Papa Haydn

Monday, July 14, 2014

Unlike Bach, Franz Joseph Haydn achieved fame and adulation in his own lifetime. He was also unlike Bach in two other ways. Where Bach was lucky in love and offspring, Haydn’s marriage was loveless and childless. And unlike Bach’s experience in Leipzig, Haydn enjoyed (yes, literally enjoyed) the vast majority of his career, which he spent working for the Esterházy family.

Before Hayden went to work for the Esterházys, his musical career had ups and downs. He experienced both as a choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Hayden had a beautiful soprano voice and was much in demand to sing at parties and other private events. But he needed those gigs because the choirmaster appropriated the money that was supposed to feed the choirboys. Haydn was petted and fed by the hostess and patrons whenever he sang at a social engagement. Otherwise, he went hungry.

But if you’re a boy, that beautiful soprano voice doesn’t last forever. Well, there is one way to extend its life, and the choirmaster was in favor of doing so. Fortunately, Haydn’s father heard about the choirmaster’s plan and forbade the operation. So Haydn kept his manhood but lost his value as a choirboy.

At 17, Haydn was thrown out of St. Stephen and left to fend for himself. For the next eight years, he eked out a living giving music lessons and performing at private events.

Then he got his big break. Many members of the aristocracy had their own orchestras, and Count Morzin hired Haydn as court music director and composer. It was a good position while it lasted, but the Count ran into financial problems and had to disband his orchestra.

Haydn didn’t remain unemployed for long. Prince Paul Anton Esterházy hired him as vice-conductor of music, and Haydn lived a mostly carefree life from there on out. Paul Anton was succeeded by his brother Nicholas, who kept Haydn on. By the time Nicholas died, Haydn was ready for a change and jumped at the chance to tour in London, where he stayed for eighteen months. He made a second trip to London before ending his career in the employ of still another Esterházy, Prince Nicholas II. Haydn was much loved and much esteemed when he died peacefully at the age of 77.

I mentioned that Haydn lived a “mostly” carefree life after the first Prince Esterházy hired him. Haydn was happier away from his wife than with her, and the Esterházy lifestyle helped. The court musicians spent long months away from their families at the Prince’s estate in the Hungarian countryside. Most of them missed their wives and children and looked forward to several months off while the Prince retired to Vienna.

That leads to the story of Haydn’s “Farewell Symphony.” One year Prince Nicholas lingered in the countryside longer than usual and showed no sign of leaving. The court musicians grew unhappy as their visits home were delayed. Finally, Haydn wrote the “Farewell Symphony” and performed it for the Prince.

The symphony begins with a full orchestra, but as it goes on the instruments thin out. Haydn instructed the musicians to blow out their candles and leave the stage one by one until only Haydn and his concertmaster were left. Then they also blew out their candles and exited. Prince Nicholas loved the symphony. He also got the point.

Fortunately, Prince Esterházy had a sense of humor. But so did Haydn. That’s part of the reason his students and orchestra members called him “Papa.” He was good-natured and took care of the musicians who worked under him, as the “Farewell Symphony” demonstrates. Simply put, Papa Haydn was a nice man.

That might be part of the reason why Haydn and Mozart were great friends in spite of their age difference. (Haydn was 24 years older than Mozart.) They also formed a mutual admiration society that lasted their entire lives.

Papa Haydn’s good nature was probably also the reason he eventually forgave Beethoven. Forgave him for what? You’ll have to wait two weeks until my Beethoven blog.

But next week you’ll learn about Haydn’s close friend, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.


* The 1792 portrait is by Thomas Hardy.

No comments:

Post a Comment