Josph Haydn - George Upton

Professional and Domestic Life

Haydn, as we have seen, lacked the advantage of a thorough musical education up to this time. What he had learned was acquired from his own observation. He had succeeded, by making attempts and correcting his mistakes, and by the mighty exertions of genius, in achieving the independence and individuality which characterize his work. Speaking of this, he once said: "As leader of the orchestra I was free to experiment and observe what produced and what weakened effect, and also to improve, alter, and make additions or omissions. I was cut off from the world, and there was no one near to confuse or trouble me, so that I was forced to be original."

Most truly was he secluded from the outside world in this little Hungarian city, but he kept in touch with it by close association with the members of the chapel, many of whom were foreigners, and kept coming and going. In this way he exerted an extraordinary influence upon the chapel, and kept its members in sympathy with his efforts to maintain a standard and prevent them from narr6wing down to a mere local organization. He himself also, while gaining a wider acquaintance with foreign music, profited by this association personally, for those who left the chapel and went back to the world carried Haydn's name and fame with them, and confirmed the reputation which his works were making. They used to gather at the inn of "The Angel "and enjoy a glass of Hungarian wine, and Haydn spent many a pleasant evening there. He also used to enjoy an hour now and then at card-playing with the Prince's steward, Liszt, who was very musical. This steward was the father of Franz Liszt, who was destined to become as famous a player upon the piano as Paganini was upon the violin.

Haydn formed close friendships with some of his chapel associates, among them the distinguished virtuoso Tomasini, who was of Italian birth. "No one can play my quartets as well as thou," he once assured him. His bosom friend was the violoncellist Weigl, of whose first child he was godfather. This boy was named Joseph, for Haydn, and in later years did credit to the name. He became chapel-master and composed, among other works, an opera, "The Swiss Family," which made his name famous and which was frequently performed in the first half of the last century. Among the singers in the chapel during 1768 was Maria Magdalena, oldest daughter of Spangler, whose humble abode he once shared. She obtained her position through Haydn's influence, and it was a supreme gratification to him to be able thus to express his devotion to the faithful friend who had saved the homeless choir boy from utter despair.

Haydn's relations with Prince Nicholas, who doubled his salary after the death of the old chapel-master Werner, were of the most cordial nature, and the warm encouragement given him by the Prince went far to inspire the production of his greater works. At times he would complain of his seclusion and long for Italy, which had been the dream of his youth; but a friendly word or a timely gift from the Prince quickly hushed complaints and strengthened the bonds between him and his master, with whom, in his own words, he was content "to live and die." There was never the slightest unpleasantness between them but once. The Prince played remarkably well upon the baryton, an instrument resembling the violoncello, which has now gone out of use. Its seven strings were played with a bow. Besides these there were sixteen metal strings below the neck upon which the performer played with the tip of the left thumb. The technic of the baryton was very difficult, but the Prince was fond of it because of its sweet and tender tone. As Haydn had not written sufficient new compositions for the instrument the Prince expressed his displeasure with his chapel-master very emphatically. Haydn did not need a second reproof. He wrote piece after piece, producing during that year no less than one hundred and ninety-three for the Prince's favorite instrument.

During the time that Haydn occupied his own house in Eisenstadt he met with misfortunes; for it burned twice, and many of his compositions—among them several operas—were a prey to the flames. The Prince each time encouraged him to rebuild, and was so much interested that he restored the internal fixtures of the house as they were before the fire, in which work he was assisted by a scholar of Haydn's who studied composition with him from 1772 to 1775. His name was Pleyel, and we shall meet him later. Haydn's house is still standing in the lower city, at No. 84. Klostergasse, not far from the Franciscan monastery. It is two stories high, with four windows on the street front, and both outwardly and inwardly is suggestive of comfort. The windows at the rear give upon the castle park, and here in quiet seclusion he could look over the green tree-tops while he listened to the songs of birds, which inspired his fancy to still higher flights. Instead of pictures he had forty-six canons of his own composition framed and hanging upon the walls of his sleeping-room.

Haydn cannot be held responsible for the lack of domestic happiness in his home. The joys of a father were denied him, and his wife, as is well known, had no affection for him and no sympathy in his work. She had no appreciation of his music, nor did she care for it in the least. He used to say to his intimate friends that she did not care whether her husband was an artist or a cobbler. All that she wanted was the money he earned, and she was so extravagant in the use of it that he was forced to hide it from her. She liked high living, gave frequent entertainments, and indulged in extravagancies far beyond their modest means. When she gave dinners she would use his scores for pastry paper, and sometimes as curl papers. He was often heavily embarrassed by her folly, and at such times the Prince would help him out of his troubles in some delicate way. He bore his domestic grievances, however, with patience and cheerfulness, and when they became too distressing he would frustrate her recklessness by devising some little trickery.

At one time Haydn had a fever and was obliged to keep his bed for a long time. When on the way to recovery his physician forbade him to have anything to do with music for a time. His wife watched him with Argus eyes, and would not allow him to get out of bed or have a piece of music paper in his hand. This was intolerable to him, for he delighted in work, and it was all the harder at this time because a multitude of fancies and ideas for composition had come into his head during his enforced rest. He was suddenly seized with an irresistible desire to write. The scheme of a sonata had completely captivated him, and he wanted to put it on paper; but it was not to be thought of, for his watchful and sharp-eyed wife would not leave him alone five minutes at a time. Suddenly the church bells rang their calls to service, which Frau Haydn, being a devout Catholic, never failed to attend. The patient blessed the Sabbath and the man who invented bells. Frau Haydn, however, before she went out, told the maid to take her place in the sick-room; but Haydn quickly found a way to get rid of her. He despatched the maid upon an errand to an acquaintance living some distance away, and when he found himself alone he jumped out of bed, rushed to his dear and long untouched piano, tried the first movement of the sonata, and hurriedly wrote it out in short sketches. When Frau Haydn returned from church she found her husband lying in bed just as she had left him, as docile and obedient as a child, and looking as innocent as a lamb.

After his recovery Haydn spent much time hunting and fishing. He was quite vain of his skill as a Nimrod, and was particularly proud of two of his exploits. At one time he killed three heathcocks with a single shot; at another time he aimed at a hare and only shot off its brush, but with the same shot killed a pheasant that had incautiously ventured too near. This, however, turned out unfortunately; his dog, while pursuing Master Hare at a furious pace, ran headlong into a trap and was strangled. He had plenty of opportunities to ride, for the Prince's stable was at his disposal; but he did not avail himself of them, because, while at Count Morzin's, he had been thrown from a horse, and after that he took no pleasure in the saddle. During his walks he often lingered in front of a smithy in the upper city. The bellows starting up the fire, and the glowing iron upon the anvil bending under the strokes of the hammer, reminded him of his father's shop, where he used to stand by the fire and watch him at work upon the wheels. He delighted to stop there and talk with the smith about the craft with which he was so familiar. Certain rhythmical passages in one of his sonatas are supposed to represent the sonorous clang of the smith's hammer, and have led to its designation as the Hammerschmied."