The spirit of revolution, the spirit of insurrection, is a spirit radically opposed to liberty. — Francois Guizot

Josph Haydn - George Upton




Herr Bernardon

While Haydn was at the Spanglers', the stork arrived again; whereupon Spangler rented a somewhat larger apartment in another quarter of the city, though, in consequence of the family increase, they had to live very economically. Haydn felt that it would be an imposition to accept Spangler's hospitality any longer, and that, as he now had some means, he must look out for lodgings of his own. He also needed new clothes, for the old ones were growing so threadbare that they would soon have to be patched in conspicuous places. But the little sum he had brought from the Maria cloister was hardly sufficient for all their needs. After a brief respite from his troubles under the cloister's roof he was once more assailed by them.

While racking his brain with ineffectual efforts to solve these problems and find a way out of his perplexities, he met Keller, the violinist, one day, and, as he showed much solicitude about his condition, Haydn told him the story of his troubles. Keller thereupon took him to his uncle, Ignaz Keller, the hairdresser and wig-maker, with whom the reader is already acquainted, and who lived in the suburbs, upon the high road running through the Hungarian quarter. The wig-maker had now and then heard the old-time scholar of the Saint Stephen's Cantorei sing, and his nephew had often praised his extraordinary talent. Uncle Keller, who was fond of music, took great interest in the young man, and was much concerned about his troubles. He determined to help him in some way, and, as a beginning, he engaged him to give piano lessons to Josepha, now in her sixteenth year, and her two younger sisters; then, putting on his best coat, he accompanied him to his good friend Buchholz, the lace-merchant and market-inspector, who lived on the same street, at "The Golden Crab." This wealthy and generous old gentleman, at Keller's solicitation, lent the young man one hundred and fifty florins. He declined to take any interest, and informed Haydn he could repay the money whenever he found the opportunity. It was actual help in time of need,—an unexpected deliverance, when not a ray of hope was visible,—and the joy which the young musician expressed was gratitude enough for his noble patron.

A hundred and fifty florins! He had never seen so much money heaped up before, much less had ever dreamed of owning so much. He did not abuse his patron's confidence, but little by little paid off his debt of honor.

His first step was to look for lodgings, which he found in the Kohlmarkt, one of the most desirable sections of the city. The house was called the "Old Michaeler," and belonged to the college of Saint Barnabas. He rented one of the roof-chambers in the fifth story, the only one that was vacant. It was very small; the ceiling was low and the walls slanting. The rain in Summer and the snow in Winter found their way through the leaky roof, and he had no stove. What his apartment lacked in comfort, however, was compensated for by the fine view from his window, which took in the busy Michaeler place as far as the entrance to the royal palace. Haydn, in his later life, said that he was as happy as a king in this modest apartment. To crown his happiness he had a piano of his own, though it was only an old, worm-eaten instrument, which he bought very cheap. At last he could practise undisturbed upon his piano and violin, and he had the opportunity so long desired of devoting himself to the study of composition. He was greatly restricted by his scanty means in the selection of such piano pieces as he needed for perfecting himself in playing, for music at that time was very expensive. Under such embarrassing circumstances he went one day to the shop of his old-time neighbor, Binz the antiquary, at Saint Stephen's churchyard, into whose shabby windows he had so often looked.

"I want some piano pieces," said he, but they must be of the highest grade."

"I have just what you want," replied Herr Binz, taking down a paper package containing the sonatas of Emanuel Bach. Haydn was familiar with the name of the famous Johann Sebastian. But he had not until then heard of Emanuel, son of the great church-composer and organist.

It did not need the assurances of Herr Binz to convince Haydn that here was music of "the highest grade." The young musician's interest was aroused at once as he turned the leaves over. He paid the price asked for the music, rolled it up, hastened back to his roof-chamber, and seated himself at the piano. He did not rise until he had played all the sonatas.

Emanuel Bach! Surely this was the one whom he had wished to find, and whom now he sought to emulate with all his powers. These sonatas instantly decided the direction his studies must take, and they became the basis of his musical creation. When Haydn's works were subsequently printed and had become generally known, Bach wrote him that he was glad to find he could count him among his scholars, and that he was the only one who had the right understanding of his compositions and knew how to make good use of the knowledge. When Haydn was despondent about his work, Bach's music always cheered and enlivened him. Such moods, however, did not last long, for they were soon dispelled by his sunny humor and his pleasure in life. He was very fond of going to the Marionette Theatre, when he could afford it. There were theatres of this kind at the Freimuth and Neumarkt, wooden buildings erected specially for that purpose, where high and low attended the droll performances, in which figures moved by strings took the place of living actors.

One day, when Haydn was just in the mood for fun, he went to the marionette show with some jolly companions. On the way they passed a woman with a little cart, which carried her chestnut-roaster and stock in trade, standing near a hackney coach. Noticing a rope dangling from her cart and that she was busily engaged in talk with an acquaintance, Haydn, quick as a flash, tied the cart to the hind wheel of the coach. He and his companions then hid in the vestibule of a house near by and awaited the result of the coupling.

It was not long before the coach started, dragging the old woman's cart along with it. She ran after it, screaming as she saw her stock of nuts flying in every direction, and making such an outcry that the coachman at last, finding something was wrong, stopped his horses. The woman untied her cart, and supposing the driver to be the guilty party, hurled such a volley of coarse abuse at him that he was on the point of descending from the box and punishing her. Being in a hurry, however, he had to content himself with a few cuts of his whip, which failed to reach her. The loquacious chestnut-merchant followed the coach for some distance, still abusing the driver with her foul epithets, to the great entertainment of the spectators, among whom the culprit and his companions were not the least amused.

At that time night music was as common in the streets of Vienna as under the mild Italian skies. Sometimes a single flute or mandolin player, and at others a band of singers or players upon string and wind instruments, were employed for serenades, and they often played for their own pleasure. During the summer months, and especially upon the approach of fete-days, the streets evening after evening resounded with music until midnight. On such occasions night-capped heads would appear at the open windows. Crowds would gather in the streets, follow the musicians about from place to place, loudly applaud their favorite pieces, and demand repetitions.

Haydn was very fond of this serenade music at night, which he called "Cassation." He played the violin parts in pieces which usually were of his own composition. One beautiful autumn evening in 1751 we may see him and some of his companions under the windows of Dirks, the gold and pearl embroiderer, opposite the Stadt Theatre, playing a serenade in honor of Herr Bernardon, at that time the favorite comedian at the Stadt Theatre. His real name was Joseph Kurz, "Bernardon," by which he was generally known, being the name of one of his buffoon characters. He was very droll and original, and had written several pieces for the stage, in which he was conspicuous for his nonsense and extraordinary antics. In all of these pieces he was a great favorite. He did feats of flying, to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning, and performed tricks in jugglery, mysterious disappearances, and children's pantomimes. The royal family often attended his performances and laughed at Bernardon's drolleries; but at last he became so coarse that the Empress declared she would never go to see him again. While Haydn and his comrades were paying their tribute to Herr Bernardon, the comedian was so delighted that he hurried down to the street and asked who composed such charming music.

"Here is the composer himself," said one of the players, pointing to Haydn in the background.

Herr Bernardon was not a little surprised to see before him a lad barely nineteen years of age. He made him accompany him into the house, and then informed him that he was engaged upon a new piece for the theatre and that he believed he had found the one in Haydn who could write the music for it. Before recovering from his surprise, Herr Bernardon led him to the piano. He then described some of the scenes in the piece to Haydn and asked him to improvise accompaniments. Herr Bernardon was delighted with them. One scene in the piece was a storm at sea, which Haydn was to imitate in his playing, and about this Herr Bernardon was very particular. Haydn, however, had not the slightest idea of how to do it. His knowledge of water was confined to the Leitha and the little brooks about Vienna, which were of no help to him in a musical picture of a storm at sea. After Herr Bernardon had vainly tried to describe in words the furious dash of the waves, he stretched himself at full length on two chairs, cleft the air with his outstretched arms, and flung his legs about as if mad.

"What are you doing there?" asked Haydn, after he had watched the singular performance for a while in amazement.

Don't you see that I am swimming?" exclaimed Herr Bernardon, still excitedly imitating the motions of a swimmer. "Oh, yes!" cried Haydn, as a new light began to dawn upon him. As if by accident his fingers ran up and down the keys in three-eight measure, which so perfectly represented the desperate exertions of a drowning man that Herr Bernardon sprang up and embraced the composer. Herr Bernardon entrusted the manuscript of his new comic opera to Haydn, who took it home and familiarized himself with the text the same evening.

The famous French poet, Le Sage in his well-known novel, Le Diable Boiteux  ("The Devil on Two Sticks") describes the adventures of a Spanish student. It was adapted for the stage in various ways. Herr Bernardon's new opera was based upon it—the story of an old love-sick dotard who was cured of his folly by a good-natured devil.

Haydn worked day and night on the music for the humorous text, and soon appeared at Herr Bernardon's lodgings with his no less humorous music. The housemaid informed him her gracious master was studying and could not be disturbed. She was about to turn him away when he happened to look through the glass door of the studio and see Herr Bernardon standing before a large mirror, which reflected such extraordinary grimacing and posturing that he could not help bursting into a loud laugh.

The famous actor, usually delighted at such tributes to his performances, was inclined to resent the interruption, but when he found the culprit was the young composer, with the complete music of the opera under his arm, he cordially welcomed him. Haydn was paid twenty-four ducats. The compensation was well earned, and considering his circumstances at the time, it seemed to him princely pay.

"The Devil on Two Sticks "met with great success; but after its second performance in Vienna it had to be withdrawn because the title role satirized an Italian count who at that time was the amusement director of the city. It was given, however, in Prague and Berlin, in some of the Thuringian cities, and in the Breisgau. The libretto has been preserved, but the music is lost.