Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was a very important figure in the development of western classical music. Unlike the Romantic age, which celebrated artists, composers and musicians, during Haydn’s time a musician depended largely on patronage for his bread and butter. Some composers, such as George Frideric Handel, were successful enough to make it on their own, though Handel was technically in the employ of the Hanovers back when they were still in Germany. Apart from some periods where he was in the employ of nobility, Bach depended on the patronage of the church for his livelihood. Handel was granted leave from his duties and conquered Italy and later the UK with his operas and oratorios. Franz Joseph Haydn was in the employ of the Esterházy princely family of Austro-Hungarian nobility.
The Esterházys were (and perhaps still are) a very wealthy princely family. Their magnificent palace in Eisenstadt, which you can tour today, is owned by the Esterházy Foundation which was set up by Princess Melinda Esterházy de Galántha. In the Hungarian countryside in the village of Fertőd, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had built for himself a summer palace which rivals that of Versailles. According to H.C. Robbins Landon, the pioneering Haydn scholar, it cost some 13 million gulden to build, a sum he terms “astronomical”. The palace had 126 rooms, an opera house, and a marionette theatre. During the summer months, the prince, his family, and his vast entourage of servants and musicians would pack up and move from Eisenstadt to Esterháza. Unfortunately for the musicians, it is in a rather small town, even more so than Eisestadt, Austria where the family’s other principal residence is found. It was very islolated. Because there wasn’t the accomodation for the servant’s families, they had to leave them behind in Eisenstadt for a few months each year.
While we often think of the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven as being quite Viennese, it is interesting to note that none of them were natives of the city, though each spent some significant time there. Haydn spent much of his career in Eisenstadt, which isn’t a very large city, and also at the summer palace of Esterháza. He was the director of music and composer to the prince. His job meant composing a great deal of music. He was isolated from some of the devolopments which were going on at the time, so, as he put it, in his isolation he was “forced to become original”. After the death of Prince Nikolaus, Prince Anton and his successors didn’t show much enthusiasm for living at the summer palace and preferred to remain in Eisenstadt or at their other residence in Vienna. While in Vienna, Haydn met and encouraged the young Mozart. Mozart always had the greatest respect for the older composer. He also taught the young Ludwig van Beethoven. The only great Viennese composers to have actually been born in the city were Franz Schubert and Arnold Schönberg. So many of Vienna’s great musical genuises came from somewhere else.
Among the things which Haydn is known for were his contributions to the development of the sonata form. He also brought about something beloved of many fans of chamber music, namely the string quartet. Prince Anton was not quite the music lover that Prince Nikolaus was. With increasing amounts of time on his hands, Haydn was granted leave to travel. Like Handel, he made his way to England where he conquered mightily. It was there that he first encountered the oratorios of Handel. The experience overwhelmed him. He later contributed a couple of oratorios of his own, namely The Creation and The Seasons.
In 1772, Prince Nikolaus was spending a larger amount of time at Esterháza than normal. The musicians very much wanted to get back to their families and had grown bored of their continued isolation in the Hungarian countryside. Haydn came up with a typically witty solution. He wrote a symphony. Haydn wrote many symphonies. There are some 107 of them. They differ greatly in character from each other. Haydn, who was always known for his exceptionally good sense of humour and for having a playful nature, does often let his humour shine through. The Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” Hob. I:45* does have a very unusual feature. In symphonies of the classical period, the last movement tends to be fast, most often (though not always) in a rondo form. The last movement of this symphony does start out as expected, though it later becomes yet another slow movement, something which have must have surprised Prince Nikolaus. One by one, the musicians leave the stage and snuff out their candles as they go. Finally, it ends with two violins who in turn snuff out their candles and then leave. The prince got the message and everyone packed up to return to Eisenstadt the next day.
*Composers in the 18th century tended to be very prolific. They also tended not to use opus numbers, which give sort of a chronological list of the works they composed, such as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 “Choral”, Op. 125. Bach’s works have BWV numbers. BWV stands for Bachs-Werke-Verzeichnis and is a complete listing of all Bach’s work. Handel’s works all have HWV numbers. Mozart’s works all bear Köchel numbers. Ludwig Ritter von Köchel went through at catalogued all of Mozart’s works K.1 through K. 626. The Hoboken-Verzeichnis is the complete catalogue of Haydn’s work. Unlike the Köchel catalogue, which is a chronological list of Haydn’s work, the Hoboken catalogue is a thematic catalogue. Hob. I:45 identifies this work as belonging to Section I (Symphonies) and this particular work as being his 45th symphony. Anthony van Hoboken (1887-1983) was a Dutch engineer who later became a musicologist. He was a collector of musical manuscripts and had a passion for cataloguing. He completed his Haydn catalogue in 1957 and it is still the standard one used for Haydn. The late American composer Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) is in serious need of a similar catalogue. He left behind him hundreds of works, not all of which have been performed, much less recorded. While Hovhaness did assign opus numbers, his catalogue is sort of chaotic and the opus numbers often don’t reflect the true chronological order in which they were completed.