Monday, November 3, 2008

HAYDN (Part I)


(excerpts from the book, Bach, Beethoven and the Boys by David Barber)

Haydn had neither the flashy individuality of Mozart nor the brooding, romantic passion of Beethoven.  He was more of a middle-management type.

Haydn did spend a few years struggling to make ends meet as a young man in Vienna.  But he spent most of his life -- nearly 50 years -- at the same job, which offered him creative scope and financial security.  He was 24 years older than Mozart yet outlived him by 18 years.  And until his very last years he enjoyed, unlike Beethoven, good health.

He spent his final years in well-deserved, peaceful retirement, in comfortable surroundings and with a private stock of his favorite wine, a tokay.  Haydn died in 1809 at 77 years of age, with money in the bank and a wardrobe full of nice clothes.  If his love life had gone better, he would have been even happier.

Haydn was born into a simple peasant family in the little Austrian village of Rohrau, near the border with Hungary, in 1732.  His father was a second-generation wheelwright and his mother was a cook.  They christened their son Franz Joseph, but around the house they called him "Sepperl."

As a boy he was well-mannered and tidy.  He liked to pretend he was playing the fiddle on two sticks of firewood.  Well, it's a start.

When he was six, he went to live with a schoolmaster cousin in the nearby town of Hainburg.  This man, Franck, was a stern teacher who thought that his pupils could learn anything if only he beat them often enough.  Haydn did learn from him, at least enough to be accepted as a choirboy at St. Stephen's cathedral in Vienna.  He was auditioned by the choirmaster, George Reutter, who bribed him with cherries and taught him how to sing a trill.  Haydn said much later in life that he could never hear a trill without thinking of the taste of cherries.

Little Haydn was a good singer but a bit of a prankster.  One prank finally lost him his place: he snipped the pig tale off the boy in front of him and Reutter kicked him out of the choir.  It was just as well: his voice was beginning to break and there was talk of castrating him.  So there he was, 17 years old with just three worn shirts, a ragged jacket, and no money to his name.

(to be continued . . .)


Alaina said...

What do you suppose "Sepperl" means?

Kurt Poterack said...

I blog reader comments by e-mail:

"Seppel was the pet form of Sepp, the short form of Joseph in German (using the last syllable, I suppose). I imagine that inserting the r before the l just made it a little more affectionate and playful. Joseph itself meant 'God will send another (son)'. "

healthily sanguine said...

Cool! I like Haydn's music, and I'm excited to hear how he gets from three shirts and a jacket to a whole wardrobe of good clothes!