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Sepperl The Drummer Boy

[In the May and June issues of  THE ETUDE we gave two short sketches relating incidents in the early career of Haydn. The present instalment takes him to Vienna as a member of the choir of the Cathedral, and shows the sad state in which he lived at the beginning of his professional career. The next and last instalment tells how he made a friend who helped him to a more prosperous condition.—Editor]


The village of Hamburg was so near Rohrau that it did not take Sepperl more than fifteen minutes to reach his father’s home.

“Good-bye, papa, good-bye, mamma;” he cried, on  entering the shop, where his parents were talking, having returned from early mass. “I am going to Vienna with that fat little man who was here yesterday, and who found your singing so bad.”

“And what will you do in Vienna?” asked his father, without showing much surprise.

“I will sing, I will write music, become great, rich, very rich, and have beautiful clothes.”

“Sepperl, you are a goose,” interrupted his father; “go and play with your comrades—go; your mother and I are talking.”

“You will let me go, though, will you not?” persisted the child.

“You would go whether we let you or not, eh?” asked his mother.

“Listen, dear little mamma,” said Sepperl, putting his arm coaxingly around her, “I am going for a plate of cherries. I have eaten the cherries, and want more.”

“How, for a plate of cherries? What does the child mean?” said his father, in perplexity.

Sepperl repeated the bargain he had made, and as he finished his story, the dean and the schoolmaster, who had followed after little Haydn, arrived. The dean confirmed the story of the little boy, and gave so many reasons, and made so many promises, that the wheelwright finally said, with a great sigh.

“Go, then, child, and pray that your plate of cherries may not cost you too dear.

“I will warrant that,” replied M. Reuter, confidently.

Behold, now, little Haydn leaving for Vienna, with M. Reuter. His progress was so rapid that in six years he had composed pieces for six and eight voices, which he carried triumphantly to his master.

“What is this, Sepperl?” asked the dean, turning in every direction a paper given him by young Haydn.

“A sextette, master,” he replied, proudly.

“Well, it is very good; this phrase is beautiful, but why all this mess of notes?”

“Because of that phrase, simple as it is, do you not understand it?”

“I understand that you have put quavers and double-quavers, so that I can scarcely find the air in the midst of the blackness. Listen, Sepperl, write this over, and make it simpler—Make it simpler. Now, what do you think of my marking up your music?”

“Alas, master,” responded Haydn, with a droll air of sadness, “I thought less of the blackness of the papers than of the beauty of the music.”

Seven more years passed, but about the time that Haydn’s studies were almost finished, the good Reuter died, and the young musician, forced to give up the privileges of the cathedral of Vienna, soon found himself without any protection, without money in the streets of the Austrian capital. He rented, without knowing how he was going to pay for it, a miserable garret, badly lighted, and carried there the only piece of furniture he owned—an old piano that could scarcely stand on its legs.

Young Haydn, in order to live, was obliged to pawn some of his clothes. The sort the poor young man needed, he was unable to buy. His mother and father were dead, and he was alone in the world. Poverty and hunger were making him thin, but in the midst of this wretched artist’s life there was a great enthusiasm, which despair had never been able to take from him.

Sometimes, seated before his old piano, on the rude bench of planks he had made with his own hands, he found again that his knowledge, in the inspiration of poetical music, became a consolation to his sorrow, even a joy, in the midst of his sufferings which the loss of the common necessities of life were teaching him.

Now, though our young hero was obliged to sing and to suffer, he was also obliged to find some means of getting some pupils in order to earn his living. Sometimes his friend, Dean Reuter, knowing Haydn’s talent, and poverty, had told him of such and such a person, who wanted a teacher for piano or voice.

He hastened to find them, but his poverty was so great, his clothes so worn, his manner so timid and ashamed, that most of the time he was not even admitted to the presence of those whom he had hoped to secure as pupils. The servants took their excuses to the poor young man, who looked more like one soliciting alms than asking for music pupils.—From the French of Mme. Foa, by Lucia Berrien Starnes.


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You are reading Sepperl The Drummer Boy from the July, 1906 issue of The Etude Magazine.

A Program for School Children. Correlating the Study of Music With That of Geography. is the previous story in The Etude

The Musical Education of the Young, by Jacques Dalcroze. is the next entry in The Etude.

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