Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Good Year for Haydn: Part 2

This weekend, the Harrisburg Symphony performs Haydn's "Creation" - Saturday November 21st at 8pm and Sunday November 22nd at 3pm in the Forum. This is Part 2 of an "up-close" post about Haydn's Life which begins here...

This violinist friend of Haydn's in turn introduced him to Count Morzin who happened to be looking for a “kapellmeister,” a “music director” for his court orchestra, a combination conductor, performance organizer and composer-in-residence.

Central Europe was not a very unified region: instead of nations like the ones we're used to today, Germany and Austria were loose confederations of small principalities, sometimes city states not much bigger than Harrisburg. Most of the nobility maintained their own “courts,” meant to entertain them and their guests in the days before there were TV sets and home entertainment centers. The more money a nobleman had, the better the music would probably be, able to hire the better musicians and maintain bigger orchestras. There were no concert halls performing for average people who'd just buy tickets: you'd have to be a guest to attend a “house concert.”

And so Count Morzin hired the 26 or 28-year-old Haydn to head his “music department.” Unfortunately, in a year or two, Morzin ran through most of his fortune and had to disband his orchestra, keeping just a few performers, letting his conductor and composer go.

Fortunately, one of Morzin's guests heard some of Haydn's earliest symphonies – maybe the three known as “Morning, Noon and Night” – and liked them very much. This was Prince Anton Esterházy whose mother had known the young Haydn as a neighbor. When he was looking for a new job, he contacted the Prince who invited him to come work for him.

The only catch was, his old kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, was ill and not writing much but because he'd been there so long, the Prince kept him on out of loyalty. It was stipulated that young Haydn (now 28 or 30) would be Werner's assistant but would really do most of Werner's work – writing new pieces as needed, organizing performances and conducting the orchestra.

Haydn would work for the Esterházy family for the next 30 years.

He realized his chief purpose was to entertain his employer by writing ingratiating music and to keep on his employer's good side. He was, after all, an employee and wore a uniform just like other servants. He was considered a “craftsman” and regarded with little difference from the gardener or the chef or the furniture maker.

Haydn's personality suited him to the job: he could be innovative but knew how far he could go. Mozart had little stomach for such deference which in one sense explained why he never got the kind of job Haydn had. Beethoven, who would become Haydn's student, was too much an ego to put up with the aristocracy: even though he was dependent on their support, he never really wanted a kapellmeister's job. Mozart, after he was (quite literally) kicked out of the Archbishop of Salzburg's employ (where he'd grown up) became the first free-lance composer in 1780s Vienna – and Beethoven set the stage for the 19th Century's “independent contractor” who struggled to make a living writing music.
Prince Anton died in 1762, not long after he'd hired Haydn. His younger brother became the next official Prince and because of his more lavish lifestyle, became known as Prince Nicholas the Magnificent. The palace in Eisenstadt – outside Vienna near the Hungarian border – wasn't big enough for him, so he built a new palace called Esterháza (see photo above) which is 53 miles from Vienna – as one guest described it, 53 bone-crunching miles. Built in a swamp that the best thing one could say about it was the duck-hunting was great, the house was patterned on a mini-Versailles. Later, when the Prince became fascinated with opera, he built his own opera house. He was also crazy about Marionette Operas which also had their own theater. In addition, he had his own theater troupe. And one of the finest orchestras in Austria which Haydn conducted.

When Gregor Werner died in 1766, Haydn replaced him officially. His job was to write music for the orchestra he conducted, rehearse and conduct its regular concerts. There was chamber music for other evenings. Once opera became a primary focus after 1776, he would conduct the operas and write many of his own as well. For the theater, he would write incidental music as necessary. And there were the marionette operas to produce and compose. The prince played the “Baryton,” an old-fashioned, now extinct cello-like instrument and so Haydn wrote over 125 trios so his prince could perform for his family and guests. Haydn even learned to play the baryton himself but unfortunately the prince did not like this gesture – perhaps because the place was only big enough for one baryton player. And so Haydn retired his instrument and never played it again.

Haydn did not consider himself a performer: consequently he didn't write concertos for his own performance like Mozart and Beethoven did. But he did write some for his best musicians to play, many of them lost or only recently discovered.

In 1786, between March and December, Haydn conducted 125 performances of 17 different operas, 8 of them new productions he prepared. How many of these were his own operas, I'm not sure, but of his 27 extant operas, none were composed in that particular year. By the way, that amounts to one opera performance every two or three days! That's not including the orchestra and chamber music concerts. You wonder how he had time to compose all that music.

In all, there were 104 symphonies, but some of those in the 80s were written for Paris, and the last 12 were written for London, so not all of them were composed for the Esterházy orchestra. Still, that's a lot of symphonies.

During the 1770s, there was a craze for a more emotional style – often stormy-sounding music – which became known as “Sturm und Drang” or “Storm & Stress.” It was considered avant-agrde and conservative music-lovers or composers like King Frederic the Great of Prussia considered it awful, noisy and beyond the decorum most people expected from good music. Most symphonies were meant to entertain and so they were in major keys, for the most part. Storm und Drang symphonies were more often in minor keys with tempestuous first movements and emotional slow movements.

One of these symphonies is famous for another reason. Now, they didn't live at Esterháza year-round. They stayed in Eisenstadt and apparently spent some time in what was then Pressburg (now Bratislava), a city that went back and forth between Austria, Hungary and Slovakia, as well as Vienna. But this one summer, they were staying at Esterháza longer than usual. The problem was, the musicians' families lived in Vienna: for all the opulence of the palace, the only “married suites” for the musicians were available to Haydn and to the concertmaster. The rest of them lived in dorm-like quarters. Missing their families, the musicians appealed to Haydn to see what could be done about returning “home.” And so he composed his Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp Minor, a typical “Storm und Drang” symphony up until the finale was almost over.

Then a very strange thing happened.

One by one, the musicians got up, snuffed out the candle on their stand and left the stage. Eventually the only musicians left were two violinists on a nearly dark stage.
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The prince got the message and very good-naturedly ordered everyone to pack up for Vienna the next day.

The symphony is always known as “The Farewell” Symphony because of this gimmick. (The video above is with Daniel Barenboim and the Vienna Philharmonic.)

Many of Haydn's symphonies have nicknames: with so many in the catalog, nicknames became a way of recalling favorites. Because of the rough dance in the finale of the Symphony No. 82 reminding people of the kind of music a peasant's bear would dance to at a country fair, it became called “The Bear” Symphony. A loud chord appearing out of nowhere in the Symphony No. 94's slow movement gave it the nickname “The Surprise” (the Germans call it “mit dem Paukenschlag” or “with the drum-stroke”). Because Marie Antoinette (an Austrian princess who married the King of France and became famous for her comment about cake) liked the Symphony No. 85, it's known as “The Queen.”

Esterháza became famous as a place for great music. Even the Empress, Maria Theresa, would make the bonecrunching trip to the palace because, as she said, “If you want to hear good music, you have to go to Esterháza.” By the way, it was she who advised her son, the Duke of Milan, NOT to hire the Mozarts (she did not like “these people,” as she referred to them). Her other son who succeeded her as Emperor Joseph II – the one famous for his quip about Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio as “having too many notes” – didn't give Mozart a real court position, either, perhaps for the same prejudice.

Then, in 1790, Prince Nicholas died and his son, named Anton after his uncle, became the prince. Unfortunately, his taste in music was considerably less than his father's. He dismissed the orchestra, disbanded the opera theater and kept only a small wind band and a couple of string players. Because Haydn had been with them for so long and had made Esterháza famous, Prince Anton kept Haydn on the payroll, but he was free to “retire.” His only obligation was to write an annual mass for the Princess' Name Day (the equivalent of a birthday celebration, but on the feast day of the saint you were named after).

At the age of 57, Haydn planned to retire to Vienna where he was somewhat surprised to find himself more famous than he thought. He was aware of the regard Vienna held him in but the international fame was a bit of a surprise. Especially when the impresario Johann Peter Salomon arrived from London.

Salomon's first thought was to engage Mozart but his schedule was too busy, there was a problem with the children (his father did not want to be saddled with baby-sitting them while Mozart and his wife gallivanted off to England). So it was decided he would ask Haydn this time, then come back another year for Mozart.

Haydn was 59 when he left for London and in saying farewell to Mozart was concerned he would die before he'd return. Ironically, it was Mozart who died – at the age of 35 – before Haydn got back.

In London, Haydn wrote chamber music, songs and a half-dozen symphonies that were the toast of the town. A second trip was arranged and with it, new string quartets and another half-dozen symphonies. His twelve "London" Symphonies are regarded as among the finest of the age. His success and popularity was unimaginable to a man who had spent so much of his career isolated in a country estate (granted, a grand palace of a country estate) being a servant wearing the livery of his employer.

He also heard oratorios by George Frederic Handel, especially “Israel in Egypt.” An oratorio was a large-scale work based on a sacred subject sung by chorus with soloists singing arias that made it something like an opera in concert. By law, London closed the opera houses during Lent and so it was Handel's expedient way of still making money writing “sacred operas” for the audiences who missed their operas, even though many objected to hearing such sacred stories all decked out in secular operatic clothing. It was not a form that was popular on the Continent.

So Haydn came back to Vienna with a libretto based on the story of Creation, interspersing arias about the events of the different days with quotes from Genesis. Originally in English, it had been translated into German for Haydn and then retranslated back into English when it was performed in London.

Haydn spent two years working on “The Creation.” Premiered in 1798, it became one of his greatest successes and so Salomon, ever the keen-eyed businessman, immediately proposed a sequel which became the oratorio “The Seasons.” While Haydn had exhausted himself when writing “The Creation,” “The Seasons” was a little easier – not as intense a subject nor as demanding of great music, it was really four little mini-oratorios that could be geared more to popular appeal.

Both works would continue to be performed all over Europe even after most of his symphonies fell into post-classical limbo.

To be continued...

Dr. Dick

1 comment:

  1. I look forward to The Creation... This orchestra, chorus, and Stuart Malina will do great... Good luck with your podcast, Dr. Strawser...