site logo

Francis Joseph Haydn



Once upon a time there lived, in a tiny village in Austria, a

wheelwright and his family. The wheelwright was poor, industrious, and

God-fearing. He lived in a cottage which seemed almost too small for the

large family of children. But they were so happy together that they did

not mind a little crowding.

The second of the Hay
n children was a boy, whom the good old village

priest had christened Francis Joseph. He lived a merry life, romping

with his brothers and sisters. They liked to play about the door of the

shop where their father was making wheels and carriages.

Better than this, they liked the Sundays, when the good father was at

home all day. After dinner they were sure to have some music, and Joseph

looked forward eagerly to this time. The father had a good voice, and

well did he sing the native songs of his country. Although he sang

well, he did not know one note of music from another.

The wheelwright's wife played the harp while her husband sang. Little

Joseph used to bring his stool close beside his mother to listen as she

played. Sometimes he kept the time by clapping with his chubby little

hands. Sometimes he joined his sweet childish voice with his father's.

When Joseph Haydn was still very small, he was sent toddling off to

school. When lessons were over and all the rest of the children

scampered to their play, Joseph lingered in the schoolroom. His eyes

grew round with wonder as the master played upon his violin.

"That is easy," thought the boy; "I will find two smooth pieces of wood

and make myself a violin." And he did. At the next Sunday afternoon

concert Joseph took his place as usual on his little stool; but he

carried the violin, which he had made, in his hands. At the first notes

from the harp he began to move one piece of wood across the other in

perfect time with the music.

Before Joseph was quite six years old, he was able to stand up in the

choir of the old village church and lead the singing. His voice was not

strong, but it was true and sweet.

The father was proud of his son. He said to himself: "The boy must be

taught music. Perhaps some day he will become a great musician. If I

were not so poor, I should send him to a teacher."

By and by a visitor came to the Haydn home. This man was a musician and

the wheelwright's cousin. It was not long before he noticed Joseph's

talent for music. "Let the lad come home with me," he said to Joseph's

father, "and he shall sing in my choir and be taught music properly."

The father gladly gave his consent. When the mother was asked, she was

at first unwilling. "He is still so young," she said, "I fear that he

will not be well cared for. I have always taught him to be neat and

clean. Away from home he might fall into bad habits. I can not let him


The father and cousin begged her to change her mind, telling her that

the boy would learn much about music. They promised that he should be

well cared for. At last she consented and with tears in her eyes made

Joseph ready for his journey.

Joseph himself, six years old, was not at all sad at parting. He was

very glad to go with his cousin to the great town. He said good-by to

the schoolmaster and his playmates. He went once more to the little

village church and knelt before the good old priest for a blessing.

Last of all he said good-by to his mother. The good woman kissed her son

tenderly and bade him be obedient and faithful in his studies.

For three years the boy lived with his cousin. On Sundays and feast days

he sang in the choir of the church. On week days he worked hard at his

music and other studies.

The week before Easter the choir sang each day at the church. On one day

there was a procession of choir boys chanting hymns. A band played while

the boys sang. The drummer could not march in the procession that day,

and Joseph was asked to take his place. Joseph listened carefully as his

cousin taught him how the drumsticks should be handled.

Having no drum to use, he stretched a cloth over the top of a meal tub

and used that for a drum. On this he practiced until he could beat the

time perfectly. When he had finished he was covered with meal dust, but

he felt sure that he should make no mistake in the procession. And no

mistake did he make.

When Joseph had been with his cousin about a year, a visitor from Vienna

took dinner with the choir master. The two men had finished their meal

and were chatting together. Said the choir master, "But you should hear

my Joseph sing. I brought him from the country and he is now one of my

choir boys. One afternoon in his father's house I heard him singing and

keeping perfect time with two pieces of wood."

"Let me hear the lad," said his friend. Quickly was the boy called from

the kitchen. He came into the room and stood, shy and trembling, before

the two men. When his cousin asked him to sing, Joseph forgot his fear.

Back went the little head, out came the notes, clear and true as the

song of a bird.

When the song was finished, the visitor called Joseph to his side. "Can

you trill for me, my boy?" "No, sir; I have never been taught; but I can

try." Taking the child on his knee, the stranger showed him how to

trill. Then Joseph tried and did well. His new friend was so delighted

with his little pupil that he filled his hands and pockets with bright

red cherries.

Now you must know that the stranger was none other than the chapel

master of a great church in Vienna. He said to Joseph's cousin, "That

boy sang so sweetly and learned to trill so easily that I want him in my

choir." It was soon settled that the boy should go to Vienna. In a short

time he became a member of the choir in St. Stephen's Church in that


The boy was eager to learn all that he could about music. If he heard

the great organ when he was at his games with the other boys, he would

leave them at once. He would tiptoe into the dimly lighted church.

Seating himself in one corner, he would not stir until the last echo of

music had died away.

During all the years that Joseph Haydn was a choir boy in Vienna, he had

very little money to spend. He saved every penny that came into his

hands. When he was thirteen, he bought two books that he might know more

of music. He spent every spare moment in study.

He learned much about music, but was never taught to compose. This did

not prevent him from trying. Joseph knew that he must study harder than

he had ever done.

When Joseph Haydn was about sixteen years old, his voice changed.

Because it became harsh and deep, the chapel master no longer wanted him

in the choir.

One cold winter night he left St. Stephen's Church and wandered through

the streets of Vienna, hungry and without a home. What would have

happened to the poor boy had he not met a friend, we do not know. The

kind friend was a barber, who said, "Our rooms are small and our food is

simple, but you are welcome to both."

The lonely boy gladly accepted the invitation of the barber and went

with him to his humble home. The room in the attic was indeed small and

poorly furnished. The wind and the rain came through the cracks, and the

snow sometimes sifted down upon his bed. Yet he was not altogether

unhappy there.

He soon found work and was able to pay the barber for his room.

Sometimes he played the violin at a ball. He liked that because he was

always given a good warm supper afterward. Again he earned a trifle by

giving music lessons.

Haydn and some other young men often wandered through the streets

playing. They were fond of going out on moonlight nights to serenade

some musician. Haydn often composed the music which the band played.

One night they went to serenade the leader of the opera. They stood

under his window with their violins. Soon the moonlit garden was filled

with the sweetest music.

At a pause in the music a window was flung open and out came a

nightcapped head. Loudly spoke a voice, saying, "Who is playing there?"

"Joseph Haydn."

"Who wrote the music?"

"I did, sir."

The old gentleman came down, saying, "Come with me." He led the way to a

large room where a fine piano stood. He explained to young Haydn that he

wanted him to compose the music for an opera which he had written. Haydn

agreed to do the work, for which he was to receive a hundred and thirty

pieces of money.

After this, Haydn was no longer poor. He rented a better room, but he

never forgot the barber's kindness. Some years later he married the

barber's daughter, Anne.

Haydn was fond of a joke. One time, as he and a friend were walking

together, they passed an inn. The sound of music came from within. "Did

you not write that music, Haydn?" said his friend. "Yes," answered the

composer. "Let us enter and have some fun with the players."

Once inside the inn, Haydn demanded, "Who wrote that music which you are


"Joseph Haydn," was the reply.

"Well, it is not fit to be heard," said Haydn.

That made the musicians angry. They became still more angry when they

saw how the two strangers were laughing. The players could not see the

joke, until, as the two friends left the rooms, one of them said, "You

need not mind, for I am Joseph Haydn, myself."


In olden times a prince often kept an orchestra in his own palace. It

was necessary to have a leader for the orchestra. The leader, who

trained the musicians and wrote music for them to play, was called the

chapel master. In 1761 Joseph Haydn was given a fine position. He became

chapel master in the household of a noble prince.

This prince lived in a magnificent palace. His friends were the kings

and queens of Europe. When these royal visitors came to the palace, he

entertained them with concerts and operas.

To furnish such music, the prince needed a large orchestra, and singers

as well. He paid his musicians large sums of money, and treated them

with great care. He required them to dress in white stockings and

powdered wigs.

It was a part of Haydn's work to train all the musicians in the palace

and to compose music for them. He was also expected to have a new piece

of music ready for the prince each morning. The prince was a musician

himself, and Haydn worked hard to please him.

For almost thirty years, Joseph Haydn lived in the palace of the prince.

During that time he wrote hundreds of pieces of music. He is best known

for his symphonies and quartets. Every line that he wrote was bright and

cheerful and full of sweet melody. His fame spread throughout Europe.

Visitors who came to the palace went home and spoke of the beautiful

music that Joseph Haydn composed.

Haydn received invitations from France, Italy, and England, asking him

to visit those countries. He loved the prince so much that he did not

accept these invitations. He felt, too, that no one could take his place

as the prince's chapel master.

In 1790 the noble prince died. Soon after, an English musician, visiting

Vienna, urged Haydn to go to London. He said that the English people had

long wished to hear him play. Deep in his heart Haydn had always wanted

to visit England, and nothing but his love for the prince had kept him

in Vienna. He decided to make a trip to London.

The great composer had many friends among the young musicians of Vienna.

One of them was Mozart. He was much younger than Haydn, but they were

the dearest of friends. It was Mozart who first called the great chapel

master, Papa Haydn. Soon many of his friends used that name in

speaking of him.

When Mozart heard that Haydn was going to England, he was very sad. He

said to Haydn, "You are too old a man to make such a long journey. You

do not know languages enough to travel through so many countries." "It

is true that I speak few languages," replied Haydn, "but I know one

language that every one can understand."

Haydn stayed in London about a year and a half. During that time he

wrote several symphonies and conducted many concerts. At every concert

all the seats were filled.

Every one in London wanted to see the Austrian composer and to hear his

music. Even the king and queen attended Haydn's concerts. At one of

these concerts, the seats were sold for a guinea apiece. At another, the

ladies were asked to wear their smallest hoop skirts, so that there

should be more room for the crowds that wished to attend.

During the eighteen months spent on English soil, there was scarcely a

day on which Haydn was not invited out to dinner. He was entertained

even at the royal palace.

While he was having all these gay times, Haydn spent many hours each day

in hard work. He had not forgotten the lessons of industry his mother

had taught him. His mornings were spent in composing, and he refused to

see visitors before two o'clock.

One of the greatest pleasures that Haydn had in London was to hear

Handel's music sung. The Messiah was given by a thousand players and

singers. Haydn's seat was near the king. When the Hallelujah Chorus

was sung and the vast audience rose, Haydn burst into tears and

exclaimed, "Handel was the master of us all."

After his return to Vienna, Haydn wrote The Creation. This work has

made his name famous. He said, "While I was composing The Creation, I

knelt down every day and prayed to God to strengthen me for my work."

Every country has its national hymn. The national hymn of Austria is

God save the Emperor, written by Francis Joseph Haydn.

The last time that Haydn left his home, he heard The Creation given.

He was an old man and very feeble. As he entered the hall, all eyes

turned lovingly toward him. Many times, during the evening, storms of

applause filled the hall. Haydn was very much moved, for he knew that

most of it was for him.

During Haydn's last illness, Vienna was occupied by Napoleon and his

troops. The voice of battle often reached Haydn in his quiet home, but

he had no fears. Napoleon and his officers treated the great musician

with much respect. How Haydn wished that he might shoulder arms and

march against the enemy of his country!

Haydn died in 1809 at the age of seventy-seven. A short time before his

death, he called his servants to his bedside and asked to be carried to

the piano. There he played and sang the Austrian national hymn, God

save the Emperor.