Josph Haydn - George Upton

The Last Days

As the evening of life approached, Haydn did not suffer his easier circumstances and freedom from anxiety to affect his activity. The finest fruit of his genius was still in store for the world. While in London, Salomon had given him a poem by Lidley, based upon the Biblical story of the Creation, and suggested it as a good text for an oratorio. Baron van Swieten, the imperial librarian in Vienna, and an intimate friend of Haydn, translated it into German, and Haydn supplied the music. This work, "The Creation," reveals the master at the height of his productive power, and surpasses all his previous compositions. From his own statement it is clear that he thought the Divine should always be expressed by love and goodness, and this is the origin of the lovely fancies in the angelic choruses and the jubilant announcement of light, and the source of the devout faith and cheerful spirit which characterize this work and make it superior to all others in the attractiveness with which religious sentiment is expressed. Haydn himself tells us how deeply he was impressed by the composition of this oratorio. He says: "I was never so pious as during the time I was working upon 'The Creation.' I fell upon my knees daily and prayed to God to give me strength for the successful completion of the work."

The first performance of "The Creation" in Paris took place at the Grand Opera on Christmas Eve of 1800.' There was not a box to be had two weeks beforehand, so great was the interest aroused in musical circles of the French capital by the announcement of the concert and the brilliant success of the work in Vienna. The streets in the vicinity of the opera house were thronged at nine in the morning, and the crowd at night was so dense as to be dangerous to life. There was not a vacant seat in the house. Bonaparte and the leading government officials were present in the great auditorium. The success of the oratorio exceeded all expectations. Other cities—London, Berlin, Prague, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Dresden, Saint Petersburg, Amsterdam, and Leipsic—produced it in rapid succession, and its frequent repetition showed what a deep and lasting impression it had made upon all hearts.

Haydn was again inspired by an English poem, Thompson's "Seasons," to write an oratorio. Van Swieten was again the translator, and in eleven months the music was completed. The fire of immortal youth, which, by the grace of God, still glowed in the soul of the master, now in his seventy-sixth year, shows itself in this work. "The Seasons" was first given April 24, 1801, at the Schwartzenberg Palace, and with such success that it was twice repeated. Like "The Creation," it made the circuit of the principal European cities, and elicited expressions of admiration, which came to the master even from extremely remote places. Vienna followed their example, but somewhat later, when the magistrates presented Haydn with a gold medal and the civic diploma of honor.

An unusual tribute was paid to Haydn, March 27, 1808. Upon that evening the Vienna University Hall was a blaze of light. The Society of Musical Amateurs gave a performance of "The Creation," under the direction of Salieri, in honor of the composer, and thousands of his admirers came to pay him the tribute of their homage. Carriage after carriage drove up, filled with elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen. Some of these carriages bore the arms of Lobkowitz and Kinsky, Lichnowsky and Schwartzenberg, Trautmansdorf and Auersperg. A list of those occupying the front seats would have included the names of the entire art-loving nobility of the Empire. At last Prince Esterhazy's carriage rolled up. A military guard kept back the expectant and excited crowds. An old man, carefully wrapped in a fur cloak, alighted with the assistance of a servant of the princely house. He was received at the door by several distinguished persons, among them Ludwig van Beethoven, his old-time scholar, whose fame had been spread all over the world by his great symphonies and his opera, "Fidelio." Haydn was helped into a chair, and, as he was taken into the hall, he was greeted by a fanfare of trumpets, a roll of the drums, and the shouts of the vast assemblage,—"Hoch Haydn! Long live Papa Haydn!"

His work was performed that evening in Italian, and undoubtedly there was a profound feeling of gratitude in his soul to his old master, Porpora, long since dead, for making him acquainted with that beautiful language, every sound of which is musical. And how surprised old Porpora would have been could he have seen his former pupil and lackey as he sat there in state dress of a fine brown material, elaborate silk waistcoat, stately frills, white silk hose, shoes with silver buckles, his neck covered with a kerchief golden-clasped, and his breast decorated with the medal of the Paris Society of Amateurs. Upon one side of Haydn sat the Princess Esterhazy, and on the other Fraulein Kurzbeck, his favorite pupil. Next nearest to him sat the leaders of Viennese aristocracy. A poem in his honor, by the patriotic poet Collin, and a sonnet, by Carpani, both of whom were present, were read.

The performance of the great oratorio then began. At the famous passage "Let there be Light, and there was Light," in which the composer has pictured the first beneficent gift of God and the disappearance of chaos and the spirits of darkness in those wonderful chromatic passages, the entire audience rose in an enthusiastic demonstration of applause. Haydn pointed toward Heaven and said with deep emotion, "It came from there." Then his head dropped upon his breast. "I am cold," he whispered, "I feel a draught from somewhere." Princess Esterhazy at once covered his shoulders with her shawl, and other ladies his feet with theirs. Beethoven stepped forward and kissed the master's hand; this was the signal for a fresh tribute, for the next moment he was showered with roses which loving hands strewed about him. Haydn did not feel strong enough to endure further demonstration and retired at the close of the first part. As he was carried out of the hall, the eyes of the vast assemblage followed him and hundreds of them were moist with tears.

Haydn's wife died in 1800 at Baden, near Vienna, where she had vainly sought relief from a rheumatic ailment. On August 10, 1806, his brother Michael also passed away.

One servant was always in faithful attendance at the side of the old master in his last years. His name was Johann. He was the second son of Joseph Elssler, the Esterhazy copyist, for all of whose children Haydn had been godfather. Johann had been in Haydn's service since 1790, first as copyist and then as secretary, and in this latter capacity had accompanied his master on his second London journey. In Haydn's last years he was general manager of the house and relieved the feeble old man from all cares and annoyances. His reverence for him was so great that when he was putting the house to rights he would stand before Haydn's picture with a censer as if he were offering at an altar. Johann subsequently married the daughter of a mason and had two children, Fanny and Theresa, the famous dancers. Theresa was created Countess von Barnim by the King.

On the 7th of September, August Wilhelm Iffland, a great actor and dramatist from Berlin, made him a visit. He was an unusual man in every way and the writer of many excellent dramas, which were universally popular as pictures of the social customs of the time. This close student of human nature was delighted with the opportunity of listening to Haydn as he related to him some of the experiences of his art life. Elssler had to bring in the large chest in which he kept his souvenirs. There were silver dishes, golden snuffboxes,—among them one from the king of Naples,—and other articles which were of great worth as expensive objects of art, but which had a still higher value for their owner because of the associations connected with them.

"This," said Haydn, pointing to a cocoanut cup mounted in silver, "is a gift from Clementi. He was very much incensed with me in London, because he thought I overshadowed him, but his anger did not last long, as this cup shows. What he has done for the development of piano-playing by his sonatas will not be fully known until later. And here," taking up another object, "is the medal which my dear Vienna gave me. I received it five years ago, after the performance of some of my works—"

"Which were given for the benefit of the poor and the city hospital," apologetically interrupted Elssler, "and they brought in the round sum of thirty-three thousand gulden. My good master always forgets to tell that."

Haydn motioned to him to stop. "At times," he resumed, "when I am melancholy, I look over my precious collection of souvenirs which came to me from near and far, and the satisfaction of knowing that all Europe has honored me makes me happy again. I think I have done my duty and have been of some use to the world. Now I have laid my lyre aside, and others must take it and go on with the work."

"What Haydn has done for the world," said Iffland, "was not a duty, but the gift of his genius and a blessing for mankind."

"It was all a gift from God," the master modestly replied. "I have followed the same course in my life as in my compositions. I have begun and ended all of them with a ' Laus Deo,' and all through my life there has run a golden thread of divine memories. To Him be all the honor and thanks from these poor lips. My whole life bears the impress of his merciful love."

Iffland, deeply moved, bade farewell to the old master; and he always cherished the interview as one of the most precious of his memories.

Haydn's last days were clouded with troubles. Innumerable messages of love and honor came to him from all sides, but the pitiful condition of the Fatherland, which he loved so dearly, greatly alarmed him. With tearful eyes he sorrowed over Austria's misfortunes, and it was difficult to comfort him. Bonaparte, the consul, had become Emperor of the French. His violent policy had provoked fresh wars, in which Austria was involved. In consequence of the defeat at Austerlitz new cessions of territory were made, and Emperor Francis had to give up the crown of Germany. Napoleon defeated the Austrian army at Landshut, April 21, 1809, and again, the next day, at Eckmuhl. After these victories he made a forced march upon Vienna, and on May 10 a French army corps advanced to the suburb of Mariahilf, not far from Haydn's home.

With his servant's help Haydn rose from his bed and was in the act of dressing, when four cannon shots were heard, which shook all the doors and windows. The other members of the household came rushing in, panic-stricken. "Children," cried the old master, "fear not! No harm can happen to you where Haydn is." He spoke with a firm voice. Perhaps he was thinking of that evening in London when his presence saved so many from the falling chandelier. His spirit, however, was stronger than his body. He steadily grew more feeble, but notwithstanding his loss of strength, he went to his piano daily and played his Emperor's Hymn.

Profound as Haydn's attachment was to his home, his art had transcended the narrow limits of the Fatherland, and his works were the property of the whole world. His masterpieces had been performed in Paris frequently; and even now, when the French were enemies to his country, they paid him all reverence. While he played the Emperor's Hymn, a guard of honor was stationed at his door, and the band of a French regiment played on parade the beautiful aria, "With Verdure Clad," from his "Creation." A French captain of hussars, named Sulemy, eager to see the composer face to face, asked permission to call, and told him in most enthusiastic terms how much he admired him. This was Haydn's last visitor.

On May 26, Haydn played his Emperor's Hymn three times in succession, with pathetic fervor; but toward evening he had pains in his head, followed by an ague fit, which forced him to take to his bed. The efforts of the physician were useless. Notwithstanding all his exertions the patient sank into a state of exhaustion and insensibility. About one o'clock in the morning he showed some signs of consciousness, but shortly after this the soul of the great musician took its flight. He had lived two months beyond his seventy-seventh year.

The news of Haydn's death reached the people while they were still distracted over the French occupation of the city. At such a time of universal excitement and confusion it was useless to think of an imposing funeral ceremony in which all could participate, but the French authorities magnanimously and appropriately announced his death in all the newspapers. His body was interred in the Hundsthurm churchyard, outside the lines, and on June Is a memorial service was held at the Schottenkirche. The densely crowded church was shrouded in drapery bearing his name. The service was attended not only by all the distinguished musicians and society people of Vienna, but also by the French officers. Citizen soldiers acted as a guard of honor around the sarcophagus. The souvenirs which he had received during his long career—among them the medals given him by various cities—were displayed upon a satin cushion. During the service Mozart's "Requiem" was performed—the last work of the young master who died so early and who was so beloved by Haydn.

Notwithstanding Haydn's simple manner of life he had laid aside in his sixtieth year only about two thousand gulden. He had little compensation for his numerous works; in some cases none at all. It was not until the two London visits that he was well paid. With the receipts from his concerts in that city he had about sixty thousand gulden when he died. He made all his relatives his heirs and did not discriminate against those who were related to him only by his father's second marriage. He also generously remembered those who had been kind to him in his days of necessity. His servants were not forgotten, and a fixed sum was set apart for the care of his parents' graves.

Prince Nicholas, always Haydn's loyal friend and patron, exhumed his body November 6, 1820, and had it removed the next day from the Hundsthurm churchyard to the upper parish church in Eisenstadt, where it was reinterred with appropriate ceremonies. His body now rests in the vaults of this church where he had so often conducted his own masses, and a simple stone, with a veiled lyre and the inscription, "The Prince of Music of his time," marks the sacred spot. Upon the memorial erected to him at Rohrau are the words, "Rohrau gave him life; Europe gave him universal approbation; death gave him entrance to the halls of eternity." A stately monument was also erected to his memory in front of the Mariahilf Church, which was unveiled May 31, 1887, with imposing ceremonies, in the presence of Emperor Francis Joseph I.

Haydn created the artistic patterns of the sonata, the quartet, and the symphony. He is justly called the father of instrumental music. His great oratorio, "The Creation," still survives in all its freshness and beauty. His masses are masterpieces, and his songs are still capable of affording delight. He evolved the first German national hymn from his patriotic nature. Truth and naturalness, freshness and joyousness, are the fundamental qualities of his works and all of them reflect a childlike, cheerful nature. He could be earnest and impressive in the proper place, but he was dominated by happiness and the joy of youth; and so to-day he still remains the old master eternally young, and the greatest humorist in the empire of music, swaying our hearts in the simplest of means with the joy and grace and beauty that irradiated his whole life.