Tuesday, November 4, 2008



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

For the next few years, Haydn lived a gypsy life as one of the many street musicians, or buskers, in the city of Vienna.  He made a little extra money giving music lessons , just enough to pay the rent at his tiny garret on the Michalerplaz.  Late at night he studied the keyboard works of C.P.E. Bach and composed his own music.

His first big break came when he and some fellow buskers serenaded the house of Johann Joseph Kurz, a comedian and pantomime performer popularly known as Kurz-Bernardon, after his most famous role.  Bernardon is a stock comic character, a simpleton also known as Hanswurst.  Kurz commissioned Haydn to compose the music for a comic opera, Der Krumme Teufel (The Crooked Devil).  Haydn got paid 25 ducats, which made him feel very rich.

After that, things started looking up for Haydn.  The court poet Metastasio lived in a nicer apartment in the same building and through him Haydn met Niccolo Porpora, a famous singing teacher and composer.  Haydn became his accompanist and valet.  From Porpora he learned not only fundamentals of composition but also how to polish boots and keep the lint off a velvet jacket.

It was about this time that Haydn fell madly in love with one of his pupils, a lovely young woman named Therese Keller, a wig maker's daughter.  Haydn wanted to marry her, but she decided she wanted to become a nun instead.  When she entered the convent in 1756 Haydn composed a little organ concerto for the ceremony, just to show that there were no hard feelings.

As a sort of consolation prize, Therese's father suggested that Haydn could marry her older sister, Anna Maria.  She was 31, he was 28.  Too upset to think straight, he said yes.  He lived to regret it:  Anna Maria was ugly, ill-tempered, and a bad housekeeper.  She had no appreciation of Haydn's life as a musician.  She didn't care whether he was a cobbler or a composer.  She would use his manuscripts to line cake tins, or cut the paper into strips to curl her hair with.

(to be continued . . .)


healthily sanguine said...

Do men get too upset to think straight and then rush off and marry people's sisters? I guess so... :)

lover of beauty said...

Yeah, that shows some lack of (at the very least) prudence on Haydn's part. Still I can't help feeling sorry for him. How unpleasant to be married to a person like that! And especially how terrible to be stuck in a marriage where your spouse has no respect or appreciation for who you are.

Kurt Poterack said...

Yes, it's true, men can be that emotionally needy sometimes. Mozart did the very same thing when he was rejected, although the sister was a trained soprano, and it was truly a happy match. (Mozart's father didn't like her, but that is another story).

Then there is the phenomenon of musician fathers wanting to marry off their "old maid" daughters. Dietrich Buxtehude made it a part of the job contract that his successor would have to marry his daughter. I believe both Bach and Handel balked at the idea.

I am not sure if anyone took the job. (Talk about a well meaning father who put his daughter in an awkward position - although this was not an unheard of practice at the time.)