Michael Haydn: following footseps

Having heard the surname of Haydn many people think immediately about the great Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn. We often call him a genius; being enraptured by his operas and even thunderstruck by his magnificent oratorios, but what do we know about his younger brother Michael Haydn? At first his life and creative activity seem totally overshadowed by Franz Josephs popularity. But is it really so?


Even in 207 years after Michael Haydn’s death, we can hear his music being played by best orchestras and best musicians all over the world, we can find various media projects[1] dedicated to his personality, and even visit the Michael-Haydn-Museum[2] in the heart of Salzburg. But if you don’t have a chance to travel, please, don’t take it to heart. Today you’ll have a brilliant opportunity to join our virtual tour along Michael Haydn famous sights, follow us on the way to unexpected discovery or even cast your minds back. Are you ready?

Then let us start our journey from the place where little Michael came into the world. From the Austrian village of Rohrau[3] which is about ten kilometers to the south of Hainburg on the border between Lower Austria and Burgenland. Looking at numerous pictures of brothers Haydn birthplace, we see a modest thatched farmhouse, the silent testimony of peaceful rural life. Even in 200 years we can imagine the Haydn boys playing in the yard, hear their mother’s voice calling through the window: “ Joseph! Michael! Zu Hause!” and the boys answering “ Warum Mutti? Das is nicht zu spät !”. Then, in the same flash of the time, the head of their father Mathias[4] appeared, whose puckered brows expressed displeasure with his son’s disobedience. Perhaps, he could say to their mother “They would better study music, master their singing skills and come up in the world. Otherwise they would trudge along in this in an obscure country village’’.

Indeed, the boys had good capacity for singing, multiplied by diligence and constant self-perfection, which saved from inglorious fate of a person from Bible scene known for burying his talents in the earth. Their musical aptitude brought them to Vienna, at St. Stephan’s, where they their studied as choirboys under directorship of Georg Reutter[5] Jr. Joseph was the first to leave the father’s house.

According to Albert Christoph Dies[6] “Reutter was so captivated by [Joseph]'s talents that he declared to the father that even if he had twelve sons, he would take care of them all. The father saw himself freed of a great burden by this offer, consented to it, and some five years after dedicated Joseph's brother Michael and still later Johann to the musical muse.

Both were taken on as choirboys, and, to Joseph's unending joy, both brothers were turned over to him to be trained.”

Perhaps, this was the very moment of   saying goodbye to childhood and the beginning of independent adult life, full of hardships, victories and defeat. Someone would think that to escape from the backwoods to the world’s Music Capital was something like getting to Heaven. But was it really so easy and enjoyable? To find this out let us roll back to the intervening centuries and find ourselves in Vienna of XVIII century. Well, to resume. As we know from, Joseph Haydn biography, he lived in the Kapellhaus next to the cathedral, along with Reutter, Reutter's family, and the other four choirboys. He was instructed in Latin and other school subjects as well as voice, violin, and keyboard. Reutter was of little help to Haydn in the areas of music theory and composition, giving him only two lessons in his entire time as chorister. Yet the life of a XVIII choirboy was very hard.

In the words of the same Albert Christoph Dies, Reutter did not always bother to make sure Haydn was properly fed. The young man was motivated to sing very well, in hopes of gaining more invitations to perform before aristocratic audiences—where the singers were usually served refreshments.

In 1749 Joseph voice is beginning to break; now it was impossible for him to sing soprano choral parts, even the Empress complained to Reutter about his singing, calling it "crowing". Joseph had to leave the choir and start from scratch. What’s about Michael?  He attended the Jesuit Seminary, studying history, geography and the classics and was well educated. In 1753-4 one of his fellow students was Johann Georg Albrechtsberger.

He taught himself composition from Fux's 'Gradus ad Parnassum'3 and soon showed unusual promise. His first known work came in 1754. The brilliant Missa in honorem Sanctissimae Trinitatis, which by far outshines brother Josef's first works of the genre. Michael didn’t leave the choir until sometime around 1757, according to the same source, after finishing his studies was appointed concert master at Nagyvárad (Oradea[7]). He was invited by Adam Patachich [8]to organize and oversee the musical life of the city. Michael Haydn worked there between 1760 and 1762. He was followed by Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) who was the head of episcopal orchestra in 1764-1769.

Then after the death of J. E. Eberlin in Salzburg in 1762, the Archbishop there made overtures to Haydn in order to acquire him for the Court. On 14th August 1763 Haydn was appointed Court Musician and Musical Director by Archbishop Sigismund.[9] He quickly rose to a position of prominence in the Salzburg Kapelle, surpassing by far the abilities of his older colleagues. Here at Salzburg he found his personal happiness. On August 17th 1768 he married Maria Magdalena Lipp[10], daughter of the second organist of the Cathedral.

They had a daughter, Aloisia Josefa in January 1770, but her joy was dashed with pain. The new born baby died only a few days before her first birthday. It was a real tragedy, but it didn’t warp someone's life Michel’s life. What can help him survive such a pain? Perhaps, love of his wife, music and friendship with young Mozart[11].

In 1777 Haydn succeeded Anton Cajetan Adlgasser [12]as organist at the Church of the Holy Trinity, and in 1782, he followed Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as court and cathedral organist and teacher for piano and composition at the choirboys’school, the Kapellhaus .Judging by his letters, young Wolfgang Mozart was very gratly impressed with Michael's music: “I am amazed at how well you can compose. In a word, the song is beautiful. Try this more often. Send me soon the other six minuets by Haydn.” (7 July 1770) or “I very much like the twelfth minuet of Haydn, which you sent me, and you have set the bass to it exceedingly well and without the slightest mistake.” Speaking about Michael’s Haydn relationship with Wolfgang’s father, they seemed far from being friendly.

“When Haydn entered service, Leopold Mozart and his seven-year-old son had just left on a foreign tour which was to last several years. This explains why the number of Haydn’s works soon assumed strikingly large proportions. He had to handle tasks that would otherwise have been the duty of Leopold to compose. Haydn wrote a number of solo concertos, and both his Trumpet Concerto and a movement for alto trombone demonstrate the virtuosity of the Salzburg musicians of the period. Given the court musicians' duties at festive occasions, it is small wonder that he composed serenades, divertimentos, cassations, nocturnes and other multi-movement works. To these can be added string quartets, string quintets and sonatas, countless minuets and so on”[13].

Time and again Leopold Mozart criticized Haydn's heavy drinking. Does this mean that the Archbishop appears to have favored Haydn over Leopold Mozart? “From a letter by Leopold Mozart to Wolfgang on 2 Oct 1777 we read: “I was at the Thursday service today…Haydn’s interlude was so good that the Archbishop honored him by saying at table ‘that he never would have thought that Haydn was capable of composing such music and that instead of beer, he ought always to drink burgundy.’” Later on in December, Leopold writes: “Who do you think has been made organist at Holy Trinity? Haydn! Everybody is laughing. He will be an expensive item, as after every Litany he swills a quart of wine and send Lipp (his assistant),,, to do the other services.”[14]. Be that as it may, we shouldn’t rest upon Michael Haydn and Leopold Mozart relationship. It is much talked of, here we have another task. We should continue our journey along Michael Haydn famous sights and learn more about his life on our way.

In 1787 he became violin instructor for the court (succeeding Leopold Mozart on his death). The most famous of Michaels pupils was probably Carl Maria von Weber[15] (1786 - 1826) whom he taught counterpoint free of charge around 1798. Later that year, Weber traveled to Munich to study with the singer Johann Evangelist Wallishauser and organist Johann Nepomuk Kalcher. In 1801, the Weber family returned to Salzburg, where Weber resumed his studies with Michael Haydn. Another Haydn’s famous student was Anton Diabelli[16] (1781 - 1858), who wrote a 'Trauermarsch' when Michael died. But what happened before Michael’s death? What do we know about his creative activity?

In December 1800 Salzburg was taken by the French and Michael had some of his property seized, including a month’s salary. To help him, Joseph sent him money and a gold watch. And Empress Maria Theresia commissioned a mass and later on a Requiem. Michael remained close to Joseph all of his life. Joseph highly regarded his brother and felt that Michael's religious works were superior to his own. In 1802, when Michael was "offered lucrative and honourable positions" by "both Esterházy and the Grand Duke of Tuscany," he wrote to Joseph in Vienna asking for advice, though in the end he chose to stay in Salzburg.[7] Michael and Maria Magdalena Haydn named their daughter Aloisia Josepha (who was always called Aloisia) not in honor of Michael's brother, but after Josepha Daubrawa von Daubrawaick, who stood in as godmother for Countess de Firmian.[17]

In the end, Haydn died in Salzburg, having completed among other works a Te Deum in honor of the Empress Maria Theresia as well as a Mass in honor of the Emperor’s Nameday. He fell sick in late 1805, but expected to get better with the coming of spring. He didn’t, and while working on another religious work, worsened and died on 10 August 1806.[18] Three days later he was buried in a communal tomb in St. Peter’s cemetery in Salzburg.This is the end of Michael Haydn’s biography. Perhaps, it is high time to talk about Michael Haydn’s society mentioned in the beginning of the article.

It was founded On 10 August 1983. Its major task was has always been that of a museum that shows the importance of Michael Haydn’s life and work as a leading musician in Salzburg between the years 1763 and 1806.In addition to this, the Austrians can attend the recitals organized by the society.

Moreover, the members of the society support various musicological research, which form part of “Denkmäler der Musik in Salzburg”. Besides, since 2006 there is a newly-designed exhibition at the Johann-Michael-Haydn-Museum in the courtyard of the Abbey of St. Peter in Salzburg.Here you can find out more interesting facts about the great composer. This is the last point of our musical journey and I hope it was enjoyable for you.



[1] Haydn.dk - A danish webproject about the composer Johann Michael Haydn. http://www.haydn.dk


[2] The Michael Haydn Museum at St. Peter's Monastery is a small but interesting museum displaying approximately 160 original and reproduced exhibits related to the composer. http://www.5-uhr-konzerte.com/johann-michael-haydn-gesellschaft/


[3] Rohrau, a town about ten kilometers to the south of Hainburg on the border between Lower Austria and Burgenland.Today this birthplace is one of Austria’s most significant memorials to a composer. The bust of Haydn in front of the parish church in Rohrau is the world’s oldest monument to the composer and dates to 1794. www.niederoesterreich.at


[4] He worked as a wheelwright in the Austrian village of Rohrau, where he also served as Marktrichter, an office akin to village mayor.

[5] An Austrian composer, born in Vienna, son of Georg Reutter (sr.) (1656 - 1738). Reutter (jr.) wrote ca. 27 opera, 8 oratoria's, 81 messen, 6 requiems, choirmusic and chambermusic.

[6] Albert Christoph Dies (1755–1822) was a German painter, composer, and biographer of Joseph Haydn

[7] the capital city of Bihor County and Crișana region, is one of the important centers of economic, social and cultural development in the western part of Romania

[8] the Baron Bishop Adam Patachich, founder of Episcopal palace, in Oradea

[9] Gary Smith. Gary Smith. “Michael Haydn” in Mozart Forum. http://www.mozartforum.com



[10] Maria Magdalena was a singer at the Salzburg Court, known to have taken part in Mozart's early operas.

[11] great Austrian composer, son of Leopold Mozart

[12] Anton Cajetan Adlgasser, a German organist and composer at Salzburg Cathedral and at court, and composed a good deal of liturgical music (including eight masses and two requiems)

[13] Gary Smith. Gary Smith. “Michael Haydn” in Mozart Forum. http://www.mozartforum.com


[14] Gary Smith. Gary Smith. “Michael Haydn” in Mozart Forum. http://www.mozartforum.com

[15] German composer, conductor, pianist, guitarist and critic, one of the first significant composers of the Romantic school.

[16] Austrian music publisher, editor and composer of Italian descent. Best known in his time as a publisher, he is most familiar today as the composer of the waltz on which Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his set of thirty-three Diabelli Variations.

[17] from wikipedia, the free entcyclopedia

[18] Gary Smith. Gary Smith. “Michael Haydn” in Mozart Forum. http://www.mozartforum.com

Dina Mukhamedzyanova

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