Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) was something unusual among great composers: an unassuming, generous, thoroughly nice human being. He was the most celebrated composer in Europe when Mozart came along, and his response to being overtaken was to befriend Mozart, help mentor him, and praise him to the skies. After Mozart’s early death in 1791, Haydn was again the top man, only to be overtaken by Beethoven, who had been his student, and again Haydn had nothing but praise. His unfailing helpfulness to younger musicians earned him the nickname “Papa”.

Haydn was also funny. He spent most of his adulthood as the music director for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy One summer the court orchestra had spent what they felt was far too long at Esterházy’s summer palace in Hungary and wanted to return to Austria where their wives and families were. Haydn expressed this with a symphony. After the last movement (a traditional presto in sonata form), comes a coda in which, one by one, the musicians blow out the candles on their music stands, pack up their instruments, and leave, until all that’s left are two violins. Esterházy got the message, as his court went back to Eisenstadt the next day.

All the music from the this series can be found and enjoyed here.

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2 thoughts on “Heavenly!

  1. You can really hear the loss of dynamic power as the musicians walk off — it goes to show just how much the multiplicity of instruments adds to an orchestra.

    Haydn really ought to get more press; sandwiched as he is between Mozart and Beethoven, it’s not hard to understand how he might be overshadowed, but it’s good to know that he wouldn’t have taken it personally. (I’m also given to understand that Peter Shaffer’s marvelous play notwithstanding, Mozart and Salieri were actually great admirers and supporters of one another, and had no little animosity or jealousy. Beethoven, on the other hand, I’m told was kind of a sonofabitch.)

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    • Beethoven was touchy. Haydn told him that one of his early pieces sounded “wrong” (which it didn’t, really, it was just Beethoven being original in a way Haydn didn’t understand), at which point Beethoven stormed off and thereafter made a point of telling people that he had never learned anything from Haydn. But they eventually made up.

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