Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/730

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
718
HAYDN.
 

down till I have quite made up my mind about it." When intending to write something superior he liked to wear the ring given him by the King of Prussia.

The immense quantity of his compositions would lead to the belief that he worked with unusual rapidity, but this was by no means the case. 'I never was a quick writer,' he assures us himself, 'and always composed with care and deliberation; that alone is the way to compose works that will last, and a real connoisseur can see at a glance whether a score has been written in undue haste or not.' He sketched all his compositions at the piano—a dangerous proceeding, often leading to fragmentariness of style. The condition of the instrument had its effect upon him, for we find him writing to Artaria in 1788, 'I was obliged to buy a new fortepiano, that I might compose your Clavier-sonatas particularly well.' When an idea struck him he sketched it out in a few notes and figures: this would be his morning's work; in the afternoon he would enlarge this sketch, elaborating it according to rule, but taking pains to preserve the unity of the idea. 'That is where so many young composers fail,' he says; 'they string together a number of fragments; they break off almost as soon as they have begun; and so at the end the listener carries away no definite impression.' He also objected to composers not learning to sing, 'Singing is almost one of the forgotten arts, and that is why the instruments are allowed to overpower the voices.' The subject of melody he regarded very seriously. 'It is the air which is the charm of music,' he said to Michael Kelly,[1] 'and it is that which is most difficult to produce. The invention of a fine melody is a work of genius.'

Like many other creative artists, Haydn disliked æstheticism, and all mere talk about Art. He had always a bad word for the critics with their 'sharp-pointed pens' ('spitzigen und witzigen Federn'), especially those of Berlin, who used him very badly in early life. His words to Breitkopf, when sending him the Creation, are very touching, as coming from a man of his estatablished reputation, 'My one hope and prayer is, and I think at my age it may well be granted, that the critics will not be too hard on my Creation, and thus do it real harm.' He had of course plenty of detractors, among others Kozehich and Kreibig, who represented him to the Emperor Joseph II. as a mere mountebank. Even after he had met with due recognition abroad, he was accused of trying to found a new school, though his compositions were at the same time condemned as for the most part hasty, trivial, and extravagant. He sums up his own opinion of his works in these words, 'Sunt mala mixta bonis; some of my children are well-bred, some ill-bred, and here and there there is a changeling among them.' He was perfectly aware of how much he had done for the progress of art; 'I know,' 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 by my works; let others do the same.'

He was no pedant with regard to rules, and would acknowledge no restrictions on genius. 'If Mozart wrote thus, he must have had a good reason for it,' was his answer when his attention was drawn to an unusual passage in one of Mozart's quartets. With regard to Albrechtsberger's condemnation of consecutive fourths in strict composition he remarked, 'What is the good of such rules? Art is free, and should be fettered by no such mechanical regulations. The educated ear is the sole authority on all these questions, and I think I have as much right to lay down the law as any one. Such trifling is absurd; I wish instead that some one would try to compose a really new [2]minuet.' And again to Dies, 'Supposing an idea struck me as good, and thoroughly satisfactory both to the ear and the heart, I would far rather pass over some slight grammatical error, than sacrifice what seemed to me beautiful to any mere pedantic trifling.' Even during Haydn's lifetime his compositions became the subject of a real worship. Many distinguished men, such as Exner of Zittau, Von Mastiaux of Bonn, Gerber, Bossier, Count Fuchs, Baron du Baine, and Kees the Court Secretary of Vienna, corresponded with him with a view to procuring as many of his works as possible for their libraries. There is great significance in the sobriquet of 'Papa Haydn,' which is still in general use, as if musicians of all countries claimed descent from him. One writer declares that after listening to Haydn's compositions he always felt impelled to do some good work; and Zelter said they had a similar effect upon him.

Haydn's position in the history of music is of the first importance. When we consider the poor condition in which he found certain important departments of music, and, on the other hand, the vast fields which he opened to his successors, it is impossible to over-rate his creative powers. Justly called the father of instrumental music, there is scarcely a department throughout its whole range in which he did not make his influence felt. Starting from Emmanuel Bach, he seems, if we may use the expression, forced in between Mozart and Beethoven. All his works are characterised by lucidity, perfect finish, studied moderation, avoidance of meaningless phrases, firmness of design, and richness of development. The subjects principal and secondary, down to the smallest episodes, are thoroughly connected, and the whole conveys the impression of being cast in one mould. We admire his inexhaustible invention as shown in the originality of his themes and melodies; the life and spontaneity of the ideas; the clearness which makes his compositions as interesting to the amateur as to the artist; the child-like cheerfulness and drollery which charm away trouble and care.

Of the Symphony he may be said with truth to have enlarged its sphere, stereotyped its form,

  1. 'Reminiscences,' London 1826, i. 190.
  2. Was this before or after the appearance of Bethoven's Symphony No. 1?