Old Porpora was very harsh and domineering at first, treating him more like a valet than a musician. But at last he was won over by Haydn's gentleness and patience, until he was willing to answer all his questions and to correct his compositions. Best of all he brought Haydn to the attention of the nobleman in whose house he was teaching, so that when the nobleman and his family went to the baths of Mannersdorf for several months, Haydn was asked to go along as accompanist to Porpora.

The distinguished musicians he met at Mannersdorf were all very kind to him and showed much interest in his compositions, many of which were performed during this visit. The nobleman, impressed with Haydn's desire to succeed, allotted him a pension of a sum equal to fifteen dollars a month. The young musician's first act on receiving this was to buy himself a neat suit of black.

Good fortune followed him on his return to Vienna. More pupils came, until he was able to raise his prices and move into better lodgings. A wealthy patron of music, the Countess of Thun, sent for him to come and see her. She had heard one of his clavier sonatas played, found it charming and wished to see the composer. Her manner was so sympathetic, that Haydn was led to tell her the story of his struggles. Tears came into her eyes as she listened. She promised her support as friend and pupil, and Haydn left her with a happy, grateful heart.

His compositions were heard in the best musical circles in Vienna, and the future was bright with promise. A wealthy music patron persuaded him to write a string quartet, the first of many to follow. Through this man he received, in 1759, an appointment of music director to a rich Bohemian, Count Morzin, who had a small orchestra at his country seat. In the same year the first Symphony was composed.

As brighter days dawned, Haydn procured all the works on theory obtainable, and studied them deeply. He had mastered the difficulties of the "Gradus," one of the books purchased years before, and without any outside help had worked out his musical independence, uninfluenced by any other musician. He was now twenty-six, and his fame was growing. Meanwhile an affair of the heart had great influence on his life. Sometime previously Haydn had been engaged to give lessons on the harpsichord to two daughters of a wig-maker named Keller. An attachment soon sprang up between the teacher and the younger of the girls. His poverty had stood in the way of making his feelings known. But as prosperity began to dawn, he grew courageous and asked the maiden to become his wife. His disappointment was keen when he found the girl had in the meantime decided to take the veil. The wig-maker proved to be a matchmaker, for when he learned how matters stood he urged the composer to take the sister, who was only three years older. The gentle Haydn was unable to withstand the pressure brought to bear, and consented. After his bride was his he found he had won a virago, one who cared nothing for art or for her husband's ideals, if only she could have enough money to spend.

The composer was in sad straits for a while, but fortunately a way opened by means of which he could be free. Count Morzin, where he had conducted the orchestra, was obliged to reduce his establishment and dismissed his band and its director. As soon as this was known, the reigning Prince of Hungary, Paul Anton Esterházy offered Haydn the post of assistant Capellmeister at his country seat of Eisenstadt. The head Capellmeister, Werner, was old, but the Prince kept him on account of his long service. Haydn, however, was to have entire control of the orchestra, and also of most of the musical arrangements.

Haydn was blissfully happy over the realization of his highest hopes. In his wildest dreams he had never imagined such magnificence as he found at the palace of Eisenstadt. The great buildings, troops of servants, the wonderful parks and gardens, with their flowers, lakes and fountains almost made him believe he was in fairyland. Of course there would be some hard work, though it would not seem hard amid such fascinating surroundings and there would be plenty of leisure for his own creative activities. Best of all his wife could not be with him.

Prince Paul Anton passed away after a year and his brother Nikolaus succeeded him. He advanced Haydn still further, and increased his salary. Werner, the old Capellmeister, died in 1766, and Haydn succeeded to the full title. This was the father's dream for his boy Josef, and it had been abundantly realized. His mother had passed away, but his father was living, and had come, on one occasion, to Eisenstadt to see him. His brother Michael who had now become Concertmeister in Salzburg, spent several happy days with him also.

The summer residence of Prince Nikolaus at Esterházy had been rebuilt, enlarged and was more magnificent than Eisenstadt. The music was more elaborate. The Prince was so fond of the life there that he postponed his return to town till late in the autumn.

In order to give him a hint through music, Haydn composed what he called the "Farewell Symphony," in which, toward the close each pair of players in turn rose, extinguished their candles and passed out, until only the first violinist remained. He last of all blew out his light and left, while Haydn prepared to follow. The Prince at last understood, and treating the whole as a joke, gave orders for the departure of the household.

In 1790 Haydn lost the master to whom he was so devotedly attached. He received a pension of a thousand florins on condition that he would retain his post. But Prince Anton, who succeeded his brother, cared nothing for music; Haydn was not obliged to live at the palace and returned to Vienna. Several attempts had already been made to induce him to visit London, but he always had refused. Now there seemed to be no obstacle in the way. One day a visitor called. "My name is Salomon; I have come from London to fetch you; we will settle terms to-morrow." On the sail from Calais to Dover, the composer first saw the sea and was reminded of his boyish efforts to describe it in tones.

London welcomed Haydn warmly, for his fame had preceded him and his music was familiar. The first concert was given March 11, 1790 at the Hanover Square Rooms, and was a great success. This was followed by a series of concerts, and at last a benefit for the composer on May 16, which was an ovation and realized three hundred and fifty pounds. He heard the "Messiah" for the first time and when, at the "Hallelujah Chorus," the audience sprang to its feet, he burst into tears, exclaiming "He is the master of us all!"

At Oxford, in July, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Music, and three great concerts were given in his honor, with special performers brought from London. In fact the whole visit to England had been such a success that he repeated the trip in 1794, and received even greater honors. His symphonies were heard on all London programs. He was the lion of the season, and was frequently invited to Buckingham Palace to play for the King and Queen, who always urged him to live in England. Haydn was now sixty-five; he had composed quantities of music, but his greatest work, "The Creation," was not yet written. While in London, Salomon had shown him a poem founded on "Paradise Lost," written years before in the hope that Handel would use it for an oratorio. Haydn decided to try his hand at oratorio on this subject. As he went on, it grew to be a labor of love and prayer. It was finished and performed in Vienna, March 19, 1799, and made a profound impression. The composer at once began work on a second oratorio, founded on Thompson's "Seasons." The desire for work was strong within, but his health was failing. "'The Seasons' gave me my finishing stroke," he often remarked to friends.

Haydn was acknowledged on every hand as the father of instrumental music. He laid great stress on melody. "It is the air which is the charm of music," he said, "and it is the air which is the most difficult to produce. The invention of a fine melody is a work of genius."

Full of years and honors, respected and beloved, Father Haydn passed away. As Vienna was at that time in the hands of the French, he was given a very simple burial. In 1820 Prince Esterhazy had the remains reinterred in the upper parish church at Eisenstadt, where a simple stone with Latin inscription is placed in the wall above the vault to mark the spot.