It is natural enough that history should be mixed with myth, to make it interesting to the populace. But it is uttery unnatural that history or myth should not be interesting to the populace. — G. K. Chesterton

Josph Haydn - George Upton




Forwards and Backwards

Haydn made the acquaintance in Mannersdorf of one Herr von Furnberg, who was a passionate lover of music, and who often invited him to his country house in Lower Austria. The Furnberg villa was built upon a hill, and the cottages of the village of Weinzerl were scattered about among the gardens in the quiet valley below. As Von Furnberg was also a musician, he gathered about him a little circle of players, comprising his administrator, another of his employees who was a good violoncello player, and the village minister. Haydn spent many happy days there and, with the encouragement of the master of the house, wrote his first quartet, one of four, for two violins, violoncello, and bass viol. The piece proved so pleasant and attractive that the happy young composer was inspired to produce more of the same kind. In this way at brief intervals his first eighteen quartets appeared. Freed from the pressure of the necessities of life, and encouraged by the genial company about him, Haydn revealed new qualities in these compositions. They overflowed with sprightliness, cheerfulness, and sometimes with exuberant humor. They were unique in the musical world and gained him many friends and admirers. Fault-finding pedants of course were not lacking to criticise the excess of humor in the quartets, but their silly abuse did him no harm. He had given a new form to art-creation and contents which were destined to remain an acknowledged pattern for all times. Rossini, the most famous opera-composer of the nineteenth century, said of them years afterwards: "They are charming works. What a swing they have! What gracefulness in the themes, what lovely instrumentation, and what fineness in modulation!"

We have now followed the career of the young man Haydn for twenty-three years. His personality at first glance was not prepossessing. He was large-boned and heavy of figure, and his legs were too short for his body. His swarthy face was energetic, and sometimes appeared severe, but in conversation it lit up with smiles and wore a most kindly expression. Although he was vivacious by nature and given to joking, his natural mood was serious and contemplative, and benevolence and kindliness shone in his flashing dark-gray eyes. He suffered with a polypus, inherited from his mother, which distended the lower part of his nose. His lips and jaws were very prominent. His finely arched brow unfortunately was concealed by a wig which came down nearly to the eyebrows. He wore this wig with queue and side curls all his life. His speech was in a broad Austrian dialect.

Haydn's next year was one of strenuous activity. His pupils increased, and he occasionally assisted in orchestras. He was also leader in the church of the Brothers of Mercy in Leopoldstadt, for which service he received the annual salary of sixty gulden, and organist at the chapel of Count Haugewitz.

Little time therefore remained for his own work except at night; and besides all these duties he was obliged to write piano pieces for his pupils, upon which he placed so little value that he gave them away or carelessly allowed any one to carry them off. He would often stop before shop windows, well pleased at seeing them exposed for sale. Book-binders, copyists, and even grocers, as well as book-sellers, were engaged in the music business at that time, and Haydn never dreamed that they were making a good profit out of these piano pieces. Among them were sonatas, not mere copies of those by Emanuel Bach, but characterized by originality of treatment and contents. The piano sonatas were introduced by Emanuel Bach, and Haydn subsequently gave to them the form in which the great composers have been able to present musical ideas of the highest significance. At the same time Haydn opened a new path not only for the string quartet but also for piano music.

One of Haydn's fugitive sonatas came by chance into the possession of a noble lady, Countess von Thun, a devotee of music. She was greatly pleased with it and expressed a wish to see the composer, of whom, up to that time, she had never heard. But how was he to be found in the big city of Vienna? One of her smartest servants made the rounds of all the shops where music was sold. They could furnish her with plenty of piano pieces by a certain Joseph Haydn, but no one could tell who he actually was, much less where he lived. At last the servant was advised to go to the Old Michaeler House in the Kohlmarkt, but his laborious climb to the fifth story was useless. Haydn had exchanged one attic for another, and the servant was referred to a house in the so-called Seilerstatt, where he was now living. Thither the Countess's messenger took his way and fortunately found him at home.

"Have I found you at last?" he exclaimed, wiping his brow. "Sacre! what a chase I have had!"

The servant delivered his noble mistress's message and then withdrew, not a little surprised that so flattering an invitation had not been received more enthusiastically. The honored musician, however, was so overcome with astonishment that he could only stammer out a promise to call, hardly knowing what he was saying.

Indeed, the invitation to such a distinguished house could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. It was only with the greatest effort that Haydn was enabled to conceal his wretched plight from the countess's servant, for just before his entrance he had come in from a music lesson and made the startling discovery that his apartment had been robbed during his absence. His closet and chest of drawers had been broken open, and all his clothes and linen were gone. The bold thief, who was never discovered, left absolutely nothing. Luckily he could not carry off the piano, and he evidently regarded musical note paper and manuscripts as so much trash. Haydn fortunately had his violin with him as well as his little stock of money.

Truly, he was in an unfortunate condition. He realized how hard it would be for him gradually to replace all these indispensable things of which he had been despoiled so suddenly. It was doubly hard to be invited to call upon a fine lady, a countess, just at the time when his nice Sunday suit and linen had been carried off by a good-for-nothing scoundrel. It seemed to him that fate was making a plaything of him.

In despair he hastened to his true and tried friend Keller, the wig-maker, and told him his troubles. Keller came to his relief once more and provided for his immediate necessities. Other friends borrowed a suitable costume for a state visit. One found him a coat, another a vest, and the third trousers. In this heterogeneous suit he was received by the Countess Thun, who at first regarded him with a little coolness and surprise. This did not escape the notice of Haydn, whose cheeks were crimson. He thought to himself as she stood there looking at him, that not one of the garments on his body belonged to him. But of course this was not the reason for the countess's conduct. She had been deeply impressed by the sonata and had conceived a most exalted idea of the composer's appearance. The illusion was dispelled as she saw before her a man of unprepossessing figure and awkward gait, the only redeeming feature of his homely face being its genial expression. She imagined perhaps that her usually trustworthy servant might have been given a wrong address and made a mistake. This led her to ask the visitor whether he was really the composer of the sonata. He asserted that he was, and all her doubts disappeared. She listened eagerly to the homely story of his life, which up to this time had had little sunshine in it. The noble lady expressed the warmest sympathy for him and did not fail to recognize the great talent hidden in that plain-looking personality. From that time on he was her teacher in singing and piano playing, and enjoyed a substantial increase of his income at the hands of his generous scholar. She also secured so many pupils for him that he was soon enabled to repair the losses he had suffered at the hands of the thief.

One day in the year 1757 his brother Michael appeared to bid him good-bye. Though but twenty years of age he had already received the appointment of chapel-master to the Bishop of Grosswardein. The older and more highly gifted Joseph, however, had to devote his time for two years longer to laborious teaching and the composition of music for occasions of all kinds, before he was sure of his daily bread.

The Austrian aristocracy and the Bohemians particularly of that day were devoted to music, and many of the nobility had their own chapels. Among these was Count Morzin, who had a summer residence at Lukavec near Pilsen. During his stay there music formed one of the principal attractions.

The count had heard such flattering reports about Haydn from Herr von Furnberg that he placed him at the head of his chapel, which numbered from twelve to sixteen excellent players, and also made him composer of chamber music. Al though Haydn's services were required for the summer months only, his compensation was two hundred guldens. In the Autumn he went back to Vienna and resumed his lessons. He was now enjoying a steady income, and this emboldened him to carry out a desire he had long cherished in his heart.

He had been deeply attached to Josepha Keller, the wig-maker's daughter, for several years. She was no longer his pupil, but as he was teaching her younger sister, he was a regular visitor at the house and a joyful recipient of its hospitality. Josepha's life, from that day when in his boyhood he had first seen her strewing flowers at Saint Stephen's, lay before him like an open book. She had blossomed into maidenhood under his very eyes, and he had often longed for that same look of admiration which she had bestowed upon the little chorus-boy.

But Josepha's eyes no longer spoke the free and open speech of childhood. They rested upon the young musician with friendliness and sympathy, but whether they concealed any deeper feeling was a question Haydn vainly sought to determine. Sometimes, when he was absorbed in the passion of creation, he would forget all about it for weeks and months. At other times he would resolve to live for his art alone; but whenever he resumed his teaching and went again to the familiar house in the Ungargasse, the old feeling was uppermost and made his heart beat more quickly.

Notwithstanding his uncertainty and his inability to discover the real sentiments of the maiden, he clung to the hope that Josepha had long ago divined his aspirations, and that their secret longings were mutual. He believed it was time for him to speak out. He felt that he should first go to Josepha's father and see if he could gain his consent.

"My consent!" exclaimed father Keller. "How could you in the least doubt it, my dear Haydn? I could not ask for a better son-in-law."

"I thought you would not refuse," said Haydn, "but—," and he paused, almost breathless.

"Well, what do you mean by 'but,'" said the wig-maker.

"I have not yet had the courage to find out whether Josepha cares for me in the least," said Haydn.

"A fine lover you are, not to know how things stand when you have been in and out of the house of your adorata so many years," said Keller, laughing. "Shall I do your wooing for you, faint-heart?"

"No, father Keller, I will intercede for myself; but I confess I have little hope."

"Nonsense! Josepha is not made of stone. She has just the same liking for you that she had for Haydn-Sepperl when she was a child and he was singing solos at Saint Stephens; and now that he can make her Frau Chapel-mistress she will be a goose if she does not give him both hands."

"But even if she does, how am I to know that her heart will go with them?" replied the still doubting Haydn.

"Her heart, her heart," said the wig-maker, and he suddenly grew thoughtful. "Who can tell what is going on in a girl's heart? I am sorry that my sainted wife is no longer living. She could easily have helped us out of our perplexity. A mother always knows her daughter's thoughts. She has always been a sort of riddle to me. I do not know how to crack such nuts."

"Then you too are in doubt, Herr Keller. Please tell me the truth," entreated the musician.

The wig-maker muttered something to himself, then said, "Not yet, not yet," at the same time motioning Haydn away with his hand. "Speak out boldly to Josepha, she is at home and alone. Go to her! Have courage! Have courage!"

Haydn obeyed, but the uncertainty which he had noticed in Keller's manner greatly disturbed him. Josepha received him with her usual cordiality, though she could not understand why he had called at such an unusual hour. Indeed she was quite disconcerted at finding herself alone with him, as well as by the peculiar seriousness of his manner. "Josepha," began Haydn, after they had talked about conventional things for some time without really knowing what they were talking about, "Josepha, I have just had an interview with your father. Can you imagine what it was about?"

She shook her head.

"It was about you, Josepha."

"Me!" she replied, and began to tremble as the reason for the unusual visit dawned upon her.

"Yes, we were talking about you," said the honest-hearted musician. Then without further explanation he began his wooing. He confessed that for years he had dreamed of Josepha as his future wife, and had secretly indulged the hope that she had had the same dream. The hard struggle for daily bread had compelled him to delay the fulfilment of his heart's desire until better days should come. Now they were here. He had a position and an assured income, and although he could only offer her a modest home at present, yet he was now in a position to promise her a happy and prosperous future. If she believed in his ability to make good his promise it would need but one word from her to make him happy.

Josepha grew deadly pale as he spoke. She folded her hands upon her breast and turned her eyes to a crucifix hanging upon the wall, as if in unspeakable grief she were seeking help and advice from the Crucified One.

When Haydn ceased, tears were streaming from her eyes. She staggered to the sofa and, sobbing gently, buried her head in the cushions. The distracted Haydn was utterly perplexed, all his anxious questions remained unanswered.

"Leave me alone," were the sorrowful words which escaped from her lips.

Haydn obeyed and withdrew. Should he go to her father and tell him how his wooing had progressed? He was still uncertain as to its final outcome, but inwardly he felt that his dearest longing had been refused. He felt ashamed to appear in such a state of mind before Keller, who so little understood his own child.

During the evening there was a knock at his door, and Josepha's father entered. Haydn felt that his troubled manner bespoke his fate, and lowered his gaze as Keller's eyes rested upon him.

Haydn broke the silence. "It is all over, then! Am I not right, father Keller? Is it not all over?"

"My poor, dear Haydn," said Keller with trembling voice as he pressed the young man's hand, "You can make all hearts glad with your music, but you do not know how to read hearts, at least the hearts of women; and I do not understand them either. It gave me a pang the very day we spoke about this matter. Something that I had often noticed about Josepha occurred to me then, but I deluded myself and determined not to be discouraged."

"I noticed that you were very silent," replied Haydn. "Josepha has given her heart to some more fortunate one. Is it not so?"

"Oh, my dear Haydn, how could I be so false to you? No; there is an entirely different reason. I thought that the prospect of marriage might change her purpose. She has been a very pious child from the first. She goes to mass daily, never misses vespers, and has taken part in all the processions. In a word, she has decided to take the veil and devote her life to God. She told me so after you left to-day, and all my remonstrances were useless. She is determined not to marry."

"Ah! father Keller," said Haydn with a sad smile, "you seer was not mistaken."

"We must accept the inevitable," replied the wig-maker. "But listen, dear Haydn: there are more girls in the world; and I could—but you must first compose yourself. We will talk about it later. It is not the proper time now."

Keller spoke kindly to the young man, advised him not to take the matter too much to heart, and withdrew.

Haydn had not the slightest idea of the meaning of Keller's mysterious statement. He could think of Josepha only, though everything was now over between them. A few weeks later Josepha joined the order of the Nicolaitans, and Keller then spoke to him. He loved the gifted young musician almost like a son and was eager to have him in his family. With this end in view he tried to induce him to take the elder sister, Maria Anna,' for wife, as a consolation for the loss of Josepha. Haydn had never given her a thought and was utterly indifferent about her. He felt that this girl, three years older than himself, could never fill the place in his heart Josepha had occupied. He could not endure, however, the thought of disappointing the man who had been his benefactor in so many emergencies of his life. The feeling of gratitude decided him, and on November 26, 1760, he took home as his wife the sister of the girl he really loved.

It was a fatal step, and one which he regretted through his whole life. Maria Anna was heartless. Her passionate, quarrelsome disposition, her over-bearing manner, and her wild extravagance cost him many hours of wretchedness, which only his genius and his sunny humor enabled him to endure.

Soon after the marriage Haydn received word that Count Morzin in consequence of losses had been forced to reduce his expenses. The chapel was accordingly disbanded, and its director dismissed. It was a hard blow for the young husband. He had not dared to marry until he felt sure of earning a livelihood, and now he saw himself reduced to his old-time precarious mode of living. He thought of that wretched evening in November when, after his discharge from the chapel-house, he wandered despairingly about the streets of Vienna. He was all alone then, and now he had to care for a wife—for a wife whom he had never loved.

But he was no longer an unknown choir boy. The name of Haydn was becoming widely known. A better time was dawning, and the hard question of daily bread would soon cease to trouble him.