Haydn had neither the flashy individuality of Mozart or the brooding passion of Beethoven. He was more middle management type. He spent a few years struggling to make ends meet as a young man, but once he found that one job which offered him creative scope and financial security, he stayed for 50 years. Haydn was born into a simple peasant family in the little Austrian village of Rohrau, near the border of Hungary.
His first big break came when he and some fellow buskers serenaded the house of Johann Joseph Kurz, a comedian and pantomime performer. Kurz commissioned Haydn to compose the music for a comic opera “The Crooked Devil”. It was about this time that Haydn fell madly in love with one of his pupils, Therese Keller. Haydn wanted to marry her, but she decided she wanted to become a nun. As a sort of consolation prize, Therese’s father suggested that Haydn could marry her sister, Anna Maria. Too upset to think straight, Haydn said yes. He lived to regret it: Anna was ugly, ill-tempered, and a bad housekeeper. Worst of all, she had no appreciation of his life as a musician. She would use his manuscripts to line cake tins or cut the paper into strips to curl her hair with.
His way of coping – he fooled around. First he fell in love with a singer named Luiga Polzelli. They kept hoping her husband and his wife would die. Her husband did die, but his wife hung on until around 1800 when Haydn was 68. Polzelli, meanwhile, had moved on. Eventually, Haydn got a job as court composer and Kepellmeister to Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy. He stayed in this position for the rest of his life.
Poor Paul Anton didn’t last long. He was replaced by his brother, Nicolaus the Magnificent. Nicolaus played a baryton, which is sort of a cross between a cello and a guitar. Nobody makes them anymore. But if you find one, Haydn wrote about 160 chamber pieces for it.
Nicolaus decided to build a splendid new summer castle in the middle of a swamp. He was fond of duck hunting. “Eszterhaza” was a classy place but the musicians and Haydn hated being stuck in the boondocks. This situation led Haydn to compose one of his best known symphonies – No 45 in F# Minor – known as the “Farewell Symphony”. the joke comes at the end of the final movement, when as the instrumental parts drop away, each player was instructed to snuff out his candle and leave the stage. By the end, there were only two violins playing – Haydn and Tomasini. Nicolaus got the message and everyone packed up and left the very next day.
When Haydn died in 1809, there was a simple funeral since Austria was rather busy being invaded by Napoleon’s troups. A couple of amateur medical students stole Haydn’s head and put the skull in a little black box with a white silk cushion. They wanted to read the bumps on his head.
In 1820, Prince Nicolaus Esterhazy II had the body exhumed. When he found that it had not head, boy was he mad. He finally tracked down the thieves and demanded it back. That had donated Haydn’s skull to the Viennese musical society and gave him some other skull instead. It wasn’t until 1954 that Haydn’s head and body were reunited. Other than that, he was a pretty together kind of guy.