Michael Haydn



The precise date of Johann Michael Haydn’s birth is not known, but it was probably the day before his baptism on 14 September 1737, in Rohrau, a village in Lower Austria, south of the Danube between Vienna and Pressburg (now Bratislava). He received his first musical training in Rohrau and in the nearby town of Hainburg, where he was a choirboy. About 1745 he joined his more famous brother Joseph, five years his senior, as a chorister at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. He is said to have had an exceptionally beautiful voice, with a compass of three octaves (F–F!), which attracted the attention of empress Maria Theresa. As well as singing he studied organ and violin with the Domkapellmeister, Georg Reutter. His knowledge of musical theory was derived principally from Johann Joseph Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum (1725), which he copied out in its entirety, He also learned Latin, Italian and French. His other interests were geography, and the weather, of which he made three observations daily in Salzburg for more than twenty years.

He left the choir school when his voice broke in 1752, and, like Joseph, earned a precarious living for a time, probably in Vienna. In 1757 he joined the orchestra of Paul Forgách de Ghymes, Bishop of Grosswardein in southern Hungary (now Oradea, Romania) as a violinist, and three years later was appointed Domkapellmeister. In 1762 he was summoned by Count Sigismund Schrattenbach, Archbishop of Salzburg, to fill the vacancy in his musical establishment caused by the death of his Kapellmeister, Johann Ernst Eberlin. Michael Haydn was made Orchesterdirektor, as an interim, probationary, measure, and on 14 August 1763 was formally appointed Hof- und Konzertmeister. He retained the post, together with that of organist of the churches of the Holy Trinity and of St Peter, and, from 1781, when Mozart left Salzburg for Vienna, of the cathedral, until his death on 10 August 1806. In 1768 he married Maria Magdalena Lipp, daughter of the court organist Franz Lipp and herself a singer of some distinction in the Archbishop’s service (she sang in several of the young Mozart’s works, including the part of Rosina in the first performance of La finta semplice, K 51 in 1769). They had one daughter, but she died when not quire one year old. His pupils included Weber and Diabelli.

He was a close friend, as well as a colleague, of Mozart, who, besides composing several works that were clearly influenced by him, repaid the debt by helping him out in times of need – notably with a pair of masterly duos for violin and viola, K 423 and 424. He wrote an enormous quantity of church music, including some forty masses, well over a hundred graduals and nearly seventy offertories, and also a large body of instrumental music that includes a dozen concertos and over forty symphonies (which are identified here by their numbering in the non-chronological catalogue drawn up in 1907 by Lothar Herbert Perger).

Symphony No. 11 in B flat major (P 9)

1. Allegro assai
2. Andantino
3. Menuet – Trio
4. Finale: Allegro molto

The first three movements of the Symphony in B flat, P 9, for strings, oboes and horns, were completed on 27 September 1766; the finale was added on 15 June 1772. The first movement, based on two not dissimilar themes, makes a feature of repeated notes, syncopations and sudden dynamic contrasts; the second is a simple, monothematic Andantino in F, for strings alone; and the third a Minuet with a beguiling Trio (marked sostenuto) in E flat, also for strings alone. The later finale is a brilliant Allegro molto in 12/8, with an impressive development section.

Symphony No. 16 in A major (P 6)

1. Allegro molto
2. Menuetto – Trio
3. Andante –
4. Finale: Allegro molto

The Symphony in A, P 6, for strings, two oboes and two horns, is a conflation of three movements from a ballet completed on 16 July 1770 and a finale that originally formed part of the ‘Dedicatio’ in the ballet-pantomime Hermann, dated 1 August 1771. It opens with a genial Allegro molto with two melodious ‘second’ subjects, the second of which takes the place of a development section. Next come a sinuous Minuet, framing an austere Trio in A minor without horns, and a rather old-fashioned Andante in D for strings only. The dashing finale must surely have been ringing in Mozart’s ears when he wrote the last movement of his Symphony No. 29 in A, K 201 (also in 6/8 metre) in Salzburg in 1774.

Symphony No. 25 in G major (P 16)

1. Allegro con spirito
2. Andante sostenuto
3. Finale: Allegro molto

The Symphony in G, P 16, for strings, oboes and horns, with a flute and two independent bassoons in the second movement, is dated 23 May 1783 and was adapted from a cantata written for the installation of Nikolaus II Hofmann as Abbot of Michaelbeuern near Salzburg. In the spirited first movement, which served as the opening sinfonia, the gentle second subject replaces the development, and is followed by a varied and extended recapitulation. The central Andante, in C and in ternary form, was originally an aria. In the first section a flute replaces the oboes, and doubles the first violins’ ‘vocal’ line an octave higher; the bassoons (implied as doubling the bass-line throughout) have important independent parts in the contrasting middle section in C minor; the oboes return (and the bassoons remain) for the considerably varied reprise. The busy, rondo-like finale, in 6/8, is enlivened by dramatic, and occasionally contrapuntal, touches. Another instance of Mozart’s regard for Michael Haydn is the fact that he wrote a dignified twenty-bar slow introduction to the first movement (probably early in 1784, for his concerts in Vienna, and not, as is habitually stated, for the concert he gave in Linz on 4 November 1783, en route from Salzburg to Vienna), as a result of which the whole symphony was for many years attributed to Mozart (as the elusive ‘No. 37’, K 444/425a).

Symphony No. 34 in E flat major (P 26)

1. Allegro con brio
2. Adagietto –
3. Finale – Fugato: Allegro

The Symphony in E flat, P 26, for strings, oboes, independent bassoons, and horns, is dated 2 January 1788, a year in which Michael Haydn wrote no fewer than six symphonies. The wind instruments feature quite prominently, either as independent voices or doubling and colouring the strings. The robust, festive mood of the first movement, for instance, is quite transformed when the first oboe introduces the wistful second subject (which, once more, takes the place of a development section). In the second movement, a tender Adagietto in B flat, the main theme is shared between the first violins and the first bassoon, and the wind section as a whole is an important element in the music’s texture. It is even more so in the splendid fugal finale, yet sharp ears will detect numerous small but effective touches of scoring, such as the first horn’s two upward scoops to a high E flat in bars 103-6 (just over half way through the movement).

Symphony No. 40 in F major (P 32)

1. Allegro molto
2. Adagio ma non troppo
3. Rondeau. Vivace

The Symphony in F, P 32, scored like P 26 and similar to it in style, is the last but one of Michael Haydn’s symphonies and is dated 15 July 1789. In the first movement, in compact sonata form, the wind instruments briefly interrupt the opening tutti, and oboe and bassoons share the second subject with the strings. The bassoons are prominent in the slow movement, a tender ternary-form Adagio in B flat, with muted strings, and an agitated middle section mainly in G minor. In the ebullient concluding Rondeau the first oboe presents the subsidiary theme and the winds give the central episode in D minor much of its colour.

Robin Golding (1996)