Friday, 6 May 2016


(Franz) Joseph Haydn
18th century Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn, known by contemporaries as the “Father of the Symphony” experienced most precarious beginnings from within the Classical Music sphere. Having moved away from his parents and family home at the unprecedented early age of six years, young Haydn would take up residence and singing lessons under the tutelage of relative Johann Matthias Frankh, the schoolmaster and choirmaster who lived some 12 km (7.5 miles) away from his parents in the city of Hainburg. Here, Haydn would refine his skill as a vocalist in the local church choir whilst simultaneously taking up the study and practice of harpsichord and violin. He would soon attract the attention of one Georg von Ruetter, director of the great cathedral of Vienna. Ruetter pressed the young musician to enroll as a member of the choir of St. Stephen's.

It seemed the budding young singer was facing the prospect of a most fruitful life within the musical sector, but, much like his later hero Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (whose sticky situation we will learn about below), the hopeful musician also had his share of powerful detractors.

The neophyte Haydn, who was said to possess the gifts of a learned man, nonetheless retained the boyish insouciance brought upon by youth: it would be during a lesson at the Church’s school that a young Haydn would chop off the pigtail of a fellow pupil seated in front of him in class, which brought upon the wrath of both the academy and it’s patron, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, who angrily denounced the boy and his vocal talents as substandard, declaring “young Haydn sings like a crow!” 

This scandal could not go unpunished, and the sentiment offered forth by the empress forced the hand of the church, who promptly expelled Haydn from both it’s choir and academy – but not before administering to the young composers backside a solid round of flogging!

Enjoy below the tender aria "Del Mio Core Il Voto" from Haydn's L'anima del Filosofo (Soul of the Philosopher); sung by French soprano Patricia Petibon:

This punishment, oddly, would be repeated in the life of contemporary Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whom Haydn revered above all others at the court of newly installed Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II in March of 1782.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
It would be following the successful premiere of Mozart’s opera seria Idomeneo, which had premiered in Munich the previous year, that word of the gifted composer would reach sufficient enough height for the composer to be summoned to Vienna and the presence of his employer Prince-Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg, who had been attending the celebrations provided for the accession of Emperor Joseph II to the Austrian throne. Mozart, filled to the brim with an overwhelming sense of confidence following his successful run in Munich (and with perhaps a soupçon of cockiness) fully expected to be presented with and accept commission to perform before the Emperor at the residence of one Countess Thun for a fee equal to half of his annual salary at Salzburg, which Colloredo vetoed. This was an injustice most foul for the young composer – and yet another slap in the face to be added to the already contentious relationship between employer and employee. Mozart felt himself subjected to the standard of living as experienced by the most lowly servant (which composers were generally considered at the time, to be fair), as Colloredo had the audacity to set him up in precarious and dilapidated lodgings at the headquarters of the Teutonic Order, wherein the brooding composer was made forced to dine alongside cooks and valets – a dramatic fall from the graces of Elector Carl Theodor who had previously set up the composer in luxurious surroundings during his journey to Mannheim.

Mozart apparently had decided enough was enough, and, after having been called a "scoundrel" amongst other unappealing pejoratives by the archbishop, stood his ground - threatening to resign as composer to Colloredo should his needs continue to go unattained, to which the archbishop defiantly refused. Mozart would suffer one more grueling month as little more than a benefit composer performing gratis, before he finally got his wish - with a little more than he asked for to "boot."* (*Those familiar with this anecdote will appreciate this rather drôle pun!)

In a letter dated 9th of June 1781 to his father Leopold back in Salzburg, Mozart describes his most unceremonious firing – not by Colloredo himself - who refused to provide an audience for the composer and instead hid within his private chambers - but rather via proxy (he sent his steward, one  Count Arco to do the dirty work):
“[just] as this fellow is forced to hand in his petition himself, instead of granting him access, you throw him out the door and give him a kick in his behind!” 
This statement was to be taken very literally: Mozart was in fact kicked “in the arse” by the Count, which prompted the incensed young composer to pen to his father:
“I care little for Salzburg and not at all for the Archbishop: I shit on both of them!”
But then, Mozart always did have a potty mouth.

Enjoy below Ilia's beautiful aria "Se il padre perdei" from Mozart's Idomeneo; sung by Swiss soprano and Mozart aficianado Edith Mathis under the baton of maestro Karl Böhm:


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