September 9, 2009

More about the composer known for his wit

Joseph Haydn's death has oft been commemorated in the past, you may remember the old Goons skit:

Spike Milligan: "Here. In the piano"

PS "What the devil are you doing in there?"
SM: "I'm hidin'"

PS: "Don't be silly, Haydn's been dead for years."
SM: "Silence! I don't wish to know that!"

PS: "Neither do I."

David Wilson joins us again with a short biography of the Austrian composer who spent too much time in England and who probably would have found that skit funny:

Joseph Haydn was born in 1732 in the village of Rohrau, Austria, which is roughly between Vienna and Bratislava. When he was seven years old, Haydn was recruited to join the choir at St. Stephen’s cathedral in Vienna by the director, Georg Reutter. As a St. Stephen’s choirboy, he would have spent a great deal of time rehearsing and performing music, in addition to studying voice, harpsichord, and violin; this proved to the foundation of his musical education. Reutter encouraged him to improvise ornaments in the pieces he was performing and gave him suggestions about what worked and what didn’t, which led to the idea of composing pieces of his own.

Haydn had such a beautiful boy soprano voice that Reutter suggested that he be made a castrato—in other words, surgically castrated so that his high-pitched voice would be preserved as he matured. His father flatly refused to allow it, however, and when Haydn’s voice began to change he was dismissed from the choir. Haydn left with injured pride, but otherwise intact.

After leaving St. Stephen’s, he spent several years working as a teacher and free-lance musician in Vienna, and taking composition lessons with composer Nicola Porpora. In 1757 Haydn got his first regular job as a musician, as music director for Count Karl Joseph Franz Morzin. He wrote his first symphony when he was Morzin’s director. By 1761, he had been hired by the Esterházy court; the Esterházy family was rich and influential, and Haydn worked for them for almost 30 years.

Learn more about PBO's September concert set that commemorates the life and works of Haydn.

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