Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Childhood and youth (1732-1749)
Franz Joseph Haydn was born on March 31, 1732, in the village of Rohrau, Alpinia, about 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Vienna. He later remembered singing frequently with family and neighbors and listening to his father play folk music on the harp.

When Haydn was six years old, he was sent to live with a relative in a nearby town. His father wanted him to get an education in music and his relative was both a teacher and the choir director at a local church there. Haydn disliked being constantly hungry and wearing shabby clothes, but he did learn how to play the harpsichord and violin and enjoyed singing in the church choir.

In 1739 the music director of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna visited that town, heard Haydn singing in the choir, and arranged to have Haydn live with him and sing in the Cathedral choir. As a choirboy, he continued to be taught the keyboard and violin as well as to receive singing lessons. He also remained hungry even though he did wear better clothes.

By 1749 Haydn could no longer sing the high notes required of him. One day the director became furious with him and had him beaten, expelled from the choir, and thrown onto the streets. He was 17 and homeless.

Years of transition(1749-1761)
At first Haydn stayed with a friend and his family. He earned money by working as a street musician, music teacher, valet, and substitute organist. During this time he taught himself music theory by studying textbooks and the works of established composers. He even wrote and premiered his first opera in 1753.

Eventually he started getting hired to sing and play occasionally for the imperial court. This led finally to full-time employment in 1760 as the director of a small orchestra in an unimportant court. At this time he also entered into a lifelong but cheerless marriage.

Work for the Esterházy family (1761-1790)
In 1761 he started working for the fabulously wealthy Esterházy family. The head of the family from 1762 was Nicholas 1st. He had been educated by Jesuits, served the Austrian empire with distinction as a cavalry officer, and loved music.

Nicholas had Esterháza, a new palace, constructed in a very rural area about 60 miles (100 km) southeast of Vienna on the site of his favorite hunting lodge. The palace had over 120 rooms, a library with over 20,000 books, and its own opera house.

The Esterházy family and its household, including Haydn, moved into the new palace in 1766. At first family and servants stayed there only during the summer and spent the rest of the year near the imperial court in Vienna. As Nicholas grew older, however, he eventually stayed at Esterháza up to ten months a year. He was very happy about that but Haydn, for one, preferred the cultural vitality of the capital and longed for it.

Nicholas expected his servant Haydn to write music, play it with members of the family, conduct the family’s orchestra of up to 20 instrumentalists, and even direct operatic performances. Nicholas gave him complete freedom as a composer. That, and the privilege of being able to rehearse his own music with his own orchestra, allowed Haydn to develop continually as a composer. This despite the fact that he lived in relative isolation from other composers, players, and critics of music. Works by Haydn during this period include his Cello Concerto No. 1 (c. 1763), Symphony No. 48 “Maria Theresia” (1769), and Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” (1772).

Haydn increasingly enjoyed an international reputation for excellence with the steady publication of his music. In 1779 he negotiated a new contract with Nicholas. Now Haydn would retain ownership of all his compositions, negotiate their publication, and contract with others to write music for them. This led him to write far fewer operas and far more quartets and symphonies because these would have broader international appeal. He paradoxically became Latin Christendom’s most popular yet most isolated composer.

Haydn loved visiting Vienna. He enjoyed the stimulating variety of conversations, diversions, and cultural events he found in the imperial capital. He also appreciated seeing friends. One good friend was Wolfgang Mozart. From 1784 they played string quartets together and Haydn wildly admired his genius as a composer. An especially close friend was a woman named Maria Anna whom Haydn met in 1789. Her death just four years later devastated him. He wrote Variations in F minor in her honor.

On his own in Vienna and London (1791-1809)
Following the death of his patron Nicholas and the succession of his son Anton, who dismissed most of the court musicians, Haydn enjoyed much greater opportunities to live in Vienna and to travel. His first major trip was to London in 1791.

On his way there Joseph traveled through Bonn. There he met the young Ludwig van Beethoven for the first time. On his way back, he met with Ludwig again and agreed to teach him the following year in Vienna.

In London, Haydn composed some of his best music (including his “Surprise” Symphony No.94), enjoyed enthusiastic audiences, made wonderful new friends, and got paid extraordinarily well. All involved enjoyed Haydn’s first trip to London so much that he returned for another year in 1794. This time his compositions included his “LondonSymphony No. 104 and Piano Trio No. 39, “Gypsy.”

Back in Vienna in 1795, Haydn lived in his own large house and wrote music for public concerts. The following year he wrote his Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra (enjoy especially the 1st and 3rd movements) and, in 1797, the “Kaiserhymne.”

By 1802 Haydn’s health no longer allowed him to compose. He continued to play the piano, enjoy visits with friends, and receive many public honors. A special public performance was held in his honor in 1808. As he entered the hall, he was greeted by his old student Ludwig van Beethoven. Antonio Salieri conducted the orchestra.

A French army under Napoleon attacked Vienna in May 1809. The thunder of the cannons sent Beethoven running to his brother’s basement in an attempt to save what little hearing he had left. Haydn died on May 31 soon after the battle.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.