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
great musicians, through hardship and sorrow he won his place among the
Fifteen leagues south of Vienna, amid
marshy flats along the river
lies the small village of Rehrau. At the end of the straggling street
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
wheelwright, Mathias Haydn, was sexton, too, of the little church on
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
Maria. Every Sunday evening he would bring out his harp, on which he
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
concert. The little boy Josef, sat near his father and watched his
with rapt attention. Sometimes he would take two sticks and make
play the violin, just as he had seen the village schoolmaster do. And
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
life had been a bitter disappointment, for he had been unable to
his longing for a knowledge of the art he loved. Perhaps Josef might
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
the boy should join the priesthood, but the father, as we have seen,
he would make a musical career, and determined, though poor in this
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
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
indicated that he had the makings of a good musician. At last he said:
you will let me take Sepperl, I will see he is properly taught; I can
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,
any hesitation, and with the expectation that his childish day dreams
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.
wife of his cousin treated him with the utmost indifference, never
after his clothing or his well being in any way. After a time his
and neglected appearance was a source of misery to the refined,
boy, but he tried to realize that present conditions could not last
forever, and he bravely endeavored to make the best of them. Meanwhile
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
Not long after, he was admitted to the choir, where his sweet young
joined in the church anthems. Always before his mind was a great city
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
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
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
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
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
choir. "I can find you one at least," said the pastor; "he is a scholar
Frankh, the schoolmaster, and has a sweet voice."
Josef was sent for and the schoolmaster
soon returned leading him by
"Well my little fellow," said the
Capellmeister, drawing him to his
"can you make a shake?"
"No sir, but neither can my cousin
Reutter laughed at this frankness, and
then proceeded to show him how
shake was done. Josef after a few trials was able to perform the shake
the entire satisfaction of his teacher. After testing him on a portion
a mass the Capellmeister was willing to take him to the Cantorei or
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
to befall him there, he might not have been so eager to go. But he was
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
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
with notes. Reutter gave no encouragement to such proceedings. One day
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
it for two voices before attempting it in twelve. "And if you must try
hand at composition," added Reutter more kindly, "write variations on
motets and vespers which are played in church."
As neither the Capellmeister nor any of
the teachers offered to show
the principles of composition, he was thrown upon his own resources.
much self denial he scraped together enough money to buy two books
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
counterpoint; the other Matheson's "The Complete Capellmeister." Happy
the possession of these books, Josef used every moment outside of
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
that his younger brother Michael was to come to the Cantorei. Josef
eagerly forward to this event, planning how he would help the little
over the beginning and show him the pleasant things that would happen
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
filled the vast spaces of the cathedral, it was plain that Josef's
could not compete with it. His soprano showed signs of breaking, and
gradually the principal solo parts, which had always fallen to him,
given to the new chorister. On a special church day, when there was
elaborate music, the "Salve Regina," which had always been given to
was sung so beautifully by the little brother, that the Emperor and
were delighted, and they presented the young singer with twenty ducats.
Poor Josef! He realized that his place
was virtually taken by the
he had welcomed so joyously only a short time before. No one was to
of course; it was one of those things that could not be avoided. But
actually caused him to leave St. Stephen's was a boyish prank played on
of the choir boys, who sat in front of him. Taking up a new pair of
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
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
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
"We can't stand here in the rain," he
said. "You know I haven't a
to offer, but you are welcome to share my poor place for one night
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
refreshing slumber. The next morning the world looked brighter. He had
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
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
but many weary months were spent in looking for employment and in
to secure pupils, before there was the slightest sign of success.
clad as he was and with the vigorous appetite of seventeen, which was
scarcely ever appeased, he struggled on, hopeful that spring would
some sort of good cheer.
But spring came, yet no employment was
in sight. His sole earnings had
the coppers thrown to him as he stood singing in the snow covered
during the long cold winter. Now it was spring, and hope rose within
He had been taught to have simple faith in God, and felt sure that in
way his needs would be met.
At last the tide turned slightly. A few
pupils attracted by the small
he charged, took lessons on the clavier; he got a few engagements to
violin at balls and parties, while some budding composers got him to
their manuscripts for a small fee. All these cheering signs of better
made Josef hopeful and grateful. One day a special piece of good
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
This sum seemed to Haydn a real fortune.
He was able to leave the
and take up a garret of his own. There was no stove in it and winter
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
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
favorite pupil, Marianne Martinez. Also through Metastasio, Haydn met
Nicolo Porpora, an eminent teacher of singing and composition. About
time another avenue opened to him. It was a fashion in Vienna to pick
a few florins by serenading prominent persons. A manager of one of the
principal theaters in Vienna, Felix Kurz, had recently married a
woman, whose loveliness was much talked of. It occurred to Haydn to
couple of companions along and serenade the lady, playing some of his
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
you were playing?" he asked. "My own," was the answer. "Indeed; then
step inside." The three entered, wondering. They were presented to
then were given refreshments. "Come and see me to-morrow," said Kurz
the boys left; "I think I have some work for you."
Haydn called next day and learned the
manager had written a libretto of
comic opera which he called "The Devil on two Sticks," and was looking
some one to compose the music. In one place there was to be a tempest
sea, and Haydn was asked how he would represent that. As he had never
the sea, he was at a loss how to express it. The manager said he
had never seen the ocean, but to his mind it was like this, and he
to toss his arms wildly about. Haydn tried every way he could think of
represent the ocean, but Kurz was not satisfied. At last he flung his
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
youth excitedly. All went well with the rest of the opera. It was
and produced, but did not make much stir, a fact which was not
to the composer, as he was not proud of his first attempt.
His acquaintance with Porpora promised
better things. The singing
had noticed his skill in playing the harpsichord, and offered to engage
him as accompanist. Haydn gladly accepted at once, hoping to pick up
musical knowledge in this way. Old Porpora was very harsh and
at first, treating him more like a valet than a musician. But at last
was won over by Haydn's gentleness and patience, until he was willing
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
The distinguished musicians he met at
Mannersdorf were all very kind to
and showed much interest in his compositions, many of which were
during this visit. The nobleman, impressed with Haydn's desire to
allotted him a pension of a sum equal to fifteen dollars a month. The
musician's first act on receiving this was to buy himself a neat suit
Good fortune followed him on his return
to Vienna. More pupils came,
he was able to raise his prices and move into better lodgings. A
patron of music, the Countess of Thun, sent for him to come and see
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
led to tell her the story of his struggles. Tears came into her eyes as
listened. She promised her support as friend and pupil, and Haydn left
with a happy, grateful heart.
His compositions were heard in the best
musical circles in Vienna, and
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
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
year the first Symphony was composed.
As brighter days dawned, Haydn procured
all the works on theory
and studied them deeply. He had mastered the difficulties of the
one of the books purchased years before, and without any outside help
worked out his musical independence, uninfluenced by any other
He was now twenty-six, and his fame was growing. Meanwhile an affair of
heart had great influence on his life. Sometime previously Haydn had
engaged to give lessons on the harpsichord to two daughters of a
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
found the girl had in the meantime decided to take the veil. The
proved to be a matchmaker, for when he learned how matters stood he
the composer to take the sister, who was only three years older. The
Haydn was unable to withstand the pressure brought to bear, and
After his bride was his he found he had won a virago, one who cared
for art or for her husband's ideals, if only she could have enough
The composer was in sad straits for a
while, but fortunately a way
by means of which he could be free. Count Morzin, where he had
the orchestra, was obliged to reduce his establishment and dismissed
band and its director. As soon as this was known, the reigning Prince
of Hungary, Paul Anton Esterházy offered Haydn the post of
Capellmeister at his country seat of Eisenstadt. The head
Werner, was old, but the Prince kept him on account of his long
Haydn, however, was to have entire control of the orchestra, and also
most of the musical arrangements.
Haydn was blissfully happy over the
realization of his highest hopes.
his wildest dreams he had never imagined such magnificence as he found
at the palace of Eisenstadt. The great buildings, troops of servants,
wonderful parks and gardens, with their flowers, lakes and fountains
made him believe he was in fairyland. Of course there would be some
work, though it would not seem hard amid such fascinating surroundings
there would be plenty of leisure for his own creative activities. Best
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
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
abundantly realized. His mother had passed away, but his father was
and had come, on one occasion, to Eisenstadt to see him. His brother
Michael who had now become Concertmeister in Salzburg, spent several
days with him also.
The summer residence of Prince Nikolaus
at Esterházy had been
enlarged and was more magnificent than Eisenstadt. The music was more
elaborate. The Prince was so fond of the life there that he postponed
return to town till late in the autumn.
In order to give him a hint through
music, Haydn composed what he
the "Farewell Symphony," in which, toward the close each pair of
turn rose, extinguished their candles and passed out, until only the
violinist remained. He last of all blew out his light and left, while
prepared to follow. The Prince at last understood, and treating the
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
his post. But Prince Anton, who succeeded his brother, cared nothing
music; Haydn was not obliged to live at the palace and returned to
Several attempts had already been made to induce him to visit London,
he always had refused. Now there seemed to be no obstacle in the way.
day a visitor called. "My name is Salomon; I have come from London to
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
describe it in tones.
London welcomed Haydn warmly, for his
fame had preceded him and his
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
ovation and realized three hundred and fifty pounds. He heard the
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
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
of the season, and was frequently invited to Buckingham Palace to play
the King and Queen, who always urged him to live in England. Haydn was
sixty-five; he had composed quantities of music, but his greatest work,
"The Creation," was not yet written. While in London, Salomon had shown
a poem founded on "Paradise Lost," written years before in the hope
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
prayer. It was finished and performed in Vienna, March 19, 1799, and
profound impression. The composer at once began work on a second
founded on Thompson's "Seasons." The desire for work was strong within,
but his health was failing. "'The Seasons' gave me my finishing
often remarked to friends.
Haydn was acknowledged on every hand as
the father of instrumental
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
The invention of a fine melody is a work of genius."
Full of years and honors, respected and
beloved, Father Haydn passed
As Vienna was at that time in the hands of the French, he was given a
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.