Franz Joseph Hayden was born in the pastoral countryside of Austria in 1732. His parents were poor peasants, and he had 11 brothers and sisters. With a family that large, it is no wonder that Hayden occasionally played practical jokes on others, which sometimes got him into trouble. When he was 6 years old, he was expelled from a prominent choir school in Vienna for cutting off the hair of a man sitting in front of him. Despite this event, Hayden continued to play good natured tricks on others, and demonstrated a great ability in writing music.
As a young man, Hayden worked for Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy. It was here that Haydn would complete the bulk of his compositions, and demonstrate his cleverness and love for tricks. Haydn and his orchestra had been playing for Esterhazy for many months, and felt they needed a vacation to visit their families and homes. Haydn came up with a plan. He invited Esterhazy to hear a new symphony!
During the last movement of the symphony, the musicians, one by one stood up, blew out the candles that they were using for light, and tiptoed off the stage. After the final musician had left the now darkened stage, the good natured Esterhazy had a good laugh, realized Haydn’s message, and gave all the musicians leave to visit their families. The symphony was then called the “Farewell Symphony”.
Haydn’s good nature extended beyond his employers and musicians, but also to other famous composers. He acted as a kind and knowledgeable teacher to a young Mozart, Beethoven, and other composers. He was well liked by common people as well. When he was almost 60, he was approached by butcher with a request for a minuet (that is a type of dance) to mark the wedding of his daughter. The butcher could not pay what princes and counts paid Haydn for composing, but Haydn agreed to write a song for the butcher within 24 hours. The butcher thanked Haydn, saying that he would pay whatever he could. A few days later, during the wedding processional where Haydn’s song was being paid, the butcher dropped off an ox to Hayden as payment. And this song would forever be known as the Minuet of the Ox. For these reasons, Haydn was often called “Papa Haydn”.
Dancers of minuet/ox
One of the best examples of Haydn’s great sense of humor was evident in his Surprise Symphony. Prince Esterhazy, obviously a busy and important man, sometimes would find himself at one of Haydn’s concert at the end of a long day. And being busy and important, he would sometimes find his eyes getting heavy during quiet parts of Haydn’s songs. And as his eyes got heavier and heavier, he would often fall asleep, signaling to those watching the Prince that falling asleep during a concert must be OK.
Haydn didn’t agree with this feeling, and he wanted to inform the audience, and Prince, that falling asleep during a concert is somewhat tacky. But rather than getting angry, he decided to let his humor and music send the message, as he did with his Farewell Symphony. He composed a symphony where the final movement started quiet, then got quieter, then even quieter to lull the Prince and audience to sleep. Then without any notice, he made the orchestra music suddenly and abruptly get really loud! Rudely awaking those in the audience who rudely fell asleep in the first place. The Prince’s reaction was not documented, but due to his reaction to the Farewell Symphony and the fact that Haydn kept his job, I assume that Prince Esterhazy had a good laugh, and learned a good lesson about his employee Papa Haydn. Franz Joseph Haydn was a great composer, great practical joker, and a well respected musician of his time.