Joseph Haydn

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by

Josef Haydn

Haydn’s Quartet Op 64 No 5 (6) is the most popular of all of his chamber works, and filled with the vigour and colour which so endeared him to players and audiences in the UK. It is, for all of its popularity, a revolutionary piece, inverting and subverting as many preconceptions about the Quartet medium as it confirms. Kreutzer Quartet (Peter Sheppard Skaerved, Mihailo Trandafilovski, Morgan Goff, Neil Heyde-Recorded 2010 Engineer-Jonathan Haskell-Astounding Sounds)-LISTEN

The two visits of Haydn in 1791 and 1794 made an indelible impression, an excitement about music making that lingers to this day-not just that of musical genius, but of the charisma of the person in person, the association of one man and his music, even when it was one as modestly charming as Haydn.

He was brought to London by the virtuoso violinist and impresario, Johann Peter Salomon, then living at 70 Newman Street. Salomon is is buried in Westminster Abbey, next to the pianist Muzio Clementi, and around the corner from Aphra Benn.

Joseph Haydn kept a Tagebuch of his first visit to London, in which he noted down divers things that struck him: a terrible dance band at the Guildhall, the cost of bread, conversation.

‘On 5th November I was guest at a lunch given in honour of the Lord Mayor. The new Lord Mayor and his wife ate at the first table, No 1, then the Lord Chancellor and both the sheriffs, Duke of Leeds, Monsieur Pitt and the other judges of the first rank. At No. 2, I ate with Mr Silvester, the greatest lawyer and first alderman of London. In this room which is called the Guildhall, there were 16 tables besides others in the adjoining rooms; in all, near 1200 people dined, all with the greatest pomp. The food was nice and well-cooked; many kinds of wine in abundance…at 9 o’clock No1 rose and went to a small room, at which point the ball began in this room there is, apart, an elevated place for the high noblesse where the Lord Mayor is seated on a throne together with his wife…in this small room there are four tiers of raised benches on each side, where the fair sex has mostly the upper hand. Nothing but minuets are danced in this room. I couldn’t stand it longer than a quarter of an hour…because of the wretched dance band, the entire orchestra consisting only of two violins and a violoncello.’’

Mercifully, the musicians that he was able to work with in London were, in general, better, and more numerous, than the ‘entire orchestra’ of three players referenced here. Ironically he did use his visits to London to produce a set of three London Trios, scored exactly this combination-a string quartet shorn of a viola! These trios, however, would be far beyond the reach of the players that he encountered, under the shadow of Gog and Magog, at the Guildhall.

For Haydn, England meant liberty, the chance to be his own man, having spent the large part of his life as the servant of the Esterhazys. But of course, he had come to the land of Wilkes, of Hobbes, of Gillray. Freedom here, meant many things, which would be abrubtly ended in 1794, the year of his second visit.

London 1791: ‘How sweet is some degree of liberty! I had a kind prince, but was obliged at times to be dependent on base souls. I often sighed for release and now I have it in some measure …the consciousness of being no longer a bonded servant sweetens my toil.’

With the onset of war with Republican France in 1793, sedition was seen everywhere.. The English were largely unaware of the degree to which they were spied on, but this was the beginning of a ‘surveillance society’, which reached its apogee in London at the beginning of the third millennium.  These spies kept a particularly close eye on the activities of such groups as the London Corresponding Society; one such snoop, going by the name of John Groves, noting that at a completely different kind of salon held at Chalk Farm, on the 14th April, 1794:

“…others pulled out large knives with white ivory and bone handles and long blades (pointed) evidently made at one manufactory, and they said all the citizens had them…they are what the French call couteau secret you cannot shut them without being acquainted with the secret spring.”

The government made use of governesses and tutors to snoop on recently arrived foreigners’, such as one William Clark, who filed a report in 1791 on recent French arrivals in Bury St Edmunds, which included the Madame Stephanie de Genlis, and his unsuspecting employer, the General d’Arblay, later Fanny Burney’s husband.

Even the abolitionist William Wilberforce (1759-1803), who strenuously resisted the urgings of some of his closest circle to take up revolutionary cudgels, and was a patriot to a fault, was forced to tamp down his campaign, being accused of being a traitor.   Two years after his proclamation against, ‘Seditious writings,’ in April 1794, Prime Minister William Pitt (1759-1806) suspended Habeas Corpus, and October 1795 saw the signing into law of the ‘Treasonable Practices Act and Seditious Meetings Act’, which were specifically intended to crush the ‘Corresponding Societies’.

Whilst instrumental musicians could hide behind the convenient ambiguity of their language, the playwright Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809), a member of the ‘Society for Constitutional Freedom’, was put on trial for treason in 1794.  Whilst the court found for the defendant, Holcroft’s career in the theatre was over; any association with ‘sedition’ was toxicHolcroft, was of the opinion that, “All well written books that discuss the actions of men, are in reality so many histories of the progress of the mind.” He suffered the fate so often accorded to the publicly idealistic artist, oblivion, and translating the work of others, in his case, the physiognomist and cranium-measurer, Lavater.

Charles Burney saw fit to welcome the great composer to his shores, with an Ode, a la GarrickVerses on the Arrival of the Great Musician Haydn in England, price one shilling. The Analytical Review was distinctly underwhelmed:

These verses do not appear, to us, to merit the praise which, the author has lavished on the composer, whom we also are willing to term, emphatically, the Great Musician.

But such opprobrium was unlikely to lessen the Burney’s pleasure at meeting the great musician:

24th April 1791 ‘I spent the day yesterday with the dear great & good Haydn, whom I love more & more every time I see as well as hear him. In as small party chiefly of my own family, we prevailed on him to play the 1st Violin to his instrumental Passione, which work, though we cd. perform it in 4 parts, though it consists of 16, yet its effect was admirable as executed by him, in a most chaste & feeling manner. He played the 2nd Violin only to several of his Quartets which my Nephews played the 1st & Tenor, a Mr. Gun of Cambridge Violoncello.’

Of course, the work that they were playing was not, technically, a string quartet, but the quartet version of his Sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze, known in England as the ‘Seven Words’. The original orchestral version of his religious meditation was premiered in the black-draped cathedral in Cadiz, six years earlier. Clearly, Burney felt that Haydn’s ‘chaste and feeling manner’ was completely suited to this work. However is it intriguing to find this very religious work being presented in a salon environment, and I wonder whether Haydn, who was a devout Catholic, might have found this somewhat disturbing.

Two months later, the Morning Herald reported Haydn’s investiture at Oxford. Clearly, Luigi Marchesi was greatly missed on this occasion. Scandal and gossip aside, everyone would have prefered to hear him to Anna (Nancy) Storace, Mozarts original ‘Susanna. Marchesi would have been delighted to read this review of a performance which he did not give! In 1780, Storace had made her Florence debut alongside Marchesi, at the Teatro Alla Pergola. Her debut was such a success that Marchesi had insisted that she was sacked from the company

[Morning Herald 11th July 1791]. ‘On Friday the annual commemoration took place at OXFORD, when the celebrated HAYDN was admitted…The opening piece was Overture from ESTHER, performed with great spirit. KELLY followed with ‘why does the Go[d], etc.’ from Samson, with good expression. ….the next in order was, a beautiful Cantata by HAYDN, who appeared in his gown and conducted it; – this charming air use to be finely sung by MARCHESI; therefore STORACE was injudicious in attempting on this occasion, and indeed, received less applause than Haydn’s Doctoral Robe.

Haydn found inspiration in the extraordinary range of intellecturals that became available to him. He claimed that his visit to to the William and Caroline Herschel’s giant reflecting telescope at Slough in 1792 had helped him compose his oratorio The Creation.  Part of this wonder is now on show outside the Greenwich Observatory; we too, can go and ‘touch the face of God’ wonderingly, and be inspired.

Haydn also celebrated for his ‘naturalness’, the latest fashion amongst the informed classes. His ‘sensibility’ to nature found a very sympathetic audience amongst British intellectuals.

Charles Bucke, in his Beauties of Nature, later remarked that Haydn:

‘…enjoyed every fine evening of summer; attending to his flowers and shrubs; enjoying the delicious coolness of the air; in the society of his friends, whom he frequently delighted with playing over to them, the pieces of music, he had recently composed.”

The historian Felipe Fernández-Armesto has pointed out that “Nobody knows how or when human beings got the idea that they were better than the rest of nature.”  Perhaps the modern notion of human superiority was born in this cult.  The very notion of ‘natural’ was in itself new to the English imagination; William Wilberforce frequently alarmed his friends and servants by choosing to sit on the grass.   In 1816, the multifaceted essayist, William Hazlitt , wrote his ‘On Gusto’ which extolled the ‘power and passion’ which was to be found in ‘what relates to things without expression to the natural appearances of objects.’   There were many who detested the vagueness of the very idea, such as Adam Ferguson:

“Of all the terms that are used in treating of human affairs, those of natural and unnatural are the least determinable in their meaning.”

Half a century after Haydn’s death, his life-enhancing creativity inspired two young musicians, rehearsing sonatas in Düsseldorf. Joseph Joachim wrote to Clara Schuman:

Düsseldorf, June 21, 1855: ‘Johannes [Brahms] and I are playing a great deal; for instance we have played all Haydn’s lively sonatas. You must hear the one with the jolly Hungarian Rondo in G: it is the most characteristic music I have heard for a long time-one can really see the Hungarian Hussars twirling their moustaches, and the Hungarian girls’ long nut-brown plaits getting entangled in the spurs as they dance; the violin often stumbles so heavily after the rhythm! We played Bach’s E major Sonata the  other day-but we nearly always play in my room; it makes us too melancholy to hear the violin and Érard without the soprano voice.’

For Delacroix, Haydn was a problem. His quality showed up the mediocrity of other musics:

‘The short fragment of the Haydn Symphony which I heard yesterday delighted me as much as was bored by all the rest of the concert. The time has come when I can no longer consent to lend my ears or my attention to anything that is not truly excellent.


Verses on the Arrival of the Great Musician Haydn in England.

Price one shilling. Charles Burney:

‘These were the general favrits of their days

Idols of our hearts, and objects of our praise;

But common made by use and more by thieves,

And those who pouring water on their leaves,

By a more humble and less dangerous theft,

Extracted all the spirit that was left,
Were heard with languor, like an oft told tale,

Nor longer could o’er drowsiness prevail.

At length great Haydn’s new and varied strains

Of habit and indiff’rence broke the chains;

Ill us’d to attention the long torpid sense,

With all that pleasing wonder could dispense

Welcome, great master! to our favour’d isle,

Already partial to thy name and style;

Long may thy fountain of invention run

In streams as rapid as it first begun;

While skill for each fantastic whim provides,

And certain science ev’ry current guides!

Oh, may thy days, from human sufrings free,

Be blest with glory and felicity.

With full fruition, to a distant hour.

Of all thy magic and creative pow’r!

Blest in thyself, with rectitude of mind,

And blessing, with thy talents, all mankind!’

The Chronicles of London, Andrew Saint and Gillian Darley, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1994, 155

The Enlightenment, Peter Gay, Norton, New York, USA, 1996, P.226

The Chronicles of London , Anrew Saint and Gillilan Darley, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1994 Pp.   158 – 9

Fanny BurneyHer Life,Kate Chisholm, Vintage, London, 1998, P.   168

The Analytical Review, Vol 10, May-Auguest 1791, Printed for J Johnson, London, MDCCXCI

Haydn’s Visit to England, Christopher Hogwood, T and H, London, 2009, P.20

Haydn, His Life and Music, HC Robbins Landon & David Wyn Jones, Thames and Hudson, London 1988. P.236

The Age of Wonder, Richard Holmes, Vintage, New York, 2008, P.199

On the Beauties, Harmonies and Sublimities of Nature, Charles Buck, Whittaker, London, 2nd Edition, 1823, Vol. II, P.314

Civilisations, Felipe Fernández – Armesto, Macmillan, London, 2000, P.548

An Oxford Companion to the Romantic AgeBritish Culture 17761832, Gen.   Ed.   Iain McCalman, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001,  P.   538

Adam Ferguson, |Check reference]

Letters of Joachim etc.P.112

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix¸Ed Hubert Wellington, Phaidon, New York, 1995,Pp.289-90