Great German Composers



"Papa Haydn!" Thus did Mozart ever speak of his foster-father in music, and the title, transmitted to posterity, admirably expressed the sweet, placid, gentle nature, whose possessor was personally beloved no less than he was admired. His life flowed, broad and unruffled, like some great river, unvexed for the most part by the rivalries, jealousies, and sufferings, oftentimes self-inflicted, which have harassed the careers of other great musicians. He remained to the last the favorite of the imperial court of Vienna, and princes followed his remains to their last resting-place.

Joseph Haydn was the eldest of the twenty children of Matthias Haydn, a wheelwright at Rohrau, Lower Austria, where he was born in 1732. At the age of twelve years he was engaged to sing in Vienna. He became a chorister in St. Stephen's Church, but offended the choir-master by the revolt on the part of himself and parents from submitting to the usual means then taken to perpetuate a fine soprano in boys. So Haydn, who had surreptitiously picked up a good deal of musical knowledge apart from the art of singing, was at the age of sixteen turned out on the world. A compassionate barber, however, took him in, and Haydn dressed and powdered wigs down-stairs, while he worked away at a little worm-eaten harpsichord at night in his room. Unfortunate boy! he managed to get himself engaged to the barber's daughter, Anne Keller, who was for a good while the Xantippe of his gentle life, and he paid dearly for his father-in-law's early hospitality.

The young musician soon began to be known, as he played the violin in one church, the organ in another, and got some pupils. His first rise was his acquaintance with Metastasio, the poet laureate of the court. Through him, Haydn got introduced to the mistress of the Venetian embassador, a great musical enthusiast, and in her circle he met Porpora, the best music-master in the world, but a crusty, snarling old man. Porpora held at Vienna the position of musical dictator and censor, and he exercised the tyrannical privileges of his post mercilessly. Haydn was a small, dark-complexioned, insignificant-looking youth, and Porpora, of course, snubbed him most contemptuously. But Haydn wanted instruction, and no one in the world could give it so well as the savage old maestro. So he performed all sorts of menial services for him, cleaned his shoes, powdered his wig, and ran all his errands. The result was that Porpora softened and consented to give his young admirer lessons—no great hardship, for young Haydn proved a most apt and gifted pupil. And it was not long either before the young musician's compositions attracted public attention and found a sale. The very curious relations between Haydn and Porpora are brilliantly sketched in George Sand's "Consuelo."

At night Haydn, accompanied by his friends, was wont to wander about Vienna by moonlight, and serenade his patrons with trios and quartets of his own composition. He happened one night to stop under the window of Bernardone Kurz, a director of a theatre and the leading clown of Vienna. Down rushed Kurz very excitedly. "Who are you?" he shrieked. "Joseph Haydn." "Whose music is it?" "Mine." "The deuce it is! And at your age, too!" "Why, I must begin with something." "Come along up-stairs."

The enthusiastic director collared his prize, and was soon deep in explaining a wonderful libretto, entitled "The Devil on Two Sticks." To write music for this was no easy matter; for it was to represent all sorts of absurd things, among others a tempest. The tempest made Haydn despair, and he sat at the piano, banging away in a reckless fashion, while the director stood behind him, raving in a disconnected way as to his meaning. At last the distracted pianist brought his fists simultaneously down upon the key-board, and made a rapid sweep of all the notes.

"Bravo! bravo! that is the tempest!" cried Kurz.

The buffoon also laid himself on a chair, and had it carried about the room, during which he threw out his limbs in imitation of the act of swimming. Haydn supplied an accompaniment so suitable that Kurz soon landed on terra firma, and congratulated the composer, assuring him that he was the man to compose the opera. By this stroke of good luck our young musician received one hundred and thirty florins.

II. At the age of twenty-eight Haydn composed his first symphony. Soon after this he attracted the attention of the old Prince Esterhazy, all the members of whose family have become known in the history of music as generous Mæcenases of the art.

"What! you don't mean to say that little blackamoor" (alluding to Haydn's brown complexion and small stature) "composed that symphony?"

"Surely, prince," replied the director Friedburg, beckoning to Joseph Haydn, who advanced toward the orchestra.

"Little Moor," says the old gentleman, "you shall enter my service. I am Prince Esterhazy. What's your name?"


"Ah! I've heard of you. Get along and dress yourself like a Kapellmeister. Clap on a new coat, and mind your wig is curled. You're too short. You shall have red heels; but they shall be high, that your stature may correspond with your merit."

So he went to live at Eisenstadt in the Esterhazy household, and received a salary of four hundred florins, which was afterward raised to one thousand by Prince Nicholas Esterhazy. Haydn continued the intimate friend and associate of Prince Nicholas for thirty years, and death only dissolved the bond between them. In the Esterhazy household the life of Haydn was a very quiet one, a life of incessant and happy industry; for he poured out an incredible number of works, among them not a few of his most famous ones. So he spent a happy life in hard labor, alternated with delightful recreations at the Esterhazy country-seat, mountain rambles, hunting and fishing, open-air concerts, musical evenings, etc.

A French traveler who visited Esterhaz about 1782 says: "The château stands quite solitary, and the prince sees nobody but his officials and servants, and strangers who come hither from curiosity. He has a puppet-theatre, which is certainly unique in character. Here the grandest operas are produced. One knows not whether to be amazed or to laugh at seeing 'Alceste,' 'Alcides,' etc., put on the stage with all due solemnity and played by puppets. His orchestra is one of the best I ever heard, and the great Hadyn is his court and theatre composer. He employs a poet for his singular theatre, whose humor and skill in suiting the grandest subjects for the stage, and in parodying the gravest effects, are often exceedingly happy. He often engages a troupe of wandering players for months at a time, and he himself and his retinue form the entire audience. They are allowed to come on the stage uncombed, drunk, their parts not half learned, and half dressed. The prince is not for the serious and tragic, and he enjoys it when the players, like Sancho Panza, give loose reins to their humor."

Yet Haydn was not perfectly contented. He would have been had it not been for his terrible wife, the hair-dresser's daughter, who had a dismal, mischievous, sullen nature, a venomous tongue, and a savage temper. She kept Haydn in hot water continually, till at last he broke loose from this plague by separating from her. Scandal says that Haydn, who had a very affectionate and sympathetic nature, found ample consolation for marital infelicity in the charms and society of the lovely Boselli, a great singer. He had her picture painted, and humored all her whims and caprices, to the sore depletion of his pocket.

In after-years again he was mixed up in a little affair with the great Mrs. Billington, whose beautiful person was no less marked than her fine voice. Sir Joshua Reynolds was painting her portrait for him, and had represented her as St. Cecilia listening to celestial music. Haydn paid her a charming compliment at one of the sittings.

"What do you think of the charming Billington's picture?" said Sir Joshua.

"Yes," said Haydn, "it is indeed a beautiful picture. It is just like her, but there's a strange mistake."

"What is that?"

"Why, you have painted her listening to the angels, when you ought to have painted the angels listening to her."

At one time, during Haydn's connection with Prince Esterhazy, the latter, from motives of economy, determined to dismiss his celebrated orchestra, which he supported at great expense. Haydn was the leader, and his patron's purpose caused him sore pain, as indeed it did all the players, among whom were many distinguished instrumentalists. Still, there was nothing to be done but for all concerned to make themselves as cheerful as possible under the circumstances; so, with that fund of wit and humor which seems to have been concealed under the immaculate coat and formal wig of the straitlaced Haydn, he set about composing a work for the last performance of the royal band, a work which has ever since borne the appropriate title of the "Farewell Symphony."

On the night appointed for the last performance a brilliant company, including the prince, had assembled. The music of the new symphony began gayly enough—it was even merry. As it went on, however, it became soft and dreamy. The strains were sad and "long drawn out." At length a sorrowful wailing began. One instrument after another left off, and each musician, as his task ended, blew out his lamp and departed with his music rolled up under his arm.

Haydn was the last to finish, save one, and this was the prince's favorite violinist, who said all that he had to say in a brilliant violin cadenza, when, behold! he made off.

The prince was astonished. "What is the meaning of all this?" cried he.

"It is our sorrowful farewell," answered Haydn.

This was too much. The prince was overcome, and, with a good laugh, said: "Well, I think I must reconsider my decision. At any rate, we will not say 'good-by' now."

III. During the thirty years of Haydn's quiet life with the Esterhazys he had been gradually acquiring an immense reputation in France, England, and Spain, of which he himself was unconscious. His great symphonies had stamped him worldwide as a composer of remarkable creative genius. Haydn's modesty prevented him from recognizing his own celebrity. Therefore, we can fancy his astonishment when, shortly after the death of Prince Nicholas Esterhazy, a stranger called on him and said: "I am Salomon, from London, and must strike a bargain with you for that city immediately."

Haydn was dazed with the suddenness of the proposition, but the old ties were broken up, and his grief needed recreation and change. Still, he had many beloved friends, whose society it was hard to leave. Chief among these was Mozart. "Oh, papa," said Mozart, "you have had no training for the wide world, and you speak so few languages." "Oh, my language is understood all over the world," said Papa Haydn, with a smile. When he departed for England, December 15, 1790, Mozart could with difficulty tear himself away, and said, with pathetic tears, "We shall doubtless now take our last farewell."

Haydn and Mozart were perfectly in accord, and each thought and did well toward the other. Mozart, we know, was born when Haydn had just reached manhood, so that when Mozart became old enough to study composition the earlier works of Haydn's chamber music had been written; and these undoubtedly formed the studies of the boy Mozart, and greatly influenced his style; so that Haydn was the model and, in a sense, the instructor of Mozart. Strange is it then to find, in after-years, the master borrowing (perhaps with interest!) from the pupil. Such, however, was the fact, as every amateur knows. At this we can hardly wonder, for Haydn possessed unbounded admiration not only for Mozart, but also for his music, which the following shows. Being asked by a friend at Prague to send him an opera, he replied:

"With all my heart, if you desire to have it for yourself alone, but if you wish to perform it in public, I must be excused; for, being written specially for my company at the Esterhazy Palace, it would not produce the proper effect elsewhere. I would do a new score for your theatre; but what a hazardous step it would be to stand in comparison with Mozart! Oh, Mozart! If I could instill into the soul of every lover of music the admiration I have for his matchless works, all countries would seek to be possessed of so great a treasure. Let Prague keep him, ah! and well reward him, for without that the history of geniuses is bad; alas! we see so many noble minds crushed beneath adversity. Mozart is incomparable, and I am annoyed that he is unable to obtain any court appointment. Forgive me if I get excited when speaking of him, I am so fond of him."

Mozart's admiration for Haydn's music, too, was very marked. He and Herr Kozeluch were one day listening to a composition of Haydn's which contained some bold modulations. Kozeluch thought them strange, and asked Mozart whether he would have written them. "I think not," smartly replied Mozart, "and for this reason: because they would not have occurred either to you or me!"

On another occasion we find Mozart taking to task a Viennese professor of some celebrity, who used to experience great delight in turning to Haydn's compositions to find therein any evidence of the master's want of sound theoretical training—a quest in which the pedant occasionally succeeded. One day he came to Mozart with a great crime to unfold. Mozart as usual endeavored to turn the conversation, but the learned professor still went chattering on, till at last Mozart shut his mouth with the following pill: "Sir, if you and I were both melted down together, we should not furnish materials for one Haydn."

It was one of the most beautiful friendships in the history of art; full of tender offices, and utterly free from the least taint of envy or selfishness.

IV. Haydn landed in England after a voyage which delighted him in spite of his terror of the sea—a feeling which seems to be usual among people of very high musical sensibilities. In his diary we find recorded: "By four o'clock we had come twenty miles. The large vessel stood out to sea five hours longer, till the tide carried it into the harbor. I remained on deck the whole passage, in order to gaze my fill at that huge monster—the ocean."

The novelty of Haydn's concerts—of which he was to give twenty at fifty pounds apiece—consisted of their being his own symphonies, conducted by himself in person. Haydn's name, during his serene, uneventful years with the Ester-hazys, had become world-famous. His reception was most brilliant. Dinner parties, receptions, invitations without end, attested the enthusiasm of the sober English; and his appearance at concerts and public meetings was the signal for stormy applause. How, in the press of all this pleasure in which he was plunged, he continued to compose the great number of works produced at this time, is a marvel. He must have been little less than a Briareus. It was in England that he wrote the celebrated Salomon symphonies, the "twelve grand," as they are called. They may well be regarded as the crowning-point of Haydn's efforts in that form of writing. He took infinite pains with them, as, indeed, is well proved by an examination of the scores. More elaborate, more beautiful, and scored for a fuller orchestra than any others of the one hundred and twenty or thereabouts which he composed, the Salomon set also bears marks of the devout and pious spirit in which Haydn ever labored.

It is interesting to see how, in many of the great works which have won the world's admiration, the religion of the author has gone hand in hand with his energy and his genius; and we find Haydn not ashamed to indorse his score with his prayer and praise, or to offer the fruits of his talents to the Giver of all. Thus, the symphony in D (No. 6) bears on the first page of the score the inscription, "In nomine Domini: di me Giuseppe Haydn, maia 1791, in London;" and on the last page, "Fine, Laus Deo, 238."

That genius may sometimes be trusted to judge of its own work may be gathered from Haydn's own estimate of these great symphonies.

"Sir," said the well-satisfied Salomon, after a successful performance of one of them, "I am strongly of opinion that you will never surpass these symphonies."

"No!" replied Haydn; "I never mean to try."

The public, as we have said, was enthusiastic; but such a full banquet of severe orchestral music was a severe trial to many, and not a few heads would keep time to the music by steady nods during the slow movements. Haydn, therefore, composed what is known as the "Surprise" symphony. The slow movement is of the most lulling and soothing character, and about the time the audience should be falling into its first snooze, the instruments having all died away into the softest pianissimo, the full orchestra breaks out with a frightful BANG. It is a question whether the most vigorous performance of this symphony would startle an audience nowadays, accustomed to the strident effects of Wagner and Liszt. A wag in a recent London journal tells us, indeed, that at the most critical part in the work a gentleman opened one eye sleepily and said, "Come in."

Simple-hearted Haydn was delighted at the attention lavished on him in London. He tells us how he enjoyed his various entertainments and feastings by such dignitaries as William Pitt, the Lord Chancellor, and the Duke of Lids (Leeds). The gentlemen drank freely the whole night, and the songs, the crazy uproar, and smashing of glasses were very great. He went down to stay with the Prince of Wales (George IV.) who played on the violoncello, and charmed the composer by his kindness. "He is the handsomest man on God's earth. He has an extraordinary love of music, and a great deal of feeling, but very little money."

To stem the tide of Haydn's popularity, the Italian faction had recourse to Giardini; and they even imported a pet pupil of Haydn, Pleyel, to conduct the rival concerts. Our composer kept his temper, and wrote: "He [Pleyel] behaves himself with great modesty." Later we read, "Pleyel's presumption is a public laughingstock;" but he adds, "I go to all his concerts and applaud him."

Far different were the amenities that passed between Haydn and Giardini. "I won't know the German hound," says the latter. Haydn wrote, "I attended his concert at Ranelagh, and he played the fiddle like a hog."

Among the pleasant surprises Haydn had in England was his visit to Herschel, the great astronomer, in whom he recognized one of his old oboe-players. The big telescope amazed him, and so did the patient star-gazer, who often sat out-of-doors in the most intense cold for five or six hours at a time.

Our composer returned to Vienna in May, 1795. with the little fortune of 12,000 florins in his pocket.

V. In his charming little cottage near Vienna Haydn was the centre of a brilliant society. Princes and nobles were proud to do honor to him; and painters, poets, scholars, and musicians made a delightful coterie, which was not even disturbed by the political convulsions of the time. The baleful star of Napoleon shot its disturbing influences throughout Europe, and the roar of his cannon shook the established order of things with the echoes of what was to come. Haydn was passionately attached to his country and his emperor, and regarded anxiously the rumblings and quakings of the period; but he did not intermit his labor, or allow his consecration to his divine art to be in the least shaken. Like Archimedes of old, he toiled serenely at his appointed work, while the political order of things was crumbling before the genius and energy of the Corsican adventurer.

In 1798 he completed his great oratorio of "The Creation," on which he had spent three years of toil, and which embodied his brightest genius. Haydn was usually a very rapid composer, but he seems to have labored at the "Creation" with a sort of reverential humility, which never permitted him to think his work worthy or complete. It soon went the round of Germany, and passed to England and France, everywhere awakening enthusiasm by its great symmetry and beauty. Without the sublimity of Handel's "Messiah," it is marked by a richness of melody, a serene elevation, a matchless variety in treatment, which make it the most characteristic of Haydn's works. Napoleon, the first consul, was hastening to the opera-house to hear this, January 24, 1801, when he was stopped by an attempt at assassination.

Two years after "The Creation" appeared "The Seasons," founded on Thomson's poem, also a great work, and one of his last; for the grand old man was beginning to think of rest, and he only composed two or three quartets after this. He was now seventy years old, and went but little from his own home. His chief pleasure was to sit in his shady garden, and see his friends, who loved to solace the musical patriarch with cheerful talk and music. Haydn often fell into deep melancholy, and he tells us that God revived him; for no more sweet, devout nature ever lived. His art was ever a religion. A touching incident of his old age occurred at a grand performance of "The Creation" in 1808. Haydn was present, but he was so old and feeble that he had to be wheeled in a chair into the theatre, where a princess of the house of Ester-hazy took her seat by his side. This was the last time that Haydn appeared in public, and a very impressive sight it must have been to see the aged father of music listening to "The Creation" of his younger days, but too old to take any active share in the performance. The presence of the old man roused intense enthusiasm among the audience, which could no longer be suppressed as the chorus and orchestra burst in full power upon the superb passage, "And there was light."

Amid the tumult of the enraptured audience the old composer was seen striving to raise himself. Once on his feet, he mustered up all his strength, and, in reply to the applause of the audience, he cried out as loud as he was able: "No, no! not from me, but," pointing to heaven, "from thence—from heaven above—comes all!" saying which, he fell back in his chair, faint and exhausted, and had to be carried out of the room.

One year after this Vienna was bombarded by the French, and a shot fell in Haydn's garden. He requested to be led to his piano, and played the "Hymn to the Emperor" three times over with passionate eloquence and pathos. This was his last performance. He died five days afterward, aged seventy-seven, and lies buried in the cemetery of Gumpfenzdorf, in his own beloved Vienna.

VI. The serene, genial face of Haydn, as seen in his portraits, measures accurately the character of his music. In both we see health fulness, good-humor, vivacity, devotional feeling, and warm affections; a mind contented, but yet attaching high importance to only one thing in life, the composing of music. Haydn pursued this with a calm, insatiable industry, without haste, without rest. His works number eight hundred, comprising cantatas, symphonies, oratorios, masses, concertos, trios, sonatas, quartets, minuets, etc., and also twenty-two operas, eight German and fourteen Italian.

As a creative mind in music, Haydn was the father of the quartet and symphony. Adopting the sonata form as scientifically illustrated by Emanuel Bach, he introduced it into compositions for the orchestra and the chamber. He developed these into a completeness and full-orbed symmetry, which have never been improved. Mozart is richer, Beethoven more sublime, Schubert more luxuriant, Mendelssohn more orchestral and passionate; but Haydn has never been surpassed in his keen perception of the capacities of instruments, his subtile distribution of parts, his variety in treating his themes, and his charmingly legitimate effects. He fills a large space in musical history, not merely from the number, originality, and beauty of his compositions, but as one who represents an era in art-development.

In Haydn genius and industry were happily united. With a marvelously rich flow of musical ideas, he clearly knew what he meant to do, and never neglected the just elaboration of each one. He would labor on a theme till it had shaped itself into perfect beauty.

Haydn is illustrious in the history of art as a complete artistic life, which worked out all of its contents as did the great Goethe. In the words of a charming writer: "His life was a rounded whole. There was no broken light about it; it orbed slowly, with a mild, unclouded lustre, into a perfect star. Time was gentle with him, and Death was kind, for both waited upon his genius until all was won. Mozart was taken away at an age when new and dazzling effects had not ceased to flash through his brain: at the very moment when his harmonies began to have a prophetic ring of the nineteenth century, it was decreed that he should not see its dawn. Beethoven himself had but just entered upon an unknown 'sea whose margin seemed to fade forever and forever as he moved;' but good old Haydn had come into port over a calm sea and after a prosperous voyage. The laurel wreath was this time woven about silver locks; the gathered-in harvest was ripe and golden."