In character Michael was upright, good-tempered, and modest; a little rough in manners, and in later life given to drink. His letters show him to have been a warm-hearted friend, and that he was devout may be inferred from his habit of initialling all his MSS. with 'O. a. M. D. Gl.' (Omnia ad Majorem Dei Gloriam). As a composer he was overshadowed by the fame of his brother. His own words 'Give me good librettos, and the same patronage as my brother, and I should not be behind him,' could scarcely have been fulfilled, since he failed in the very qualities which ensured his brother's success. On the other hand, Joseph professed that Michael's church compositions were superior to his own in earnestness, severity of style, and sustained power. They are however very unequal; many are antiquated from the monotony of the accompaniment, while others—the Mass in D minor, the Graduale 'Tres sunt,' the 'Lauda Sion,' the well-known 'Tenebrae' in E♭, etc.—are still highly
Joseph's voice began to change Michael took all the principal parts. He played the violin and organ, and was soon able to act as deputy organist at St. Stephen's. He was fond of history, geography, and the classics. In music he aimed at originality from the first, and formed a sort of society among his school-fellows for detecting plagiarisms. Like his brother he had no regular instruction in composition, but taught himself from Fux's 'Gradus,' which he copied entire in 1757. His first known mass is dated Temesvar, 1754; other works were composed at Warasdin and Belenyes; but how he came to be in Hungary is not known. In 1757 he was Capellmeister at Grosswardein to the bishop Count Firmian, whose uncle Archbishop Sigismund of Salzburg appointed him, in 1763, his director and concertmeister. In 1777 he also became organist at the churches of Holy Trinity and St. Peter. On the 17th of August, 1768, he married Maria Magdalena Lapp, daughter of the cathedral organist, and a singer at the archbishop's court, who took the principal parts in several of Mozart's juvenile operas, and is mentioned by him as leading a peculiarly strict life. They had one child, a daughter, born 1770, died the following year. The wife lived to be 82, and died in June 1827. Michael's salary, at first 300 florins (£24) with board and lodging, was afterwards doubled; and this modest pittance was sufficient to retain him for the whole of his life at Salzburg. His attachment to the place was extraordinary, one attraction being the proximity of his great friend, a clergyman named Rettensteiner. In 1783 the then archbishop, Hieronymus Count Colloredo, commissioned him to compose some vocal pieces to be used instead of the instrumental music between the Gloria and Credo at high mass. Michael selected words from the Roman Missal, and his first Graduale—first of 114—was performed on Dec. 24. In 1798 he visited Vienna, and was cordially received by his brother, and by Eybler, Sussmayer, Henneberg, Hummel, and von Reich the amateur, who pressed him to settle among them, but in vain. In Dec. 1800 he lost his property through the taking of Salzburg by the French, but his brother and friends came liberally to his assistance. The Empress Maria Theresa hearing of his losses commissioned him to compose a mass, which he presented to her in person. The performance took place at Laxenburg, Oct. 4, 1801, under his own direction; the Empress sang the soprano solos, rewarded him munificently, and commanded another mass for the Emperor and a requiem. Accompanied by his friend Rettensteiner he visited Eisenstadt, where for the first and only time in their lives the three Haydns spent some happy days together. Michael much enjoyed the canons which decorated the walls of Joseph's study in Vienna, and asked leave to copy some of them, but Joseph replied, 'Get away with your copies; you can compose much better for yourself.' Michael however carried his point, and even added a fourth part to 'Die Mutter an ihr Kind.' Prince Esterhazy commissioned Michael to compose a mass and vespers, and offered him the vice-capellmeistership of his chapel, but he twice refused, in the hope that the chapel at Salzburg would be reorganised and his salary raised. His hopes were deceived, but meantime the post at Eisenstadt had been filled up, and he wrote to his brother complaining bitterly of the disappointment. Joseph thought Michael too straightforward for Eisenstadt: 'Ours is a court life,' said he, 'but a very different one from yours at Salzburg; it is uncommonly hard to do what you want.' At this time Michael was elected a member of the Academy at Stockholm, and sent in exchange for his diploma a Missa Hispanica for two choirs (comp. 1786), and other church works. In Dec. 1805 he finished his last mass, for two sopranos and alto, written for his choristers. He made some progress with the requiem for the Empress, but was unable to finish it. While on his deathbed his beautiful 'Lauda Sion' was sung at his request in the next room, and soon after, on August 10, 1806, he expired. The requiem was completed by portions from his earlier one in C minor, and performed at his funeral. He lies in a side chapel of St. Peter's Church. A well-designed monument was erected in 1821, and over it is an urn containing his skull. In the tavern of St. Peter's monastery is still shown the 'Haydn-Stübchen,' his almost daily resort. His widow received from the Empress 600 florins for the score of the requiem; from Prince Esterhazy 30 ducats for the opera 'Andromeda and Perseus,' and an annuity of 36 gold ducats for all his MS. compositions. His brother several times sent him money, and in his first will (1801) left 4000 florins to him, and in his second (1809) 1000 to the widow. His likeness, with regular, steady features, exists in many oil-portraits, engravings, lithographs, and drawings.
- The MS. copy, like the autograph of his first mass, 1754, is in the Hofbibliothek.
- Second wife of Francis II.
- The Vice-Capellmeistership was bestowed on Johann Fuchs, violinist in the chapel, and afterwards Haydn's successor. He died Oct. 29, 1830.