Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Joseph Haydn
HAYDN, Joseph (1732–1809), one of the most celebrated composers of the 18th century, was born at Rohrau, a village in Lower Austria, March 31, 1732. Schindler relates that when Beethoven, not long before his death, received a picture of Haydn’s birthplace, he exclaimed “How wonderful that so great a man should have been born in a peasant’s cottage.” This cottage, which is still standing, had been built by Haydn’s father, a worthy wheelwright, of whose twelve children the composer was the second. At an early age the child evinced so decided a talent for music that one Johann Mathias Frankh, a distant relation of the family, proposed to undertake his musical and general education, and for that purpose invited him to Hainburg, a neighbouring town where Frankh kept a school. To Hainburg accordingly young Haydn went in 1738, and there he received instruction in the elementary knowledge of his art, including a practical acquaintance with most instruments, at the hands of the musical schoolmaster. Having developed an agreeable soprano voice, young Haydn was by the intercession of the dean of Hainburg promoted to a post amongst the choir boys of St Stephen’s cathedral, Vienna, where he remained from 1740–50, doing duty in the church services, and at the same time enlarging his musical knowledge and experience. His artistic education was, however, all but exclusively practical, and it is said that he received only two theoretical lessons from Reuter the chapel-master. As a composer, therefore, Haydn was in every sense self-taught. Of his zeal in acquiring information he was in the habit of talking with pride in later years, and several works of sacred music were the first fruit of his early studies. In 1749 or 1750 his beautiful boyish voice changed, and he lost his position accordingly. Being now thrown on his own resources, he had to undergo various forms of musical drudgery, such as giving lessons (at the moderate stipend of two florins per month) and even playing in the orchestra at dances and the like. His condition was somewhat improved by his acquaintance with Metastasio, the celebrated operatic poet, in fact the Scribe of the 18th century, who introduced him to Señor Martinez, a Spaniard living in Vienna, whose daughter Haydn instructed for several years. It was through Metastasio also that Haydn came into contact with Porpora the composer, best known as the singing-master of the great Farinelli. For a considerable time Haydn remained in constant intercourse with him, acting as his accompanist, and occasionally it is said as his valet. In return he obtained a perfect acquaintance with Porpora’s method, besides his knowledge of the Italian language, both invaluable to a composer in those days. The works of Emmanuel Bach, son of the great Sebastian, at the same time became his model for chamber music. Fux’s excellent work Gradus ad Parnassum was his guide in his studies of counterpoint. A mass in F, and a farce Der neue krumme Teufel, both written in or about 1752, were Haydn’s first important attempts at composition. The former is still in existence, but of the latter the libretto by Kurz only remains. It was produced early in 1752, and seems to have met with considerable success. Haydn’s acquaintance with Gluck also dates from this period. An important event in Haydn’s life was his acquaintance with Baron Fürnberg, an accomplished amateur, for whose private concerts he wrote his first string quartet, a form of composition in which he earned some of his greatest and most permanent triumphs. It is in the key of B flat, and was followed in rapid succession by seventeen other works of the same class, written during the years 1755 and 1756. To his new protector Haydn also owed his still more important acquaintance with Count Ferdinand Morzin. Count Morzin in 1759 appointed him conductor of his small but excellent band. The opportunities of hearing his own works performed by competent musicians Haydn did not neglect, and his first symphony in D belongs to the year 1759. Soon afterwards Count Morzin was compelled to dissolve his band, but Haydn’s position was by this time sufficiently established, and very soon afterwards he found employment as second chapel-master to Prince Paul Esterhazy, one of the richest Austrian nobles, whose love of art was as great as his wealth. The Esterhazy family have been amongst the foremost patrons of music in Vienna from the days of Haydn to those of Beethoven and Schubert. Prince Paul died in 1762, and left his title and fortune to his brother Nicholas, surnamed the Magnificent. He immediately enlarged his orchestra, and also increased the salaries of its members, including that of Haydn (from 400 to 600 florins), and on the death of his colleague Werner, a scholarly but dry musician, appointed him first conductor. This position, or at least its title and emoluments, Haydn retained till his death, and his attachment to the Esterhazy family remained unchanged by his subsequent fame and fortunes. The events just referred to determined Haydn’s career for the next twenty-eight years. During this period he was in the active service of his protector, residing at Esterház, the splendid country seat of the family, described as a second Versailles, or in Vienna, conducting the orchestra of the prince, and writing for his concerts and theatre a number of works, including symphonies, cassationes, quartets, sonatas, and numerous vocal compositions, including several operas, none of which, however, had any permanent success. Thus the opera La vera Constanza, written for the court theatre of Vienna in 1776, was withdrawn by the composer owing to intrigues against him, it is said; and we are not told that it met with a much better fate on its revival fourteen years later. Another dramatic work, L'isola disabitata (1779), procured for the composer the membership of the Accademia Filarmonica at Modena, and a gold snuff-box from the king of Spain. But with its companions it has not escaped oblivion. The truth is that Haydn was without the true dramatic spirit, and of this he was himself well aware. According to his own confession his operas were fitted only for the small stage at Esterház; in a large theatre, and before a miscellaneous audience, they lost their effect. The scores of most of the operas are preserved in the archives of Eisenstadt, another seat of the Esterhazy famity. Of his life during this period little need be said. It was eventless and to a certain extent monotonous, but free from care and exclusively devoted to art. His own words, quoted by Herr Pohl, sum up all that it is necessary to relate. “My prince was always satisfied with my work; 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, make additions or omissions, 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.” The only person that could have wished to “confuse or torment” the harmless composer was fortunately kept at distance by the strict order of the prince’s household, that none of his musicians was to be accompanied by his wife. Haydn at an early age became attached to the daughter of a hairdresser, Keller by name, and after her death was persuaded to marry her sister, three years older than himself. The marriage was an unhappy one, and the pair separated soon after their union, Haydn’s inflammable heart subsequently causing him more or less serious trouble on more than one occasion. In the meantime the composer’s fame had begun to spread from an early period of his career. As early as 1766 a journal speaks of him as the “favourite of the nation,” and foreign countries were not slow in acknowledging his merits. Thus one of his works, The Seven Words of our Saviour on the Cross, a series of orchestral interludes for the church service on Good Friday, was written by special invitation for the cathedral of Cadiz. In Paris his works were performed with immense success at the Concert Spirituel, and a single English firm bought the copyright of no less than 129 of his works, including 82 symphonies. The appreciation of Haydn’s work in England led to important results in his latter years. Several pressing invitations to visit that country had been declined by the composer on account of his services being required at Esterház. But when in 1790 Prince Nicholas died, and his successor dissolved the orchestra, allowing Haydn a considerable pension, the latter was at last at liberty to accept a munificent offer from Salomon, the violinist and entrepreneur, in whose company he started for London, where Salomon occupied a leading position in the musical world. They left Vienna in December 1790, and travelled by way of Bonn, where Salomon had been born. There, accordingly, a halt was made, and Haydn was received by the elector with every honour due to his fame. The amusing description of a dinner given during his stay at Bonn maybe read in Thayer’s biography of Beethoven, who at that time was a member of the electoral chapel, and not unlikely made on this occasion Haydn’s acquaintance. On the latter’s return journey the young man submitted a cantata to the celebrated composer, whom he soon afterwards followed to Vienna to become his pupil. It is well known that the relations between the great master and his greater pupil were not altogether what might have been desired. Beethoven’s genius was of too individual a type to bear the impress of a nature so different as Haydn’s, and the latter may not always have taken sufficient trouble to enter into the ways of his wilful pupil. Certain it is that, at one time of his career, Beethoven delighted in speaking slightingly of “Papa Haydn,” and, for instance, refused to call himself Haydn’s pupil, because, as he bluntly said, he never learnt anything under his tuition. He even went so far as to suspect Haydn of wilfully trying to keep him back in his studies. It was only in his later years that this animosity gave way to the more genial appreciation of his great predecessor, an expression of which is quoted at the beginning of this notice.
Haydn’s visit to London was a succession of triumphs. Dr Burney welcomed him with a laudatory poem; the various musical societies of the metropolis vied for his presence; and on July 8, 1791, he was created doctor of music by the university of Oxford. At court also he was received with every distinction, and the aristocracy followed the royal example. Neither were more substantial rewards wanting. Haydn’s engagement with Salomon was to write and conduct at the concerts in the Hanover Square Rooms six symphonies, and the success of these may be judged from the fact that at Haydn’s benefit concert, for which £200 had been guaranteed to him, the receipts rose to £350. He also appeared at other concerts (one given by himself at Hanover Square Rooms, where amongst other works the Seven Words already referred to was performed), always with equal success. The same events were repeated in the following year, when the Salomon concerts began in February, and concluded with an extra concert in June. The symphonies known as the “Salomon Set,” comprising some of Haydn’s finest instrumental works, are the permanent record of the connexion of the two artists. In 1792 Haydn also went to hear the charity children at St Paul’s, whose singing produced on him as deep an impression as it did on Berlioz many years later. “I was more touched by this innocent and reverent music,” he wrote in his diary, “than by any I ever heard in my life.” Haydn left London in June 1792, but only to return in January 1794. In addition to his earlier works six new symphonies were played at the concerts of Salomon, which in the following year were given at the King’s Concert-room and terminated on June 1, 1795, when Haydn appeared for the last time in England. In addition to valuable presents from royalty and other persons, he realized £1200 by his second English visit, from which he returned to Vienna in the autumn of 1795, to resume once more his functions in the newly organized chapel of Prince Esterhazy. He was now well stricken in years, and might have rested on his laurels. But so far from this being the case, the two works on which—apart from his symphonies and sonatas—his immortality must mainly rest, belong to this last epoch of his life. These were the oratorio The Creation, and the cantata The Seasons. They were both written to German translations of English libretti, the former being compiled from Paradise Lost, the latter from Thomson’s Seasons. The Creation was first performed in public on March 19, 1799, when its success was as immediate as it has since proved permanent. The Seasons was begun soon after the completion of The Creation, and finished in very little time. No one, delighted by the charm and spontaneity of its melodies, would suspect it to be the work of a feeble old man. Such, however, Haydn had now become. He wrote little after The Seasons, and his public appearances were few and far between. His old age was surrounded by the love of his friends and the esteem of the musical world, but his failing health did not admit of much active enjoyment. He was seen in public for the last time at a performance of The Creation in 1808. But his own music made so overpowering an impression on him that he had to be carried out of the hall. He died on May 31, 1809, during the occupation of Vienna by Napoleon’s army, and many French officers followed his body to the grave.
Haydn’s compositions comprize almost every form of vocal and instrumental music. Of his dramatic works the operas are of infinitely less importance than The Creation and The Seasons. In the former there are points of grand and truly epical conception, surpassed by few masters except Handel, and the idyllic charm of the latter is as fresh to-day as it was eighty years ago. At the same time the great importance of Haydn in the history of music lies elsewhere. It was as an instrumental composer that he opened a new epoch of musical development. That amongst his 125 orchestral symphonies there are many extremely slight efforts is a matter of course. Even his finest symphonies, such as the celebrated Surprise, or the one in E flat surnamed in Germany “mit dem Paukenwirbel,” on account of the characteristic drum-roll occurring in it, are pigmies if compared with Beethoven’s colossal efforts. At the same time it is true that without Haydn’s modest substruction Beethoven’s mighty edifice would have been impossible. It was Haydn who first fixed the form of the symphony and gave it consistency of development. The lucid and harmonious treatment of his themes and the symmetrical structure of his symphonic movements remain still unsurpassed. And the same may be said in almost the same words of his string quartets, of which he wrote no less than eighty-three. It is by such works as these that Haydn has earned the name of father of instrumental music, generally and justly applied to him. At the same time it cannot be denied that there is in his works a certain want of intensity and depth. He avoids the high places of thought and passion; his path lies mostly in the smiling plains of humour and agreeable sentiment. In the former especially he excels, and it ought to be noted that his humour is of that peculiarly Viennese type which is as harmless as it is charming, and to the genial influence of which even such serious composers as Beethoven and Brahms have had to submit. Some of Haydn’s minuets especially seem to spring immediately from the consciousness of the people. How much he was at one with his nation is further proved by such a song as his “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser,” which has become the Austrian national hymn, and is one of the rare instances in which a genuine volkslied can be traced to a celebrated composer,—for generally the songs of the people are produced by the people. To sum up, Haydn’s place in the history of his art will remain unassailed by all the changes musical taste has undergone since his time, or may still undergo. His melodies, though simple, are genuinely inspired, and will never lose their charm; and his workmanship will remain an invaluable model of clearness and symmetry. Haydn’s life has been written by many pens and in many languages, Stendhal, the celebrated novelist, being amongst his French biographers. But all these earlier attempts have been thrown into the shade by the excellent works of Herr C. F. Pohl (Mozart and Haydn in London, 1867; Joseph Haydn, vol. i., 1875; and the article “Haydn” in Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians), which are full of accurate and comprehensive research. To Herr Pohl all students of Haydn’s life must confess themselves deeply indebted.
Two of Haydn’s brothers acquired a certain amount of celebrity. John Michael Haydn, born at Rohrau, September 14, 1737, and like his brother a choir-boy at St Stephen’s cathedral, became a prolific and able composer of masses and all kinds of church music. He lived during the greater part of his life at Salzburg, and his name is frequently mentioned in the biography of Mozart. Of his numerous compositions few have been printed. A mass in D is perhaps his masterpiece. He died August 10, 1806. The youngest brother, Johann Haydn (born December 23, 1743, died May 20, 1800), had some reputation as a vocalist, and became, most probably by his brother’s intercession, a singer in Prince Esterhazy’s chapel.