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The Masters as Students - Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn.
The stress laid upon the preparatory period in our lives, the steadily increasing machinery of school, college, university and technical institution, and the attention paid by eminent educators to the formulation of methods center our thoughts upon our school days, and draw a sharp dividing line between this period and that in which the real battle of life is fought. No valid exception can be taken to this, and, as I have intimated in previous articles, no effort is too great that will increase the efficiency of our school days. But we sooner or later realize that despite their importance, they are only a small part of our real schooling; that their end is but the real commencement of our studies, and their wealth of preparation may go for naught, unless the later years find us better students than the few months of our preparatory period.
These rather trite remarks are suggested by a consideration of the student life of Franz Joseph Haydn. His preparatory school days extended from his sixth to his eighteenth year, and he made the most of them, albeit he was somewhat mischievous. Yet his greatest development came during his mature years, after he had entered upon the position he held during his active life. In fact some of his most valuable lessons were learned from his young contemporary, Mozart, who was twenty-four years his junior, and who died several years before him.
It is interesting to note the characteristics of the schools Haydn attended. The numerous carefully planned, systematic courses now offered to students, with their many helpful accessories, were unknown to him. His instruction, while doubtless adequate in some respects, lacked much that makes the teaching of to-day successful. Unlike Mozart, he was not so fortunate as to have a parent who could direct his studies and be certain of their pertinence and sustained value. His peasant home was poor in all but homely virtue and affection; in it he learned cleanliness and order, but his musical studies were not helped by the influences there, except for the encouragement given by the loving interest of his parents. His twelve years of school life were spent, with other boys, in giving the service of voice and hands in return for a scanty living and such more or less perfunctory instruction as the generosity and circumstances of his teachers provided.
Leaving the care of his mother at an age which we esteem infantile, he took his place among the choir boys at Hamburg, delighted to be where he could satisfy his love for music. Johann Mathias Frankh was a good teacher, but a hard master. More floggings than food, according to his own statement, were Haydn's portion here. But he became an excellent singer, and learned something of the instruments most in use. The two years spent here were filled with duties which sit strangely upon the shoulders of a child of less than eight years. Standing like a man, as Haydn himself alluded to it in later years, he sang masses in the church choir, and could play the clavier and violin. They were years of hard work under the urging of a driving master, and they give an edifying insight into the disposition of the peasant boy, who, at such a tender age, met their requirements satisfactorily, and who, in later years, speaks commendatory words about the teacher who dominated them.
His eighth year saw the beginning of the closing period of his school days. The next ten years were spent as a choir boy at St. Stephens, in Vienna. In comparison with a modern conservatory of music, this school would be considered a sorry place to obtain a musical education. The regular studies were religion, a little Latin, writing, and ciphering. The presence of the boys was not primarily for their benefit, but to fill places in the choir. Their instruction was affected by this fact, and Capellmeister Reutter reduced its economy to a system. Haydn, as a valuable member of the choir, was taught singing, the clavier, and the violin. He had good teachers in these, but instruction in Harmony and Composition were conspicuous by their absence, and again the food was not so plentiful as to permit of overindulgence.
The ten years spent here were filled with work made all the harder by lack of oversight and  direction where Haydn's genius most wished it—in composition. He was impelled to fill music paper with notes, but aimless working is discouraging. A "Salve Regina" for twelve voices brought him a sharp reproof from Reutter, but no instruction, beyond a suggestion to write variations to the pieces he heard in church, with no word of how to do it. Nevertheless, his school days were well spent, and when the breaking of his voice brought their end, and he was heartlessly thrown out upon the world without means, he took up the battle courageously and with confidence.
Thus Haydn's twelve years of school days were numbered. As regards his connection with schools this is true; as it concerns his student life, it is not true. In the midst of his struggle for bare existence, after leaving St. Stephens, he was even more persistent in his study; his determination to know his beloved music grew with his years. It was during this time that he gradually secured all the known theoretical works and mastered their contents. His lack of systematic musical training, due to the imperfect instruction of his school days, was overcome by his industry, close observation, and persistent effort.
His period of preparation passed, Haydn enters upon his life work, and after a time of pecuniary struggle, he is settled in an unusually, advantageous position. The poverty of his youth is succeeded by prosperity and opportunities for carrying out his cherished aims. His position as Capellmeister to the wealthy and musical family of Esterhazy gives him many years in which to work out his musical progress. His remarkable growth until the last years of his life is well known, and the progress of his quartets and symphonies from a slight texture to their later richness of treatment is a vital part of his biography. To what is this steady growth due?
He never ceased to be a student. His student days began at six and ended with his life. From the time when by dint of hard work he made progress in singing and playing, without the help of his so-called teachers, and gathered from the choral music the knowledge of composition his teachers failed to give him, until he wrote the "Creation" after hearing Handel's "Messiah," he never ceased to be a keen, observing student. His choice of models, as when he made Philip Emanuel Bach the subject of profound study, and his readiness to be guided by them account for the constant improvement in his work.
The student of to-day cannot fail to derive inspiration from a study of Haydn's student characteristics. His genial, mischievous disposition, which rose superior to every discouragement, is a distinct inspiration to the pessimistic grumbler. His adherence to his purposes teaches a salutary lesson to those who are inclined to be unstable.
The sketch of Haydn in Grove's Dictionary; the "Life of Haydn," by Nohl; "The Life," by Pauline Townsend; and chapter eleven of Parry's "Evolution of the Art of Music" furnish material for reading. With this reading, his piano works and his quartets should be examined.

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