Joseph Haydn and the German Nation

A subject and servant of Europe’s most cosmopolitan empire, the composer Joseph Haydn played an important role in the emergence of German cultural nationalism during the 18th and 19th centuries, writes Tim Blanning.

Joseph Haydn was born on March 31st, 1732 in the village of Rohrau in Lower Austria, a province of the Habsburg empire. This was arguably the most multinational, multicultural, multilingual and generally diverse great power that Europe had ever seen. Its then ruler, Charles VI, held sway over a great conglomeration of territories stretching from Ostend to Belgrade and from Prague to Palermo. It included all or part of the following present-day countries: Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. As Sir Harold Temperley observed, the Habsburg monarchy was not so much a country as a continent all by itself. The most succinct illustration of this was provided by the trilingual signature of the monarchy’s greatest military commander, Prince Eugene: Eugenio von Savoie. Everyone who visited the capital Vienna was struck by the wonderful variety of languages, clothing and customs on display.

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