Josph Haydn - George Upton

At the Parting of the Ways

On the evening of this eventful day in November, 1750, we behold the expelled and dejected scholar of the Saint Stephen's Cantorei wandering about the streets of Vienna with no home and with nothing to do. He owned only the shabby clothes on his body. His pockets were wellnigh as empty as his stomach. He knew no one in the great city to whom he could apply for help; besides all this, it was cold and wet, and the dismal prospect of spending the whole night without shelter stared him in the face.

No one noticed him or cared for him. The crowd, returning from the day's work in shops and offices and other occupations, passed him unsympathetically. Darkness settled down upon the fast deserted streets, which were made still more cheerless by the dimly burning oil lanterns. He heard the sounds of carousing behind drawn shutters, and saw the shadows of dancing couples glide past the brightly illuminated windows of pleasure resorts. Gradually it grew more and more quiet. All at once, however, the bustling life of the pleasure loving city was resumed when the theatre performances came to an end. Carriages rattled over the pavements, and here and there flared the red gleams of torches carried by servants to light the way for those returning home on foot.

At last the streets and squares were wrapped in a silence as deep as that of the churchyard upon which he had looked down so often in the night hours. Some drunken men staggered past him, trying to find their way home. Sometimes a suspicious-looking person stole by, bent upon evil deeds under cover of the darkness, and now and then the patrol, the policeman of that day, guarding the safety of the city, paced the walk with measured stride, and scared him away from the bench or sheltered nook where he would fain have rested himself. Not wishing to rouse the suspicions of the guardians of the peace, he wandered from one part of the city to another, until at last heavy dark clouds blotted out the moon and stars.

What should he do?

His first thought was to get back to his home in Rohrau, only eight leagues away. But how could he? If the loss of his voice had been the only cause for his expulsion from the chapel-house, he might have found sympathy and consolation at home; but he could not endure the thought of appearing there and acknowledging his misconduct.

What would the neighbors and all the people who had seen the little boy start away from his native village with such bright prospects think of him? What would the schoolmaster and the Hainburg cousin say when they saw the disgraced choir-singer returning? And what could he do in Rohrau? Be a burden to his parents? Perhaps learn the wheelwright's trade?

Such thoughts as these distracted him all that apparently endless night. In the gray of the morning he reached the wooded heights which surrounded the inner city and, from their farther side, afforded a view of the suburbs, At last, wet, chilled through, and utterly exhausted, he threw himself upon a bench. He realized there was nothing left for him in Vienna, except the difficult task of getting a piece of bread to appease his hunger, and finding some dry place where he could rest a couple of hours and get strength enough to make the journey to Rohrau. He had had no sleep for twenty-four hours. His tired head dropped upon his breast and he fell into a restless half-slumber, from which he was frequently roused by the cold rain or by the increasing noise of passing vehicles. At last he was thoroughly awakened and saw a simply but neatly dressed young man sharply scrutinizing him.

"Haydn," he exclaimed at last, "is it really you?"

Haydn recognized the speaker. It was Spangler.

"What are you doing here?" said his old school-fellow. "And how you look! Why, you are as sleepy and used up as if you had been helping at table music all night!"

"Table music and singing are all over for me," replied Haydn. "Do you know," he added, with a bitter smile, "I have had your experience? The melodious nightingale has turned into a croaking frog, or 'crowing cock,' as our gracious Queen expressed it, and Reutter has—"

"Thrown you out, of course," said Spangler.

"That is so," said Haydn, "and in a hurry too. I have been seeing the city all night without a kreuzer in my pocket or a roof to shelter me."

"Poor fellow!" said Spangler, "Reutter has no further use for a choir boy when he can no longer reach the high F, nor does he care what becomes of him."

"Unfortunately it is partly my own fault that I am in trouble," said Haydn, who proceeded to give Spangler the details of the incident which led to his dismissal.

"And now what are you going to do?" said Spangler.

"Go back to my father's house like the prodigal son," said Haydn.

"But in that event what will become of your music? It is never too late to change your mind. Stay in Vienna. You will find something to do. Was I not nearly starved when Reutter gave me my passport? and cannot a fellow like you manage to get along? Keller has told me all about your talent. Come along with me. It is little enough that I can offer, but it will keep your head above water for the time being."

Haydn grasped his faithful friend's hand and went home with him.

Spangler was a tenor singer in the parish church of Saint Michael. To eke out his pittance of an income he gave private lessons in various families in the ordinary school studies. He lived with his wife and child in a garret, a small part of which was partitioned off, making a kind of lumber room, but large enough for a straw bed. This was Haydn's chamber. There was no possibility of serious work, however, under the circumstances. The worthy couple's little daughter was only a few months old, and as she was continually crying or the mother was singing to her, Haydn would have had to be deaf to pursue his studies in thorough-bass. There was no piano, and violin practice in such contracted quarters was out of the question. Moreover, the food problem was a serious one for Haydn, as the Spanglers had to struggle for the bare necessities of life and practise the most rigid economies in the kitchen.

News of Haydn's wretched plight at last reached his parents, and his mother's desire that he should enter upon the ministerial profession was again aroused. Her entreaties and exhortations were useless, however. He was determined to remain faithful to music. He felt that he had the ability to gain distinction in the highest of the arts, and that it only needed perseverance to find the right road to success.

Hunger proved stronger than the love of music. It tormented him all night and assailed him the moment he opened his eyes in the morning. He even dreamed of the delicacies he used to get at the annual music festivals. The cravings of hunger accomplished what the maternal supplications failed to do.

Having learned that he could secure admission to the Servite order without very strict conditions, he decided to join it. The regulations might be such as to make cloister life monotonous, but he had never heard that monks suffered from hunger, even on fast-days. He thought that God might have ordered this time of bitter trial for him, and that it signified he should wholly devote himself to His service. This thought impressed him more and more, and one day he set out with the fixed determination to apply for admission into the order. On the way he heard music in a house. He stopped and listened to the beautiful harmony of a harp, violin, and flute. Some wondrous lovely melodies with charming accompaniments, which he had never heard before, deeply interested him. The noble art once more enthralled him, and hope rose anew in his soul. He thought, "Does God really wish me to become a priest? Can I not serve him as well with my art? Does not music inspire devotion in the soul and elevate it divinely, and is it not called the daughter of Heaven? Would God have given me this instinct, this passion for music in my very childhood, and then forbidden me to employ it in the way I feel it is my duty to do? Why have I followed it with a devotion nothing can check? God's hand directs every action and every noble faculty, every aspiration of man to His work. Therefore I must be an artist."

Thus was Haydn won back to the muse. By the help of Spangler's hospitality he managed to get through the Winter, though in a wretched kind of way. He undertook writing arrangements for various instruments, and played the violin for musical gatherings and dances. Every Saturday he went to the Hoher Markt and on other days to the Brandstatt, where musicians who played for dances were wont to resort, and those who gave balls could secure their services.

Haydn now had to give up the serious and strict forms of church music for music of the popular style; but a real artist, even when he is the victim of circumstances, learns how to adapt himself to the lower taste and to study it. While Haydn was playing in popular orchestras to earn a couple of kreutzers, he obtained an understanding of what people liked, and that knowledge was the basis of the popularity of his subsequent works, though he never employed any save the most artistic methods and the highest forms in their construction.

The Winter passed away in a hand-to-hand struggle for existence. When Spring came with its balmy air, and the earth put on again its hopeful, peaceful vesture of green, the great city with its crowded masses of houses oppressed him, and he was irresistibly tempted by the fresh beauty of nature, to wander far away among the mountains and valleys.

One day, while strolling about the streets, he encountered a great procession of devotees of various kinds and burghers from the country. Without a moment's thought he joined them, and united with them in their religious songs. It was immaterial to him where they were going, but he learned from his neighbor that they were on the way to the famous Maria cloister in Styria. It was not less than twelve German miles off, but the distance did not discourage him. The beauty of the country compensated for the tediousness of the march; and while the undertaking did not seem to promise valuable results, that did not trouble him, as he was now content with things even of trifling importance. His cloister associates certainly were almost as poor as he, and those who had more than they needed were always ready to share with others.

Upon reaching the cloister, he sought the choir master of the chapel, Father Wrastil, and introduced himself. He told him he had been a choir boy at Saint Stephen's, showed him some of his compositions, and asked for employment. The choir master barely glanced at his music and curtly said: "There are too many blockheads coming here from Vienna, passing themselves off as choir boys, who can't sing a note when they are tried. I don't propose to be taken in by any more of them."

Haydn was not discouraged by his inhospitable reception. He went the next day to high mass in the chapel and ascended to the choir loft. He listened a while to the playing of Widerhofer, the organist, and after mingling freely with the singers, discovered the soloist. "I am from the chapel-house at Saint Stephen's in Vienna," he said to him, "and have studied under Reutter, of whom you must have heard."

"Certainly," replied the singer. "Of course I have heard of Reutter."

"Well, you know," continued Haydn, "that one who has been a pupil of Reutter's has the right to sing anywhere. Allow me the pleasure, therefore, my good friend, of singing the solo in your place."

The soloist's displeasure was plainly depicted on his face. "I am engaged by the choir master to sing here," he replied, tightly pressing his music to his breast.

Haydn stepped back but kept near by, and when the moment came for the singer to begin and he was just about opening his mouth, Haydn suddenly stepped up behind him, seized his music and sang the solo himself.

Although his voice was no longer agreeable to royal ears, and could not compare with his brother's, yet such singing as his was unusual in that little chapel. It was a good opportunity for him, and he displayed his utmost abilities. He sang so beautifully that the whole choir listened in amazement. And this was not all. When the service was finished, Father Wrastil came up, shook hands with him, and apologized for his discourtesy of the day before. The other priests, with Superior Bierbaum at their head, were introduced, and invited him to table. At last Haydn had enough eating to last him for some time. They would not allow him to depart immediately. He was their guest for eight days, and when he took his leave the Superior presented him with a small sum of money raised by the brethren. The pilgrimage to the Maria cloister was a joyful event for Haydn.