haydnIt’s still the 200th anniversary of Franz Josef Haydn’s death, and in honor I thought I’d borrow a few words from Chris Wendt’s Haydn bio on Chris’ “Here of a Sunday Morning” website. But what I’d like you to do, is read it as if it’s being written about some “maverick” in the last 20 years — Picking up what you know outside academia, living on ramen in cheap apartments giving a couple lessons & freelance, a couple lucky connections, landing a sweet commercial gig but with a lot of dogwork, copyright violations  and pirated music that paradoxically work in your favor…

At St. Stephen’s Haydn received instruction in voice, violin, and keyboard, but little general education except for a smattering of Latin. In 1745 he was joined there by his younger brother Michael, and almost immediately the gifted younger sibling assumed the elder’s position as soloist. Passing out of the limelight probably encouraged Haydn in his natural bent for composition, but he received little help: Reutter, himself a professional composer, gave the youngster only two lessons. As Haydn’s voice changed, his position as a chorister became increasingly untenable. In late 1749 he was dismissed peremptorily over a practical joke.

Taking an attic room next door to St. Michael’s Church, he made ends meet by giving violin and keyboard lessons, working as a free-lance musician in churches, and performing in (and sometimes composing for) groups playing the open-air evening serenades so popular in Vienna. At the same time he began an intensive study of counterpoint (using the writings of Fux) and figured bass (using Mattheson). The results of his industry were clearly evident by 1751, when Pietro Metastasio, the renowned poet and architect of opera seria, engaged Haydn to tutor a gifted girl, Marianna Martines. [...In 1753] Martines began vocal studies with Nicola Porpora; through her and Metastasio, Haydn gained an entree to that famous opera composer.

Haydn proposed to serve as Porpora’s factotum in return for instruction; although this arrangement was undertaken for no more than three months, Haydn later credited Porpora with teaching him “the true fundamentals of composition.” [....]

Haydn had worked scarcely a year when the prince died on March 18, 1762. If Haydn was once again plunged into uncertainty about his future, his fears would have been dispelled quickly, for Nikolaus, brother and successor to Paul Anton, possessed an appetite for music that was, if anything, even keener than his predecessor’s. Haydn’s original contract stipulated that he report to the prince in the morning and again in the afternoon to see if music making was wanted. This arrangement probably continued with Nikolaus, whose evenings were given over to theater and music theater. Daily music making often meant accompanying the prince in divertimentos for his favored instrument, the baryton, typically in concert with viola and cello (Haydn created a repertory of at least 126 such works in the years 1765-76); it sometimes meant playing solo keyboard works. Twice a week, orchestral “academies” were held; for these Haydn could probably count on assembling, before 1776, two oboes, two horns, one bassoon, and nine strings (disposed 3-3-1-1-1), with himself the leader; trumpets and drums were added on festive occasions. [....]

In his contract of 1761 it was stipulated that Haydn “neither communicate [his] compositions to any other person, nor allow them to be copied … and not compose for any other person without the knowledge and permission of His Highness.” This injunction did little to slow the dissemination of Haydn’s works abroad. Between 1764 and 1780, 51 authentic chamber works and 43 authentic symphonies had their first publications in unauthorized editions in Paris, Amsterdam, and London. These 94 works are but the tip of an iceberg that includes pirated republications, a large number of circulating manuscript copies, and many spurious works. The extent of Haydn’s complicity in this dissemination is not known, but he cannot have been pleased to go without recompense for his labors. From this flagrant piracy two results ensued. First, in 1779 Haydn obtained from Prince Nikolaus the freedom to write for and publish with whomever he pleased. Second, by the early 1780s Haydn had become one of the best-known and most sought after composers in Europe.

2 Responses to “What’s past is never really past”
  1. Matthew says:

    Great post! Being trained as a trombonist, I’ve never given Haydn much thought, but clearly I need to do so. I work in academia in a small town, and I often take heart from Bach’s letter to the Leipzig town council, “Essay for a Well-Appointed Church Music.” We have it so much easier than Bach and Haydn just by living in this century… but Bach also had some of the same problems we do–lack of funding foremost among them. And yet…

  2. chris sahar says:

    Haydn is the one composer I look up to and respect the most. Especially as one who has come to composition late and is filling in deficiencies, I look to Haydn (oh and Ives) as models.

    TO get out from the shadow of Bach (CPE, et al ) and th 18th century Italian and French masters and do what he did under his circumstances – well, I think there is no match in at least the past several hundred years.

    Listeners and composers take for granted Haydn’s innovations – partly because he pulled them off so well.

    Finally he gave so much to Mozart and Beethoven to perfect heir compositional abilities.