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No composer has ever given greater or purer pleasure by his compositions than is given by "papa" Haydn; there is an unceasing flow of cheerfulness and lively tone in his music, even in the most solemn pieces, as in his Masses, the predominant feeling is that of gladness; as he once said to Carpani: "At the thought of God my heart leaps for joy, and I cannot help my music doing the same." But it is not alone as the writer of graceful and beautiful music that Haydn has a claim on our remembrance; he has been truly called the "father of the symphony." Mozart once said: "It was from Haydn that I first learned the true way to compose quartettes;" and "The Creation," which must ever be counted one of the masterpieces of oratorio music, was his work.
Haydn composing his "Creation."
About this time Haydn received a commission from Felix Kurz, a comic actor of the Stadt-Theatre, to put a farce of his, "Der neue krumme Teufel," to music. This farce, of which the words still remain, though the music has been lost, was very successful, and was played in Vienna, Prague, Berlin, and a number of other towns. The well-known story of Haydn's "Tempest Music" is connected with this. In one part of this piece a terrible storm was supposed to be raging, and the accompanying music must of course be suitably descriptive; but the difficulty was that Haydn had never seen the sea: therefore had not the slightest notion of what a storm at sea was like. Kurz tries to describe the waves running mountains high, the pitching and tossing, the roll of thunder, and the howling of the wind; and Haydn produces all sorts of ugly, jerky, and noisy music, but none of it is in the remotest degree like a storm at sea, or anywhere else. At last, after Kurz had become hoarse with his nautical disquisitions, and Haydn's fingers were tired of scrambling all over the piano, the little musician in a rage crashed his hands down on the two extremes of the instrument, exclaiming: "Let's have done with this tempest!"
"Why, that's it; that's the very thing!" shouted the clown, jumping up and embracing him; and with this crash and a run of semitones to the centre of the piano this troublesome tempest was most satisfactorily represented.
When, many years afterward, Haydn was crossing the Straits of Dover to England, amid his sufferings he could not help laughing at the ludicrous recollections of this early experience of his.
Things still went on improving, and Haydn, who was always lucky in the patrons he secured (at least according to the notion about patrons that then prevailed), was invited to the country-house of Herr von Fuernberg, a wealthy amateur, to stay there and compose quartettes for him--a style of music for which von Fuernberg had an especial liking. To his prompting it is that we owe the lovely series of quartettes which Haydn wrote--still as fresh and full of serene beauty as when first tried over by the virtuosi of Weinzirl. The next piece of good fortune was Haydn's appointment as director of the band and composer to Count Ferdinand Morzin at Lukaver near Pilsen; and here, in 1759, his first symphony was written. His salary was very small, only 200 florins a year (or #20), with board and lodgings; but on the strength of it he unfortunately determined on the serious step of embarking in matrimony. A barber, named Keller, is said to have been very kind to him in the days of his poverty, and out of gratitude Haydn gave music-lessons to his daughters. One of them, the youngest, was very pretty, and Haydn fell in love with her. But she became a nun; and the father then prevailed upon Haydn to marry the elder one, who was three years older than he--a sour-tempered, bigoted, and abominably selfish woman, who contributed little to the happiness of his life, and was always bringing priests and friars to the house and worrying her good-tempered husband to compose masses and other church music for these men.
Count Morzin was compelled to give up his band in 1761; but Haydn did not remain long without employment, as Prince Esterhazy, who had heard his symphonies at Morzin's house, engaged him to assist Werner, his Capellmeister. As director of Prince Esterhazy's band, Haydn was fated to remain for many years living at Esterhaz, the prince's country-seat, composing there nearly all his operas and songs, and many of his symphonies.
In 1785 Haydn received a commission which showed the wide reputation he had then gained. The Chapter of Cadiz Cathedral requested him to write some instrumental music for performance on Good Friday. "The Seven Words of our Saviour on the Cross" was in consequence written by him.
Several invitations had been sent from England for Haydn to pay a visit there; but it was only after Prince Esterhazy was dead that he was prevailed on by Salomon to cross the sea. A characteristic conversation between him and Mozart--which took place before he undertook this, in those days, really formidable journey--is recorded.
"Papa," said Mozart, "you have no training for the great world, and you speak too few languages."
Haydn replied: "My language is understood by all the world."
He set out on December 15, 1790, and did not return to Vienna till July, 1792. In London, where he wrote and conducted a number of symphonies for Salomon, he was the "lion" of the season, being in constant request for conducting concerts and paying visits to the nobility. Of these symphonies Salomon once said to him: "I am strongly of opinion that you never will surpass this music."
"I never mean to try," was the answer.
But this must not be taken to mean that Haydn had given up striving after the truest perfection in his art, and it probably meant no more than that for the time he was satisfied with his work. Far more like the genuine expression of the feeling of the great artist was his utterance, just before he died, to Kalkbrenner: "I have only just learned in my old age how to use the wind-instruments; and now that I do understand them, I must leave the world."
Great as the work accomplished in his youth and early manhood unquestionably was, it remained for his old age to accomplish his greatest work, and that by which he is best known--the oratorio of "The Creation." It is said that the first ideas for this came to him when, in crossing the English Channel, he encountered a terrific storm. Soon after his leaving London, where the words had been given him by Salomon, Haydn set about composing the music. "Never," he says, "was I so pious as when composing 'The Creation.' I knelt down every day and prayed God to strengthen me for my work." It was first produced on March 31, 1799, his 67th birthday, at the National Theatre, Vienna, and was at once accorded an extraordinary share of popular favor. There is a pathetic story of the last performance of the work, at which Haydn, in extreme old age, in 1808, was present, when Salieri conducted. He was carried in an arm-chair into the hall, and received there with the warmest greeting by the audience. At the sublime passage, "And there was light!" Haydn, quite overcome, raised his hand, pointing upward and saying, "It came from thence." Soon after this his agitation increased so much that it was thought better to take him home at the end of the first part. The people crowded round him to take leave, and Beethoven is said to have reverently kissed his hand and forehead. After composing "The Creation," Haydn was prevailed upon to write another work, of somewhat similar character, to words adapted from Thomson's poem, and entitled "The Seasons." This, though containing some fine descriptive music and several choruses of great beauty, is not at all equal to the earlier work, though at the time its success was quite as complete. But the exertion of writing two such great works, almost without rest between them, was too great, and he himself said: "'The Seasons' gave me the finishing stroke." The bombardment of Vienna by the French in 1809 greatly disturbed the poor old man. He still retained some of his old humor, and during the thunder of the cannons called out to his servants: "Children, don't be frightened; no harm can happen to you while Haydn is by!" He was now no longer able to compose, and to his last unfinished quartette he added a few bars of "Der Greis," as a conclusion:
"Hin ist alle meine Kraft:
Alt und schwach bin ich.
"Gone is all my strength: old and weak am I." And these lines he caused to be engraved, and sent on a card to the friends who visited him. The end was indeed now near. On May 26, 1809, he had his servants gathered round him for the last adieus; then, by his desire, he was carried to the piano, where he played three times over the "Emperor's Hymn," composed by him. Then he was taken to his bed, where five days afterward he died.
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