Friday, April 10, 2015

#A-TO-Z CHALLENGE 2015 – LETTER “H” – FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN, CLASSICAL COMPOSER


In the course of this year's A-to-Z challenge, I chose the theme “Music In My Life” and as such, this challenge is not just a random bunch of composers and performers that I like particularly, but people who influenced and continue to shape the course of my musical outlook and tastes. By and large, I am pretty eclectic, although like everyone, I have my likes, loves and dislikes and absolute loathings. You won't see anything about Mozart in this challenge, or if you do, it will be something disparaging.

Anyway, Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732 – May 31 1809) was a prolific and prominent composer of the Classical period. He was instrumental in the development of chamber music and his contributions to musical form have earned him the epithets of “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet”.


Count Nicolas Esterházy, Haydn's patron for much of Haydn's career.

Haydn spent much of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Esterházy family on their remote estate. This left him set apart from his contemporaries, and thus, he was “forced to become original”, which was a wonderful thing for music. At the time of his death, at age 77, he was the most celebrated composer in Europe. He had two brothers who were also involved in music; Michael Haydn, a highly-regarded composer, and Johann Evangelist Haydn, a tenor. Franz Joseph was a friend of Mozart and also taught Beethoven.

Haydn was born of a mother who was a cook in the local aristocrat's house in Rohrau, Austria, near the Hungarian border and a father who was a wheelwright. While neither parent could read music, Haydn's father taught himself to play the harp and was and enthusiastic player of folk music.


Franz Joseph Haydn, Father of the Symphony and the String Quartet

Early on, Joseph's parents realized that their son was gifted in music, but there was no one in Rohrau to teach young Joseph, so a relative twelve kilometers distant, Johann Mathias Frankh, a choirmaster and schoolmaster in Hainburg, offered to take young Joseph into his household where he could begin his musical training. Joseph never again lived with his parents, although he did remark later on, that the entire family was musical, and they spent much time singing together and playing.

From there, he went to Vienna in 1740, after successfully auditioning with Georg von Reutter, director of music in St. Stephen's Cathedral in that city. As he grew into maturity, he could no longer sing the higher parts, and Empress Maria Theresa herself complained to Reutter about his singing, calling it “crowing”. After a prank, where Franz Joseph snipped off the pigtail of a fellow chorister. Tossed out on his ear, Franz Joseph went into free-lancing as a musician.

He struggled at first, but eventually, as his skills increased, his public reputation grew. He had not had any real formal training in theory, or in composition and counter-point, so he worked his way through the exercises of the times, including the work of Carl Phillipp Emanuel Bach, whom he later counted as one of his greatest influences.


Mozart, who played in string quartets with Haydn, and in spite of my loathing of his music was unquestionably a fine musician.

With the increase in his reputation, came notable interest from rich patrons, crucial for a composer in those days. After several smaller commissions, Haydn accepted a place as Kapellmeister in the Court of Count Morzin.

As most of his life was spent in either Esterházy's Court or in London, where he was also very popular, and this is in keeping with most other composers of the day, rather than just recite his c. v., I wanted to focus more on the sense of honesty, probity, excellence and fun that he brought to his work. He, like Beethoven were very much products of their time; Beethoven was enraged by Napoleon's actions, but that didn't stop him from working on, and completing a pivotal work of the Classical-Romantic era. I could argue that it in fact, made Beethoven's “Eroica” better for it. Whatever their circumstances, these men, and later, composers such as Prokofiev and Shostakovich wrote wonderful music and performed despite the huge odds they faced; sometimes just the peril of living from day-to-day, in Shostakovich's case.


Haydn's Symphony No. 94, the "Surprise" symphony, 2nd movement

While Haydn knew no such difficulties as a mature adult, he did oversee and care for the musicians under him in his role as Kapellmeister and during one summer on the Esterházy estate, the musicians had been forced to leave their wives at home. Haydn, concerned because his musicians had been given no holiday to visit their families, sat down and wrote his famous “Farewell Symphony*”. In the final movement, during the adagio, each musician blew out the candle on his music stand and left the stage, until at then end, only a violin, and a viola were left playing a lone duet. Count Esterházy got the message and the musicians went home the next day, for a much-needed holiday.



*Yes, Robert, I DO remember almost falling off the stage, when Bev Taylor blew out her candle with me stumbling around in the dark, when we played the “Farewell Symphony”. Please continue to harbor the REST of my memories!

Many of his pieces had this sense of fun. His “Surprise” symphony is a gift to everyone who falls asleep in the audience. Not until Beethoven cemented the idea in stone, dynamics typically had been gradual, moving in steps, pianissimo, piano, mezzo forte, forte, fortissimo. It was highly unusual for the dynamics to go from pianissimo to sforzando-fortissimo, in two notes. Haydn did this as a joke for everyone who would come to his concerts and fall asleep in his “Surprise” symphony.

That lovely fortissimo after the pianissimo would have jerked my dad up out of his seat. He used to ask me, "Are you playing Beethoven tonight, because if you are, I wanna bring ear plugs, so I can nap." I'd tell him no, that we were playing Strauss. He'd say, "Oh good. I love Strauss waltzes." I didn't tell him we were playing Richard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra". Hee hee; no rest there.

Haydn wrote one-hundred and four symphonies over the course of his life and the last twelve are the “London” symphonies. He also wrote sixty-eight string quartets and I've played several of them. They're wonderful pieces, full of light and technically challenging.


Young Ludwig Beethoven, who was a student of the highly esteemed Franz Joseph Haydn

He's also known for his Oratorios and I am not very familiar with those. My experiences with choral music tend to Italian opera and Gilbert and Sullivan. I do however, encourage anyone who wants to familiarize themselves with Haydn to start with the “London” symphonies and the “Surprise” symphony. They are delightful!

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