Michael Haydn's music will be performed this week in the inaugural concert of Ensemble PeriHIPsous – Rochester’s new “period” orchestra. These days, Michael Haydn is not quite as well-known these days as his older brother Franz Joseph Haydn - so musicologist and Ensemble PeriHIPsous founder Michael Ruhling has agreed to share some stories of this other Haydn here for our edification and reading enjoyment.
Michael Haydn joined his older brother Joseph at the St. Stephen’s Choir school in 1745, at the age of eight. It was there that Michael, like Joseph, was exposed to old and newer sacred music. By the age of 12 Michael was earning money as a substitute organist at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. After his voice broke and he was dismissed from the school (age 16), he remained in Vienna, playing organ at some of the churches there, and continuing to study the music of the sacred tradition. Even at this young age, Michael was already composing liturgical works, including masses, hymns, and Marian antiphons. It is thought that he left Vienna around 1757 to take a post as Kapellmeister at Grosswardein (now Oradea in Romania), although there is no direct evidence of his arrival there until 1760. In 1762 he returned to Vienna, where his skills caught the attention of the nephew of Sigismund Schrattenbach, Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Later that year he was appointed Konzertmeister to Sigismund’s court, and he remained there until his death in 1806. Along with his duties as Konzertmeister, he composed music for all kinds of occasions, and assumed the position of court organist when Mozart left the court to take up residence in Vienna in 1781. In December 1771, when Archbishop Sigismund died, it was Michael that was tapped to compose the Requiem Mass for his funeral. Michael continued to serve as Konzertmeister and composer for Sigismund’s successor Hieronymus Graf von Colloredo, whose liturgical and musical tastes were considerably more modern than Sigismund’s, reflecting an emerging shift in the role of the Catholic Church in Austrian culture influenced by Enlightenment ideals, and that would culminate in the “Josephine” movement of the 1780s, when Joseph II succeeded his mother Maria Theresa as head of the Holy Roman Empire in Vienna.
Michael Haydn learned to write all kinds of music during his formative years in Vienna and his sojourn to the eastern parts of the empire. By the time he took his Salzburg post at age 25, he had already composed 14 masses, many Latin sacred works for chorus and orchestra, 15 symphonies, a few concertos, and an abundance of chamber music. He continued to turn out these genres in Salzburg, for the Cathedral and for Sigismund’s court, and added some dramatic works for the Benedictine University to the list. Following the death of Sigismund, Michael continued to thrive as a composer and musician under Archbishop Hieronymous Colloredo. Part of Haydn’s success was due to his willingness to adjust his musical style to the ideals of the new Archbishop, who instituted a more austere, direct, and brief approach to sacred music, quite different from the opulent Baroque grandeur preferred by his predecessor. In 1777 Haydn was being considered for the post of Kapellmeister over the young Amadeus Mozart. This is perhaps what prompted papa Leopold, who had previously highly praised Haydn, to write a letter to the court authorities complaining that Michael was prone to heavy drinking and laziness. To be sure, his oeuvre at Salzburg contradicts such claims, as did the respect of his students. During his lifetime, he wrote nearly 50 masses and over 300 other sacred works in Latin and German, part-songs for men’s voices, 45 symphonies, a dozen concertos, 21 pieces for various court occasions, and 30 collections of marches and minuets. Many of his works, both vocal and instrumental, were available throughout the Hapsburg empire. He was also appointed editor of a 1790 Salzburg edition of Johann Kohlbrenner’s German hymnal (first edition published in Vienna in 1777).
The pieces that will be performed by Ensemble Perihipsous on Friday, November 10, 8pm, at Christ Church in Rochester, represent the more festive style of Archbishop Sigismund Schrattenbach’s reign. Noteworthy in the three pieces that include orchestra is the writing for trumpets. The skill of the Salzburg court and Cathedral trumpet players, particularly Johann Baptist Gesenberger for whom Haydn wrote the tour-de-force Concertino in C soon after he arrived in Salzburg, must have been outstanding. Leopold Mozart said that Gesenberger “made himself famous through—especially in the high register—his extraordinary purity, through his agility in runs, and through his good trills.” Both the Pastorello in C, composed for Christmas 1766, and the “Sigismondo” Requiem in C minor, which Haydn wrote in just 14 days at the end of 1771 for the funeral service of Archbishop Sigismund, include four trumpet parts—2 high (“clarino”) and 2 low (“tromba”). As with other pieces for liturgies at the Salzburg Cathedral, the “Sigismondo” Requiem does not include viola parts, and has trombones doubling the alto, tenor, and bass voices. However, the alto and tenor trombones get a little independence from the choir in the “Dies irae” movement, with some shuddering echoes of the voices. This colorful and dramatic Requiem would be most influential on Mozart’s Requiem of 20 years later.