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Josph Haydn - George Upton




The Father of Instrumental Music

In lower hungary, twenty-six miles southeast of Vienna, lies the little city of Eisenstadt, a place of about five thousand inhabitants. The houses are scattered along the steep ascent of the Leitha range, which bounds the level country. From the heights there is a picturesque view of the Neusiedler Lake,' surrounded on one side by a broad semi-circle of mountains, and on the other by a plain, bordered with densely wooded heights, and luxuriant with fruitful vineyards. A part of Eisenstadt, called the upper city, contains the convent and hospital of the Brothers of Charity and the park of the Esterhazy Castle. From this point three streets lead to the lower city, at the end of which is the church. There is a second church, that of the Mountain Parish, in the upper city.

The Esterhazy Castle is one of the finest examples of palace-construction in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The gently undulating ground is laid out in a park of great extent, after the English manner. Its shaded paths, waterfalls, ponds, artificial grottoes, and magnificent conservatory combine to make it one of the most delightful of resorts. In the midst of this paradise rise the Corinthian columns of a beautiful temple.

The princes of the Esterhazy family were always patrons of music. As in all the other princely houses of that period, the singers and players belonged to the Esterhazy household. These princes advanced the cause of music not for the sake of self-display, but because of their love of the art; and some of them were composers themselves or skilful performers upon some instrument. The maintenance of the chapel was a very expensive matter, for which reason its members were required to perform other duties also. Only such attendants were engaged in the household as could take part in the orchestra work. The professional musicians served as secretaries, administrative officials, and overseers, and made themselves useful in other ways. Besides these there were instructors and organists, who had to be paid for their services on special occasions, as well as the vocal soloists.

At the time we are describing, the reigning prince was Paul Anton Esterhazy. He was passionately fond of music, was an excellent violin and violoncello-player, and had made his chapel famous. Gregory Joseph Werner, an experienced musician, had served for many years as chapel-master. He had grown old and infirm, however, and the burden of years had made him childish and petulant, so that the prince was obliged to look about for his successor. He recalled a visit he had paid to Count Morzin at which he was informed about young Haydn and heard some of his quartets. They were very different in style from the serious and pedantic compositions of his old chapel-master Werner,—for they had the freshness of _youth and the originality of genius.

The recollection of this visit was timely. The prince applied to Count Morzin and upon his recommendation engaged Haydn as his chapel-master. Haydn went at once to Eisenstadt with his wife and made his home there for nearly thirty years. At first he was assistant chapel-master; but the orchestra was really under his direction, and the old Werner was leader only in name. Nowadays the chapel-master's duty is confined to the proper rehearsal and correct leading of his orchestra, but at that time he was required to compose music for performance, for the repertory was very limited. Haydn had regularly to produce such compositions as the prince desired. He was also absolutely forbidden to write music for others to perform, or indeed to write anything for another without first receiving the prince's permission. He had to appear daily in the prince's anteroom and remain there an hour to receive orders and ascertain if a concert was to be given in the evening. It was his further duty to rehearse the orchestra and singers faithfully, to maintain the performances of the chapel upon a standard which would reflect credit upon his prince and prove himself worthy of the princely favor, and to see that all the musicians were punctual at rehearsals and concerts. He had to make a note of those who were late or absent, and settle all disagreements among the musicians. In common with all the other members he was obliged to wear a uniform,—white stockings and a powdered queue or hair-bag; and everything must fit perfectly. In an old oil portrait Haydn is pictured in a bright blue dress coat with silver cord and buttons, a blue waistcoat with silver lace, and an embroidered ruff and white necktie. His salary was four hundred gulden per, annum, and his board cost him half a gulden a day. He had filled his new position about a year when Prince Paul Anton died and, as he left no children, was succeeded by his brother Nicholas Joseph.

Haydn's position was not disturbed by this event. The new Prince was even more enthusiastically devoted to music than his predecessor. He increased the number of players so that the violins were strengthened fivefold; the oboes, bassoons, and French horns doubled, with one cello, one contra-bass, and one flute,—an excellent proportion, when it is considered it was only a private chapel, and that instrumental music was still far below the standard of modern development. In addition to the players there were an organist, three women singers, a tenor, and a bass.

Having an increased musical force, Prince Nicholas Joseph increased its duties. Besides the table music, masses in the castle, the chapel, and the church, and concerts in the large and richly decorated salon, chamber music was played, and a theatre was constructed in the glass house of the park, in which Italian operas and vaudevilles were performed.

Haydn's duties were considerably increased under the new regime, but it opened up splendid opportunities for his creative activity and the display of his great talent. He composed several vaudevilles for the theatre, and wrote his first grand opera, "Accida," in honor of the marriage of the Prince's eldest son to the daughter of Count Erdody that year (1762).

In the Summer of 1763 he had the pleasure of a visit from his father. The old man had the satisfaction of seeing his son in the exalted position of chapel-master, and the long and secretly cherished desire of his heart was gratified. He had also carried his point. His eldest son had become the accomplished musician he himself gladly would have been, and Frau Marie had been resting under the sod for nine years unvexed by doubts of any kind. The simple wheelwright, however, never realized his son's future greatness, but what he had already accomplished swelled his heart with pride. His days were numbered, although he was only in the beginning of the sixties, and was enjoying vigorous health. He met his death at his work. Shortly after his return to Rohrau, a pile of wood fell upon him and broke several of his ribs. After great suffering he died, September 12, 1763. Only two articles which belonged to him have been preserved,—an axe with "M. H. 1727" cut into it, and a brass finger-ring with "M. H." and a wheel engraved upon it, which was ploughed up in his field.

Haydn wrote his first symphony in 1759, and composed over a hundred more during his long life. It was long, however, before the symphony developed into the form in which we know it to-day. The Italians understood by symphony the instrumental prelude to the opera. The French called it "overture," and under this name it was naturalized in Germany. Some of the Italian and German musicians had already extended its scope, but Haydn surpassed them all in the inexhaustible richness of his creative power, as well as in musical knowledge. He increased the old string limits of the symphony, and scored it for oboe, French horn, bassoon, flute, clarinet, trumpet, and kettledrum, besides adding the minuet to the other three movements, thus imparting grace, vivacity, and dignity to the work.

Haydn's creative industry was exclusively devoted to the service of the Prince, but at the same time his great ability was also employed in the service of art in the strictest sense. In his studies and performances he made himself thoroughly acquainted with musical forms and instrumentation; and this in turn inspired a longing to produce masterpieces, which should place the art of music upon a new basis and prepare the way for its development. He is rightly called "the Father of the Symphony," but his service to music was greater than this; for he did more than any other to develop instrumental music and elevate it to a height from which it was enabled to reach its present importance and excellence.

Mozart and Beethoven built upon Haydn's foundations. Mozart animated the instrumental body with a soul, and breathed into it the breath of a new life, reflecting his own richly gifted nature. Beethoven made it the medium of wonderful revelations of profound thought, deep feeling, and of the working of human emotions and human passions.