The Three Great Sonata Writers.In the year of C. P. E. Bach’s death, 1788, three men had already entered the arena as champions of that Sonata Form to which he contributed so much. Haydn was then fifty-six, Mozart thirty-two and Beethoven eighteen years of age. All three added to the glory of Vienna by making it their dwelling-place in their later years ; and the three formed a triumvirate which not only gave to the Sonata a permanent and complete form, but also brought this form into absolute subservience to the expression of every variety of emotional thought.
Haydn’s Childhood.Franz Joseph Haydn, a native of Rohrau, in lower Austria, was born on March 31, 1732, the second of a family of twelve children. His father, an humble wheelwright, was accustomed to bring his family together in the evenings and holidays, as was the German custom, to unite in song ; and the true ear and feeling for rhythm of little “Sepperl,” as Joseph was called, was quickly noticeable. So a cousin of his father, who was a school-master at Hamburg, was allowed to take the boy home with him, placing him in the school choir, and directing his studies, which included singing, and the playing of the violin and other instruments.
St. Stephen’s Choir, Vienna.George Reutter, precentor of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, at Vienna, paid a visit to the school and was attracted by the child’s “sweet, weak voice,” as he expressed it, and offered him a position in his choir. As this was considered a rare opportunity, he was allowed to go, and at the age of eight we find him installed in the choir school at Vienna, attending the daily service and choir practice, besides the regular school studies. But Reutter seems to have lost his personal interest in the lad, neglecting him in various ways, doing nothing with his work in musical theory, and finally dropping all his tuition. Haydn was fond of mischief ; and when his voice began to break and his brother Michael became soloist in his place, his cruel master took the pretext of some trifling prank to turn him adrift, penniless, into the street.
Hardships in Vienna.At the age of seventeen, there-fore, he wandered the streets all of one rainy November night, with no friend to whom to turn. Finally, in the morning, he met an acquaintance formerly at the school, Spangler, a tenor singer, himself nearly as poor as Haydn. Nevertheless, he took the outcast home to his garret, where he was eking out an existence with his family ; and thus temporarily provided for, Haydn set about finding work to do. Small jobs, like playing in bands, or at weddings and baptisms, and singing in choirs, he eagerly sought; his spare moments he occupied in writing music for serenades or garden-parties. While undergoing these hardships, how-ever, he was becoming familiar with the music dear to the people’s heart, and also with the varied effects of instrumental combinations.
Studies and New Friends.In 1750, he rented a garret in a house in Vienna, and, having secured a dilapidated spinet, set himself diligently to work to study all available musical compositions, notably those of the new sonata order, and especially the sonatas of C. P. E. Bach. Theoretical works, also, like the “Gradus ad Parnassum” of J. J. Fux, and Mattheson’s work on conducting, were eagerly devoured by the youthful enthusiast. By a piece of good for-tune, Metastasio, the popular opera librettist, roomed in the same house, and learning of the talent hidden away in the garret, sought Haydn out, gave him Italian lessons, and ultimately started him on the road to success by recommending him as clavier teacher to a Spanish lady, to whose daughter he gave lessons.
Connection with Porpora.Her singing master was the renowned opera composer, Porpora, who recognized Haydn’s talent as accompanist, and proceeded to make him useful to himself, giving him instruction in composition in return for his services, which were frequently of even a menial nature. Accompanying Porpora on his journeys, he met musicians like Wagenseil and Gluck; and at the age of twenty had written many compositions, including a mass in F, an opera and many works of the sonata order, founded on the style of C. P. E. Bach.
Better Times.Better times now opened before Haydn. Gaining influential friends, he won, through them, the post of music director and composer to Count Morzin, a position which he held only a short time, since the Count gave up his musical establishment soon. But he was immediately engaged by the wealthy and cultivated Prince Paul Ester-hazy, who had been charmed at hearing a symphony of Haydn’s, as assistant director of music at his estate at Eisenstadt. The same year Haydn made an unhappy marriage with the daughter of Keller, a wigmaker, which he had cause to regret for the remainder of his life.
Orchestras in Germany.To understand Haydn’s work with the Esterhazy family, it will be necessary to review the state of music in Germany at this time. When the orchestral overtures of the Italian operas had become used as concert pieces, a great stimulus was given to this kind of music. Concertos, string quartets, trios, and, most important of all, symphonies, came to be written in great numbers ; and throughout Germany a mania for orchestral music arose. Wealthy families vied with each other in the size and prestige of their musical establishments, which included instrumentalists and vocalists; and the smaller gentry even pressed their domestic servants into the service, inducing them to study instruments, and to perform string quartets and the like on occasions. Inasmuch as a great part of the music written for these was not published, and exchange of music in manuscript between different establishments was attended with some difficulty, it was necessary that the music director should have the ability to write his own music, as well as to direct it.
Haydn’s Work at Esterhazy.A rare opportunity there-fore opened to Haydn, with his exceptional gifts as a composer, when he was placed at the head of an establishment like that of the Esterhazy’s, which was perhaps the most brilliant and competent in Europe. He remained in active service with this family for thirty-three years, during which Prince Nicolas Esterhazy succeeded his brother Paul, upon the death of the latter, in 1762. Nicolas, called the “Great,” on account of his love of magnificence and his lavish style of living, built a sumptuous summer palace near Süttor, in Bohemia ; and here he spent most of his time, with his troup of retainers, entertaining royalty, in a style comparable with that of Versailles. Werner, his head director, who had never appreciated Haydn’s gifts on account of his old-school principles, died in 1766, and Haydn, who had made a firm friend of Prince Nicolas, was given his place. The orchestra and singers were now entirely under his command; the former was increased from the original number of sixteen to thirty, all capable performers ; so that his life was spent in a round of rehearsals, dramatic performances and concerts for the numerous entertainments constantly in progress. Two well-equipped theatres, one for operas and dramas, and the other for marionette plays, gave him an opportunity for adequate performances; he thus had an exceptional chance to study the effects in his numerous quartets, trios, symphonies and operas, at first hand.
Journeys to Vienna.On several occasions, Prince Nicolas took his entire troupe of musicians to Vienna, where Haydn conducted the performances, meeting also the distinguished musicians of the day. It was on one of these journeys, in 1785, that he met Mozart, whose genius he was quick to appreciate, and who, from being his pupil, finally gave to Haydn the added inspiration of his own brilliant thoughts. Haydn’s reputation had now spread abroad, and his compositions were eagerly looked for throughout ti e musical world.
Haydn in London.On Prince Nicolas’ death, in 1790, Prince Anton, his brother, succeeded, who, however, dismissed the orchestra, providing for Haydn by a liberal pension. Haydn’s time was now his own; and he decided to settle in Vienna ; but an English impresario and publisher named Salomon now offered him such exceptional inducements to come to London that he accepted the offer. He was received with great honor, being granted the degree of Doctor of Music from Oxford University. He also conducted twelve grand symphonies, especially written for this visit, which were, moreover, some of his finest productions. On a second visit, in 1794-5, he excited even greater enthusiasm ; and he returned to Vienna supplied with money sufficient to insure an old age free from pecuniary want. Some of his latest works were the Austrian National Hymn, and his oratorios of “The Creation” and “The Seasons,” which immediately attained a popularity that has even yet hardly diminished.
Honors.Haydn, in his old age, was showered with honors both at home and abroad; a culminating point was reached when, on his seventy-sixth birthday, at a performance of “The Creation,” his friends, including many representatives of royalty, united to do him honor. His genial, child-like disposition won him the sobriquet of “Papa Haydn”; and this brightness and simplicity of thought he so transmitted to his compositions that they carry his atmosphere of sunshine wherever they are performed. He died in Vienna, soon after its capture by the French, in the Napoleonic wars, May 31, 1809.
Importance of His Work.Haydn has been called the father of the Symphony and the String Quartet. In neither case is this strictly true, since he had predecessors in both fields ; but his work was none the less important, since he collected the scattered threads of their attempts, and wound them into a concise and definite art form, stamped with the hallmarks of his own genius. The seal of artistic completeness which he placed on the form of the Sonata was his greatest achievement; and, written in this form, his symphonies and quartets were simply an enlargement of his clavier works, the symphonies having an added Minuet movement between the second and last movements of the clavier form of sonata, thus extending the piece to larger proportions.
Sonata-Form as Fixed by Haydn.In these clavier sonatas, Haydn fixed the form which had been the subject of so many experiments, once and for all. The number of movements with him is almost invariably three, of which the first, at least, is in the sonata-form. This consists of a first section, the Exposition, in which the first subject, a distinct melody having the Teutonic individuality, is stated, defining the principal key ; and a second subject, more lengthy and diverse in character, brings on a close in the contrasting key. In the second section, or Development, phrases or motives from the first section are cleverly inter-twined in modulating keys, with running scales or arpeggios as connecting links. These, however, lead naturally into the first subject, in its original key, which opens the third section, or Reprise. This section is practically like the first, save that the second subject and the close are transferred into the principal key, in which the movement ends.
The Second Movement.The second, or slow movement, is cast sometimes in the same form, abbreviated, and some-times in a simpler form. The lack of sustaining power in Haydn’s pianoforte, and his attempt to atone for this by trills and ornaments, make this less successful than the other movements ; a result which is also caused by the fact that intensity and depth of emotion had not yet been developed in the harmonic school of music. In key, this movement was contrasted with the first, sometimes quite sharply, as in one of the sonatas in E-flat, in which the slow movement is in E major.
Third Movement. The lively third movement is frequently in the lighter form of the Rondo, or it may be a set of Variations, or a Minuet. This movement, though sprightly, is apt to be somewhat thin in its harmonies, and trivial in development. Nevertheless, these last two movements show an expansion of the forms of the older writers, and a definiteness of character which insured their future development.
Definiteness and Unity.This element of absolute definiteness is the most striking feature of Haydn’s workdefiniteness none the less in the general form than in each individual component. Each part of each section ends with a cadence, giving it absolute finality, and making the whole a combination of small entities, which, though distinct, are yet relevant and nicely balanced.
Humor and Freshness.Another quality which he introduced was that of humor, which is prominent not only in the general tone of geniality, but in little unexpected twists of harmony, melody or rhythm, which give an irresistibly comic effect. Especially is this true in his symphonies, where the various tone colors are used for such results. Especial mention should also be made of his Masses, in which tunefulness of melody and sprightly rhythms combine to give an enduring popularity. Altogether, Haydn’s work is redolent of the spring of musical activity, where the novelty of each harmonic effect is employed with an outburst of joy, and where one travels, as it were, through a sunny garden, filled with the flowers of musical thoughts,
Shedlock.The Pianoforte Sonata.
Naumann.History of Music, Vol. II, chapter on Haydn.
Parry.Evolution of the Art of Music, Chapter XI.
Weitzmann.History of Pianoforte Playing.
Grove. Dictionary of Music and Musicians, article “Haydn.”
Various lives of Haydn.