Haydn: Music's Pater Patricius

Noel Goodwin remembers Joseph Haydn, who led a dedicated life of remarkable fertility and created “a method and style of musical architecture capable of such infinite variety that more than a century of orchestral music was directly based upon it.”

In the unfolding panorama of art, some features dominate by their artistic importance, others by their historical significance. The late Sir Donald Tovey drew a simple distinction in music between Great Composers and Interesting Historical Figures. Brahms, for instance, enriched our heritage with great music, but his historical importance is negligible.

John Field, on the other hand, gains a place in the second category by pioneering the Nocturne as a form of musical expression, but has established no claim to the first. Only a select few bestride both. One of their number is Franz Joseph Haydn, who died in Vienna a hundred and fifty years ago on May 31st, 1809.

At his death, soon after Napoleon had taken the city, he was a father-figure of music, renowned throughout Europe as “Papa” Haydn. His name and fame were sufficient protection against marauders. “No harm will come to you where Haydn is,” he comforted his frightened servants while Napoleon’s armies bombarded the city; later, the invaders assigned him a sentry to guard his personal safety and, after his death, French and Viennese soldiers took it in turns to guard his catafalque.

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