A prosperous fool is a grievous burden. — Aeschylus

Josph Haydn - George Upton




Esterhaz

The Neusiedler Lake lies not far from the city of Oedenburg in Hungary, in the midst of vineyards, luxuriant harvest fields, and green meadows. Thousands of wild fowl make it their resort and fall victims to the hunters in their quiet resting-places. The forest-covered Kalkberg range extends west and south, making a background to the plain. Numerous villages nestle at its base, whose inhabitants, besides cultivating the vines and keeping bees, fish and gather the lake rushes for a living.

A hunting-castle at the south end of this lake was a favorite resort of the deceased Prince Ester-hazy. Prince Nicholas Joseph completely rebuilt it and named it Esterhaz, for the village of Esterhaza, where his dynasty originated. He expended an immense sum of money upon the new edifice and grounds, and architects and landscape gardeners vied with one another in beautifying the place. The new castle was now the summer-residence of the Prince, and his chapel accompanied him there. His musical establishment was organized and maintained upon a scale commensurate with the luxury and splendor of all about it—a circumstance which had an important influence upon Haydn's development. Years of strenuous toil now awaited him, and increased fame was his reward. The new demands made upon him as conductor and composer brought opportunities for progress and for the display of unusual productive ability. Under the same incentives the chapel reached its highest excellence, and its fame spread far and wide throughout the Empire. Foreigners of high rank were attracted not alone by the splendor of the new castle, which was fitly called "the Hungarian Versailles," but also by reports of the extraordinary performances of the virtuoso chapel.

In September, 1773, the Empress Maria Theresa came to Esterhaz. The Prince made every effort to honor his illustrious guest, who stayed several days, and arranged a series of gala concerts, under the direction of his chapel-master. The Empress still remembered the choir boy of Saint Stephen's, and Haydn could not refrain from jocosely alluding to the sound whipping he received at her command for his acrobatic performances in the palace garden at Schonbrunn; and he thanked her for such a conspicuous mark of her personal esteem. Notwithstanding twenty-eight years had elapsed and the Empress was now facing the crisis of most momentous events, she remembered the trifling occurrence, and remarked that the days she spent at her dear Schonbrunn were the happiest of her life.

"And look, dear Haydn," she added in her winsome manner, "at the good results that whipping produced."

Before leaving, the Empress gave Haydn a costly snuffbox filled to the brim with ducats as "smart money for that discord of his youth."

Besides the music halls and theatre in the new castle, the Prince had built a marionette theatre, which was characterized by the same display visible everywhere at Esterhaz, and was far more elegant than the marionette theatres of Vienna. It resembled a grotto, both outwardly and inwardly. The walls were inlaid with variegated stones and shells, which brilliantly reflected the illumination and were well adapted to set off the queer performances and light up the appliances on the stage, as well as the marionettes themselves. The latter were quite large, artistically made, and richly costumed. A famous painter and decorator was brought from Vienna. The pantomimes were also performed under professional management, the lines being read or sung behind the scenes by some of the stage people. The pieces were provided by Viennese authors, and the comedy poet Von Pauersbach worked a whole year upon one of them—a marine play, which the Prince purchased from him upon condition that he should personally direct it at Esterhaz for some time.

Haydn's talent was also enlisted for these marionette plays. He still retained his early love for this form of entertainment, and entered upon his duties with delight. These various entertainments at last made such demands upon space at Esterhaz that the lodgings of the chapel-members, some of whom were married and had their families with them, grew more and more contracted. Such close quarters of course resulted in much inconvenience and sometimes led to disputes. This annoyed the Prince so much that he issued an order forbidding the musicians to bring their wives and children with them to Esterhaz, even for a day, and declaring that any violation of the order would be punished by dismissal. Haydn, two chamber-singers, and the first violinist, Tomasini, were the only exceptions. The musicians were thus obliged to be away from their families for six months of the year. They were not allowed to receive visits from them during that period, nor to go to Eisenstadt without special permission. In consequence of these stringent rules the heads of families had to maintain two households. As their expenses were increased they asked for more pay. The Prince allowed each fifty gulden extra, and forbade any further application.

One can readily imagine with what eagerness wives and husbands looked forward to the close of summer, when the latter would return to Eisenstadt. During the first summer under the new regulations, however, the Prince for the first time seemed to be specially fond of Esterhaz. The air was full of gossamer; the foliage took on the hues of autumn; but the season at Esterhaz was prolonged two full months beyond the usual time, and still there was not a sign of leaving. Letters filled with complaints over the long separation flew back and forth between Esterhaz and Eisenstadt. The poor musicians cursed and groaned alternately, and then turned as a last resort to the chapel-master, who had many a time helped them out of hard places. Papa Haydn shrugged his shoulders. What could he do? If he sent a petition, signed by the members of the chapel, it would not appeal to the Prince's feelings, for he always seemed to enjoy tormenting his musicians. All ordinary expedients seemed impracticable; but Haydn was not discouraged. He went about as unconcernedly as usual, and met the complaints of the players with a roguish smile which did not relieve them as they did not know what it meant.

Haydn meanwhile composed a new symphony in an entirely original style, and at the first rehearsal the musicians began to understand his scheme, and a ray of hope shone upon them. The regular concert evening came, and the new symphony was the last number on the programme. Haydn gave his anxious players the signal to begin. He too was in great suspense, as he was not sure that the Prince would understand the significance of the symphony and act upon it. At last the eventful moment came. In the midst of an exciting passage one of the players gathered up his music, blew out the light on his desk, took his instrument, and noiselessly left. Soon another instrument ceased, and its player, like the first one, took his music, blew out his light, and left on tiptoe. A third followed his example, and then a fourth. The orchestra steadily grew smaller and more indistinct, while the Prince and his guests sat in silent wonderment. At last only two of the chapel were left. Haydn next extinguished his light, took his score, and disappeared. Tomasini alone remained. Haydn purposely had planned it thus, for the Prince was very fond of that artist's playing, and therefore he would certainly be induced to remain until the end.

The last note sounded. The last light was extinguished, and as Tomasini went out the room was in darkness. Thereupon the Prince arose, exclaiming, "Since all are gone, we may as well go too." The players in the meantime waited in the anteroom until the Prince appeared. Turning to his genial chapel-master and clapping him on the shoulder,, he smilingly remarked: "I understand it all very well. The gentlemen can leave to-morrow." That very evening his horses and carriages were ordered to be in readiness to convey them to Eisenstadt.

Thus Haydn carried out his plan and made all his players happy by his ingenious scheme. The original work with which he achieved his plan is now known everywhere as "The Farewell Symphony."