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  • Writer's pictureGraham Abbott

On the Fringe: Michael Haydn

Early in the 19th century, Franz Schubert visited a famous musician's grave in Salzburg. With tears in his eyes he is reported to have said:

The good Haydn! May your clear calm spirit hover over me... I may be neither so calm nor so clear, but no man living reveres you more than I.

There's that name, Haydn, well-known to music lovers (and to readers of this blog!). But the Haydn Schubert praised was not that Haydn. Joseph Haydn - the creator of more than a hundred symphonies, the “father of the string quartet”, the composer of The Creation and The Seasons and much else besides - was not the only Haydn at work in the late 18th century musical world.

The Haydn whose grave Schubert was visiting was Michael Haydn, the younger brother of the more famous Joseph Haydn. Michael Haydn is barely remembered at all today, and it's certain that most of his music is completely unknown to music lovers. Yet it wasn't always so, and he left a remarkable legacy. Michael Haydn is the subject of this post. Here’s a little of his music to help us get our aural bearings. [listen]

Michael Haydn

Johann Michael Haydn was baptised on 14 September 1737 and it is assumed he was born a day or two before. Like his more famous brother - who was five years older - he was born in the village of Rohrau in Lower Austria, near the current border between Austria and Hungary.

At the age of 8, Haydn went to Vienna and entered the choir school of St Stephen's Cathedral (again in the footsteps of his older brother, who joined the St Stephen's choir in 1740). This famous institution enabled him to hear and perform sacred works by the greatest composers of the period and by the time he was 12 he was already playing the organ for services and composing.

St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

Around 1753 - when he was in his mid-teens - his voice broke and this meant his dismissal from the choir. But he stayed in Vienna and continued studying and playing the organ. By the age of 20 he was already a prolific composer of sacred music, the genre on which his contemporary fame would largely be based.

Around 1760 Haydn took up a post in the town of Grosswardein (now Oradea in Romania). Here he wrote not only sacred music but also symphonies; the link above is to one of the symphonies from this early period. Among his early sacred music is this luminous setting of the text Christus factus est, from 1761. [listen]

Michael Haydn seems to have only stayed in Grosswardein for a couple of years; he was back in Vienna in 1762 and in 1763 moved to Salzburg. But the music known to have been written by him before going to Salzburg is impressive: 15 symphonies, 14 masses, six serenades for three stringed instruments, a number of wind serenades, some concertos and some small-scale sacred works.

In the early 1760s Michael Haydn was already well-known throughout eastern Austria. His music was copied and disseminated, increasing his reputation and eventually bringing him to the attention of important members of the nobility. One such person who noticed him was Count Vinzenz Joseph Schrattenbach, the nephew of the Archbishop of Salzburg, Sigismund Christoph Schrattenbach. A short biography of Haydn written not long after his death suggests that the Count suggested to his uncle that he offer Haydn a position at the Salzburg court.

Archbishop Sigismund Christoph Schrattenbach

With the death in 1762 of one of the prominent musicians in Salzburg, JE Eberlin, the musical establishment was reorganised and Archbishop Schrattenbach did indeed offer Haydn a position there. In August 1763 he was confirmed in the position of court Concertmaster, a post which involved him playing his own instrument - the organ - as well as the violin. Among the other musicians at the Salzburg court at the time was Leopold Mozart, then one of the most famous violin pedagogues in Europe. Before long Leopold's talented son, Wolfgang Amadeus, also joined the staff.

Salzburg Old Town

For the remainder of the 1760s it seems as if Haydn's work in Salzburg mainly involved him writing theatre works for the nearby Benedictine University. In 1767 he took part in an unusual event, a theatre piece on a sacred theme called Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots (The Obligation of the first Commandment). There were three acts, each written by a different composer. Wolfgang Mozart - aged only 11 - wrote the first, Michael Haydn the second, and Anton Cajetan Adlgasser the third. Mozart's contribution has survived but sadly those by Haydn and Adlgasser have not.

Earlier the same year Haydn wrote a two-act pantomime for the court called Der Traum (The Dream). The cast included children and young people and Haydn's music involved a lot of incidental instrumental pieces and some songs. The style - like the language - is deliberately mixed, with simple German songs, florid Italian arias, and learned Latin epigrams. The popular "Turkish" style is also represented, in a march and song with a faux Turkish text. The relevant section starts at 13’40 in this link.

In August 1768 Michael Haydn married Maria Magdalena Lipp, a singer at the Salzburg court and daughter of the court organist, Franz Ignaz Lipp. They lived in Salzburg in an apartment owned by the Abbey of St Peter, a church for which Haydn (and others, including the younger Mozart) wrote a number of works.

In 1770 the couple had their first and only child, a daughter, Aloysia Josepha. Sadly, she died shortly before her first birthday.

As well as this heartbreak, 1771 contained another great loss for Haydn, with the death of his music-loving employer, Archbishop Schrattenbach. The Archbishop died on 16 December 1771 and by the end of the month Haydn had completed a magnificent setting of the Requiem in honour of his patron. The work is of the utmost beauty and dignity, one of the great 18th century choral works, and it is hard not to assume that the composer's loss of his only daughter also inspired the emotional depth of this music.

Scholars have often pointed out a number of connections in style and content between Michael Haydn's C minor Requiem and Mozart's famous, unfinished Requiem written 20 years later. It would seem very likely that the younger Mozart heard this music, and that he too would have admired it.

If the Michael Haydn Requiem is unknown to you, take the time to hear it here in full. This link will take you to an excellent performance with the vocal score running concurrently. It’s a wonderful piece.

Schrattenbach was replaced by an Archbishop who has, I think, been treated rather harshly by history. Hieronymus, Count Colloredo, was the Salzburg Archbishop who sacked the young Mozart and for whom the hot-tempered young prodigy had nothing but opprobrium after event. But Colloredo was a reformer who had different priorities to Schrattenbach and this is reflected in the changes he demanded in church music in Salzburg.

Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo

Colloredo kept a tighter rein on expenditure, he closed the university theatre in 1778, he insisted that Mass settings be short and to the point (which explains why Mozart's masses for Salzburg are usually brief and breezy), and he introduced German-language hymns into the liturgy. In the early years of Colloredo's rule, Haydn seems to have thrived and some of his best-known sacred works, including the C minor Requiem, date from the 1770s.

One of the most delightful is the mass written in 1777 for the Archbishop's name day, the Missa Sancti Hieronymi, or Mass of St Hieronymus (or St Jerome, in English). Known colloquially as the "Oboe Mass", this work calls for voices accompanied by a wind band of oboes and bassoons, in addition to a continuo part and trombones doubling the voices. [listen]

Salzburg Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Church of the Holy Trinity)

Leopold Mozart heard this mass performed in Salzburg Cathedral and wrote to his son about it, praising the work fulsomely. Such camaraderie, though, wasn't going to last. By 1777 Haydn had risen to such prominence in Salzburg that his name was being touted as a candidate for the post of Kapellmeister. It's probably no coincidence that negative rumours about him started to circulate at this time. This was exacerbated by the fact that in December of that year Haydn was given a prominent organist's post - at the Dreifaltigkeitskirche (Church of the Holy Trinity) - a post Leopold believed should have gone to his son. Soon afterwards Leopold starting spreading rumours to the effect that Haydn was lazy and prone to drink excessively. Such are professional jealousies...

Leopold Mozart

If Michael Haydn's main work in the 1760s was theatre music, and in the 1770s sacred music, then in the 1780s his major preoccupation was the writing of symphonies. Symphonies were an important part of Salzburg's musical life, as the younger Mozart's own early symphonies demonstrate, and Haydn wrote about 20 symphonies in Salzburg during the 1780s. These started to circulate beyond Salzburg and writing from Vienna in 1784 Wolfgang Mozart mentioned in a letter how easy it was for him to obtain copies of Michael Haydn's symphonies there.

Mozart needed to provide symphonies from time to time for his Vienna concerts and often performed works by other composers. There is no suggestion that he passed these works of as his own; he just performed works by a number of composers in addition to his own pieces.

In 1783 Mozart included a symphony composed by Michael Haydn earlier the same year in one of his concerts, and for this occasion he decided to add a slow introduction to the first movement. The manuscript of this version of the piece - partly in Mozart's hand and partly in someone else's - was assumed by Köchel in the 19th century to have been all by Mozart. Köchel included the work in the Mozart catalogue and called it Mozart's symphony no 37, K444. Since the early 20th century the truth has been known - that only the slow introduction is by Mozart and the rest is by Michael Haydn - but it speaks highly of Mozart's opinion of Haydn's work that he would deem it worthy of his attention in this way. [listen]

While the symphonies of Michael Haydn make up his major contribution to instrumental music, he was by no means inactive in other genres. Serenades, another very popular part of Salzburg's musical life, are found in his output as well. Whether called "serenade", "divertimento", "notturno" or some other term, these pieces evoke - as do the similar works of Mozart - the lively and elegant musical life of the Salzburg court. These works reflect a wide variety of instrumentation. They include string quartets and quintets, and wind ensembles as well.

Even more interesting because of the possible Mozart connection are Michael Haydn's string quintets. Scored for two violins, two violas and cello, these works may very well have led Mozart to write his own magnificent works for this same combination. Haydn's B flat quintet dates from around 1782 and it definitely falls into the Salzburg serenade genre. The slow movement is just lovely... [listen] ...and this then moves on into the next movement, a theme with variations. [listen]

In the 1790s Michael Haydn's influence was extended by his teaching, with many of his pupils taking up positions in important towns and churches. After studying with Haydn, Georg Johann Schinn was appointed to a post at the Munich court, while other Haydn pupils included Sigismund Neukomm, Anton Diabelli (he of the Diabelli Variations) and Carl Maria von Weber. Schinn's influence in Munich saw to it that Haydn's sacred works continued to be performed well into the 19th century.

In his final years Michael Haydn remained based in Salzburg but occasionally visited Vienna. He received major commissions for sacred works from Vienna and of course continued to compose and teach in Salzburg. One of his last works was a beautiful setting of the mass for three-part treble and alto voices and orchestra, the Missa Sancti Leopoldi or Mass of St Leopold. It was written for the Feast of the Holy Innocents in December 1805. [listen]

As soon as this mass was finished, Haydn began work on another setting of the Requiem at the request of the Empress Maria Theresia. Work on this was interrupted by ill health and, despite hopes that he would recover during the spring of 1806, his health continued to decline. The second Requiem was left unfinished at his death on 10 August 1806. He was 68.

Michael Haydn's grave in Salzburg, in which Nannerl Mozart (sister of Wolfgang Amadeus) is also buried.

This brief overview of Michael Haydn's remarkable life doesn't come close to giving an indication of the sheer volume of work he left to posterity, let alone its quality. There are nearly 30 Latin masses, hundreds of smaller sacred works in both Latin and German, about 20 theatre works, more than a hundred secular partsongs, more than 40 symphonies, a dozen concertos, more than 60 chamber works, plus cycles of minuets and marches, keyboard works and other pieces. To say there's more to explore would be the understatement of the century, but worth exploring it most definitely is.

The more famous Haydn, Joseph, regarded his brother's sacred music as superior to his own, and he wasn't the only one to think so. ETA Hoffmann (he of the tales) is on record as saying:

All connoisseurs of music know, and have known for some time, that as a composer of sacred music Michael Haydn ranks among the finest of any age or nations...In this field he is fully his brother's equal; in fact, by the seriousness of his concept he often surpasses him by far.

ETA Hoffman

We'll end with part of one of Michael Haydn's more spectacular festive masses, a work from 1786 for two choirs and orchestra known today as the Missa Hispanica because it is thought to have been written to fulfil a commission from the Spanish royal family. It's one of Michael Haydn's significant masterpieces, much praised in his own lifetime, and it's tragically almost completely unknown today. [listen]

It's important that I acknowledge Dr Dwight Blazin's article on Michael Haydn in Grove as my principal source for this article.

This article is based on a Keys To Music program first aired on ABC Classic FM (now ABC Classic) in September, 2012.

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