Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

Symphony # 2 in C Major, Hob. 1:2

Instrumentation: 2 Oboes, Bassoon, 2 French Horns, Strings and Harpsichord Continuo

“A bachelor, in my opinion, is only half alive.”-Mozart, in a letter to his father, in an attempt to convince him of the validity his engagement to Constanze Weber

If in the whole wide world
But one mean wife there is,
How sad that each of us
Should think this one is his!

-Poem by Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), used by Haydn as the text to a vocal canon, most likely composed in response to his ill-fated marriage

Haydn and Mozart: Similar, but Very, Very Different

If we were to search for similarities between Haydn and Mozart, our inquiry would immediately turn up two important factors: both were working as professional musicians while still children (though of course Mozart had the more glamorous setting), and both married the sister of the women they were actually in love with.

From there, of course, most similarities would end. Mozart was a child prodigy whose brilliance blazed across the heavens to amaze all who beheld his talents. Haydn would require much more time to develop into what could arguably be cited as one of the wonders of music history. His mastery of structure, harmony and modulation, his amazing output in exploring the new genres of symphony and string quartet-all these factors combined to create a composer whose contributions to music are seldom matched. And while both Haydn and Mozart are considered to be the supreme voices of the elegance of the Classical Era, their marriages were altogether quite different: basically, Mozart was happy. Haydn was not.

Only Seven Years Old, and Already a Soprano at St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Born into challenging economic circumstances in the Austrian village of Rohrau, Haydn’s beautiful singing came to the attention of Johann Georg Reutter (1708-1772), the director of music in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Reutter, who was traveling throughout Austria searing for choirboys, happened to hear Haydn’s singing and immediately engaged him as a soprano. (Sidebar: It has often been related, though never proven, that Reutter was especially taken with the boy’s ability to sing trills.)  At the age of seven, Haydn embarked on a lifelong career in music

But It Was Only a Joke….Really!

Ten years later, Haydn was an excellent player of the violin, harpsichord and timpani drums. His beautiful soprano voice was, unfortunately, gone. Reutter, who was not willing to utilize Haydn’s other gifts, was now eager to expel the young musician. Haydn’s own brand of humor provided Reutter the means of doing this.

Ever the jokester, Haydn dipped the pigtail of another choir member in ink. Reutter immediately threatened to cane him on the hand (a form of antiquated punishment).

Haydn, confident in his position, proudly replied that he would rather be expelled from St. Stephens than be caned. This was exactly the opening Reutter was looking for. On a cold, bleak November day, Haydn, who would be known as the Father of the Symphony, was turned out on the streets of Vienna.

Making Something Out of Nothing

Haydn’s instinct for survival, a trait which had served him well all his life, now was activated in full force. He immediately secured private students and played organ in various churches while playing the violin on the streets. Living in an attic apartment, Haydn later declared, “I am living proof to young people everywhere that something can be made out of nothing.” (Sidebar: Quote is based from Haydn biographer Dies)

I Thought I Loved Her…..

In seeking students, he became employed by the Keller family to teach both daughters the art of keyboard playing and singing. Johann Peter Keller was an established wig maker in Vienna. His two daughters, Theresa (1733-?) and Maria Anna (1730-1800), were quite different. Theresa was enthusiastic in her studies, Maria Anna (the older) seemed indifferent.

The family soon decided that Theresa was to become a nun. This was heartbreaking for Haydn, as he had fallen in love with her. As a farewell gift to Theresa before she took her final vows, Haydn composed, performed and dedicated to her his Organ Concerto #1.

…But She Used My Manuscripts as Hair Curlers and to Line Her Pastry Tins

With Theresa’s departure came a fatal mistake on Haydn’s part. He decided to marry the older sister, Maria Anna. We are uncertain as to how this came to be. Perhaps Haydn, weary of his bachelor existence and grieving his lost Theresa, felt that (however gravely mistaken) he could capture some marital happiness by marrying her sister. A more likely theory would be that Haydn had, after ten long years of unrelenting work, secured the position as Kapellmeister (or Music Director) to Count Morzin in Vienna. Mr. Keller may have been eager to secure the successful young musician as a member of his family.

Whatever the reason, Haydn married Maria Anna. Within six months, each knew with unfailing certainty that they were singularly unsuited for each other.

Manuscripts as Hair Curlers?  What Would One Expect from a Wig Maker’s Daughter?

As there was no hope for a successful marriage (and as the era offered no option of divorce), Haydn devoted all his energies to his new position as Music Director. It is universally theorized that his first two symphonies were premiered at Count Morzin’s palace. It is equally accepted as likely truth that at one of these performances Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy II heard Haydn’s first two symphonies somewhere between 1757 and 1761 and was very impressed.

Shortly after Haydn’s appointment, Count Morzin experienced financial setbacks and had to dismiss his orchestra, including Haydn. The composer must have felt emotionally distressed. Without his outlet of work, he would now have to face the unhappiness of his married life-an unhappiness which, by all accounts, seemed to also be shared by Maria Anna.

When Prince Paul heard that Haydn was unemployed and “at liberty”, he immediately secured the young composer as Vice Kapellmeister for the immensely powerful Esterhazy family. Haydn’s contract of 1761 listed more money than he had ever dreamed of earning. He would have a first-rate orchestra to play his music. And, as the incumbent Kapellmeister was to retire shortly, Haydn would inherent that position and obtain even more prestige and money in the process.

Haydn’s First Symphonic Rondo

The first movement is grandiose, at turns sweet and at others yearning with a sincerity that is touching to the heart. Haydn’s skill at changing tonal colorations, his descending lines of quiet melancholy which give way to exuberant triumph-all of this fills the present writer with the greatest joy. A wonderful prelude of even greater things to come!

The second movement, a perpetual motion, may remind us of the unerring certainty of Baroque Era magnificence. Subtle changes of harmony, cast in even breaths of the violins are skillfully interrupted by elegant trills. The violas, doubling the cello and basses, give us something of the bass continuo presence, as in the works of Bach and Handel.

The finale is truly a treasure-Haydn’s first symphonic rondo. This form of music features a main theme which is interspersed by two alternating episodes. After each episode, we are again treated to the delightfully engaging main theme. Haydn, along with Mozart and Beethoven, had a special fondness for the rondo and carried the form to brilliant heights. This rondo is just as pleasing as Beethoven’s very popular rondo, “Fur Elise” for piano.

A study of Beethoven’s piece will immediately bring an understanding and lifelong enjoyment of the form which so enraptured “The Father of the Symphony”.