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Joseph Haydn:
the Complete Master

Report of the lecture given by
Tim Porter
on April 27th 2011

Tim feels that The Joseph Haydn Story is a blockbuster film just waiting to be made. The Haydn story has all the necessary ingredients - a rags to riches tale; a self taught genius; a broken love affair that leads to an unhappy marriage; a marriage that is so acrimonious that it leads to several illicit love affairs; Haydn lived part of his life in a 'gilded cage' that he longed to escape from and finally there was the gradual change of power between Haydn and his patron which reflected the wider social changes across Europe such as the French Revolution.

Joseph Haydn was born 31st March 1732 in Lower Austria, near the Hungarian border, to a devout Roman Catholic family. His father was a skilled wagon maker and his mother was an accomplished professional cook. His mother gave birth to twelve children; Haydn was their eldest son and one of the six children to survive. He left home at the tender age of five to live with a cousin who was a school teacher, this is where he started his basic education.

When he was seven he was sent to join the Cathedral Choir in Vienna where life was harsh and he was frequently cold and hungry. He became a rebellious adolescent, consequently he was expelled from the Cathedral Choir in 1749. This lead to him scraping a precarious living as a street musician, he often wrote plays and music for the street bands, a good grounding for his later career. During this difficult time he visited Mariazell a venerable shrine to the Black Madonna; later in his life this visit was to inspire some of his compositions. On his return to Vienna he taught by day, entertained on the streets in the evenings then later in the night he settled down to some serious study, for this is when he taught himself how to write music using text books, some of which are still in existence.

Haydn also had difficulties with his personal life because fell deeply in love with Therese Keller, one of his former pupils, but much to his disappointment she chose to become a nun rather than marry him. On the rebound her family persuaded Haydn to marry her older sister Marie Anna. This proved to be a serious mistake because it was a loveless, childless marriage. Both parties to the marriage ended up hating each other but they were forced to remain married because of their strong Roman Catholic faith. Both partners went on to have love affairs and some feel that the frustration of the unhappy marriage may have given 'force' to some of Haydn's compositions.

In 1761 Haydn entered the service of the aristocratic Esterházy family who owned large estates including a palace at Eisenstadt. Eisenstadt was an extensive estate with many elaborate buildings including its own Opera House. Five years later Haydn was appointed as their chief musical director and he remained in their employment for the next twenty eight years. The work was very demanding for Haydn because he was writing music; holding rehearsals, conducting the concerts and performances as well as overseeing and encouraging the younger musicians. Despite this heavy workload Haydn still found the time and energy to write his own work. Over the years the relationship changed between Haydn and his employer, as Haydn's talents, body of work and fame became more widely known and with changes in the wider society Haydn was able to use his social skills to gain respect from his employer.
Never the less Nicholas Esterházy still refused to allow Haydn to go travelling and mix with other musicians. On the death of Nicholas on 28th September 1790 Haydn had the opportunity to travel, he was approached by Johann Salomon, a London music promoter, and consequently Haydn made his way across the unsettled Europe to London on two occasions. In his time in London he had the opportunity to mix with a wider cross section of society; whilst in London he wrote 12 symphonies, 6 string quartets and an opera. In recognition of his work he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Oxford.

In 1795 he returned to Austria where he was still in the employment of the Esterházy family but this time he negotiated a contract to write only one full Mass per year.

Haydn died in Vienna on 31st May 1809 at seventy seven years of age. A man who had humble beginnings and rose to the top of his profession. He left behind a vast body of music for us to enjoy.

During the course of his talk Tim provided the 'tingle factor' by playing several musical extracts to illustrate some of the aspects of Haydn's music. Tim explained that Haydn wrote well crafted intelligent music that needed to be listened to in the foreground and NOT as background music. He stated that Haydn's music has 'authority and argument' and is part of The Enlightenment.

For example the first piece we listened to asked us 'What am I up to here?' It had a quick shifting silver light effect. For contrast we listened to part of the Mass written as a result of his visit to the shrine of the Black Madonna, a masterpiece exhibiting great energy. The first movement of Symphony 39 showed us how Haydn experimented with odd pauses and gaps followed by sudden outbursts of sound.

Despite the travel restrictions placed on Haydn it is a tribute to his genius that he was able to research and write music for many different cultures such as church music for Cadiz in Spain, Italy, the Paris music for France and of course English music.

One of Haydn's great achievements was to compose and develop music for the string quartet , this was an important milestone because it meant that music making became possible for the middle class not just the wealthy aristocrats.

Tim explained that we are fortunate because we are able to access most of Haydn's work by means of radio and recordings, many of which are performed on the type of instruments that Haydn used in his day.

Tim delivered a fascinating insight to the talented yet troubled life of a master musician. It is indeed a film waiting to be made.

Haydn was widely admired by his fellow musicians; I will finish with a quote from Brahms; 'Haydn a man indeed! How miserable we are compared to that.'

Heather Head





Tim Porter with Sue Handley, our former Chairman










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