In keeping with this blog’s celebration of the Haydn Year, namely the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn, I thought that I’d post yet another excerpt of a Haydn work.
Haydn did not start life as a prodigy, though he was certainly schooled in music as a child. He developed slowly, composing his greatest works well into middle age and beyond. He also had a great sense of humour and loved to employ it in his music. While Haydn knew and embraced the musical conventions of his time, he also knew how and when to break them and how to get away with it with impunity. Haydn’s music can never be wallpaper music. There is always something unusual going on and you must pay attention.
Vienna is thought of to have been intimately bound up with the lives and works of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Not one of the three was a native of Vienna. Haydn, born near the Hungarian border in the little town of Rohrau, did come to Vienna as a child to sing in the choir of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He also obtained composition lessons from Niccola Porpora and stayed in Vienna until his first appointment to the house of Count Morzin. When Count Morzin had to let him go, over the cost of keeping an orchestra, Haydn was hired by the princely family of Esterháza de Galatha, one of the most prominent of Austro-Hungarian noble families and still quite wealthy and prosperous today. Essentially, he was a servant to this noble family. He was in their employ and his duties involved in composing music for and directing the performances of symphonies, operas, and so forth for the entertainment of the prince, his family, and their guests some of which included the Empress Maria Theresia.
Apart from some journeys to Vienna in the company of his employer, Haydn generally kept to rural Austria, living in Eisenstadt for some of the year and at the palatial estate of Esterháza during other parts of the year. Unlike Mozart, who travelled the length and breadth of the European continent as a child and as a young man, Haydn did not really travel until later on in life. In fact, until his great trip to London, the most he had travelled was a small part of his native Austria amounting to an area about the size of Connecticut. His reputation, however, preceded him. His works had been published in Paris and in London. In 1790, he made the first of two trips to London. The prince who had originally hired him had died and his successor did not care much for music. He fired the orchestra, put Haydn on a pension, and basically made him a free man.
The trips to London were to prove very beneficial to Haydn. He quite literally took London by storm. While Haydn was not poor, but rather middle class throughout most of his life, he left London a very wealthy man. His last symphonies were composed in London. This is the Symphony No. 103 “Drumroll”. For some reason, The Netherlands in general and Amsterdam in particular have become the leading centres of Early Music. Some of the most prominent names in the Early Music Movement are Dutch, such as the organist, harpsichordist, and conductor Gustav Leonhardt and the organist, harspichordist, and conductor Ton Koopman whom you shall see in this video. This symphony, composed and first performed in London is called the “Drumroll” Symphony because of the prominent part the tympani plays throughout the work.