H́nh ảnh trang
PDF
ePub

amused himself with songs and ballad-airs, his wife accompanying him with her voice. Even so late as 1805, Haydn knew all these songs by heart. At the age of six years, little Joseph used to seat himself at the side of his parents, and, with a piece of stick, scraped upon his left arm, in imitation of a person playing the violin. A schoolmaster of Haimburg, a neighbouring town, a distant relation of Haydn, happening to be at one of these concerts, observed that Joseph kept time with great exactness; considering this to be a favourable indication of a disposition for music, he advised the father to cultivate the talent of the child. The father, full of veneration for the sacerdotal office, wished for nothing more ardently than to devote his son to the church: a knowledge of music might lead to that desirable object, but his poverty prevented him from incurring any extraordinary expense for the education of his children. How great then was his pleasure, when his cousin from Haimburgh offered to take little Joseph home with him, for the purpose of instructing him in his school. It was here that Haydn learned to read and write; here likewise he was taught the choral chant, and to play upon the violin, cymbal, and other musical instruments; and he ever after expressed his obligation to his first master for having made him undertake so many tasks, although, he said, he had been much more liberally flogged than fed by him. Haydn had been about two years under the tuition of the schoolmaster, when M. Reiter, master of the Imperial Chapel at Vienna, and who at the same time superintended the music in the cathedral of St. Stephen, came to pay a visit to the dean of Haimburg. Reiter having told him, that the elder singing boys belonging to his choir began to lose their voices, and that he wished to find others to supply their places; the dean proposed Haydn, who was immediately summoned to attend, with his cousin the schoolmaster. According to the fashion of those days, the little boy already wore, as an indispensable article of decent dress, a short wig, "I looked like a little hedge-hog," said Haydn; a modern beau would have thought that his head was dressed à-la-Titus. His apparel was in other respects as incan as possible. On the dean's table stood a plate of cherries, on which little Joseph, who had not been accustomed to the best of food, at the school-house, kept his eye fixed. Reiter, who observed his wishful looks, put a few handfuls into his hat, and made him sing some Italian and Latin couplets, of which the boy did not understand a single word. Canst thou execute a quaver? asked Reiter. "No," replied Haydn, "neither can my cousin." The schoolmaster was covered with confusion, and Reiter burst into a fit of laughter. Reiter then showed him the proper appulse of the tongue against the teeth, and made him acquainted with other facilities. Haydn

imitated him, and the third trial succeeded. "Thou shalt remain with me," said Reiter: and during the succeeding eight years he was engaged as a choirister in the church of St. Stephen, at Vienna, where he was instructed by able masters in singing, and in the uses of several instruments, and in the theory of music in general.

At the same time he heard works of merit performed; and his own imagination was already so awakened and active, that he attempted compositions of six and eight parts: "I fancied then," said Haydn, when speaking of these essays; "that all was well, provided the paper was quite full." Reiter several times took me to task respecting these my crude productions, reprimanding me for endeavouring to make six parts, when I had not learned the art of composing even for two voices. At the age of puberty, when his voice began to change, Haydn was dismissed from the choir; after which, during a long course of years, he endured all the rigour of adverse fortune, finding it very difficult to earn even a bare subsistence at Vienna. He lodged in the sixth story, his garret had neither door nor casement; his breath congealed on his bed-clothes; and the water which he fetched from the fountain, for his toilette in the morning, was frequently changed into ice before he could re-ascend to the exalted regions of his abode. Haydn gave lessons, and performed at orchestras and musical parties, where something might be gained; but his indigence kept him secluded from society; an old worm-eaten harpsichord was his sole source of happiness. Consoling himself with this companion of his misfortunes, he courageously continued to compose, and his ardent genius prevented him from sinking into a state of torpid despair. At last he had the good fortune to have as his pupil, a Miss Mortini, a relation of Metastasio; and at her house he obtained his board gratis, during three years. Afterwards he removed to one of the suburbs.

About that time he engaged himself as director of the choir of the Charitable Brothers, in the Leopoldstadt, at a salary of sixty florins per annum. He was obliged on Sundays and holidays to be at their church by eight o'clock in the morning at ten he played the organ in the chapel of Count Haugwitz, and at eleven he sung in the choir of the cathedral of St. Stephen. Thousands would have sunk under such hardships.

:

Haydn never was in Italy. If he had enjoved that advantage, there can be no doubt, that, with his excellent ideas of singing and harmony, he would have acquired great reputation as a composer of operas. He, however, spoke Italian with considerable facility; and acknowledged, that he owed much to an Italian musician of the name of Porpora, with whom he became acquainted at the house of a lady in Meinersdorf. Haydn served

him about three months nearly in the capacity of a valet, solely for the purpose of improving himself by his instructions. Porpora was teaching the lady to sing, and Haydn accompanied her on the harpsichord: and, during the intervals between the lessons, submitted his compositions to the correction of his master.

Thus was formed the composer, whose sublime notes resound in all the orchestras of Europe; and who continued his labours with increasing applause and glory during half a century, to the time of his death in 1809.

The following extracts of letters were written from Vienna in 1805, when the French were in possession of that city, gives an interesting account of a visit to the venerable composer, at the age of 74.

"We went several times to Joseph Haydn's: as he is now bowed down with age and infirmities, it is difficult for strangers to obtain access to him.

"When we first paid our respects to him, we were accompanied by Wolfgang Mozart, an amiable youth of thirteen, full of spirit and vivacity, and who has already given indication of his possessing talents worthy of the reputation of his father. Last spring, the young artist had celebrated the 73d birth-day of Haydn, by having performed at the theatre of Vienna, a cantata, composed by him, in honour of the father of the German musicians.

"Haydn lives retired in the suburb called Gumpendorf, where he has a commodious small house, with a garden. Some aged domestics, who have the care of his family concerns, since the death of his wife, received us on the ground-floor, where a gray parrot was chattering, being a favourite bird brought by Haydn from England. Neatness and tranquillity reigned throughout; and the deportment of the servants evinced the tender interest they took in the sufferings of their master. We were announced and admitted. The servant conducted us to a room in the upper story, where we found Haydn plainly, but neatly, dressed, in a brown great-coat. He received us with cordiality.

"Haydn is now in his 74th year, he is of middle stature, and there is nothing peculiarly distinguishing in the traits of his figure; but he bears the impression of good nature, which, at first sight, prepossess a stranger in his favour. The visit of young Mozart, whom he had not seen for a considerable time, gave him great pleasure. He conversed with the youth respecting his studies and his progress in music, with the affection of an old friend; recalled, with pride, the recollections of his illustrious father, whose society he had always cultivated.

"Seeing the old man fatigued, we broke off the conversation, after having staid about an half hour. On taking leave, he behaved in a very friendly manner, and honoured and gratified me in particular by giving me permission to repeat my visit.

"At my last visit he enjoyed a more than ordinary serenity. He found himself somewhat better; his head was less affected, so that

he returned to his customary occupations. By chance he had laid his hand on one of his first productions, a short Mass, which he had composed for singing only, so early as 1742, when he was still a choirister in the church of St. Stephen; he was now adding accompaniments, with the view of offering, by this his first, and perhaps his last, work, the homage of gratitude to his protector, Prince Easterhazy. We may, likewise, reckon among the last labours of Haydn, a quartetto, the 84th which he has begun, and a number of ballads and songs in the Scottish style, composed for his friends in England, where he received a very liberal remuneration for such compositions.

"Haydn possesses a moderate fortune, acquired chiefly by the two journies he made to England, on which he lives with great attention to economy. In his youth he suffered great hardships: but, notwithstanding the indigence by which he was depressed, he raised himself to eminence by following the impulse of his soaring genius."

FROM THE MONTHLY MAGAZINE,

Particulars not generally known of the LIFE of HANDEL.

*

HANDEL was born at Halle, in upper Saxony, in 1684; he was the son of an eminent physician in that city, who had this celebrated character by a second wife. From his earliest age he discovered such an irresistible propensity to music, that his father, who intended him for the civil law, was much displeased at it, and removed all musical instruments out of his way; yet so strong was the child's ruling passion for the charms of music, that, before he was seven years old, he contrived to carry a small clavichord to the top of the house, with which he constantly amused himself when his parents had retired to rest.

It happened about this time that he accompanied his father to a brother by the first marriage, who was valet to the duke of Saxe-Weinfenfels. On this occasion young Handel could not refrain from touching every harpsichord he met with: and one day, stealing into the organ loft of the chapel, he began to play upon it while the duke was in chapel. Being struck with an unusual sound, he inquired of the valet who it was that was playing, and, on being told it was his brother, he commanded him to be brought before him, and his father likewise to be sent for. The result of the duke's inquiries was a recommendation that such a native genius should on no account be lost, with a promise of conferring upon him every means of encouragement.

On his return back to Halle, young Handel was placed with Zachau, organist of the church, under whom he was taught the

principles of music, and introduced to the works of eminent composers. He improved so rapidly, that, at the age of only nine years, he composed motets for the service of the cathedrals. At the age of thirteen he perceived that Halle offered no further improvement, and therefore visited Vienna, where the opera was then in a flourishing state, under Buononcini and Attilio. He there attracted the notice of the emperor, who expressed an inclination to send him to Italy; where he might be instructed under the best masters; but his parents declined the offer. He next visited Hamburg, where, losing his father, he took a place in the orchestra, and engaged to teach music, that he might. be no burthen to his afflicted mother. At this place his superior talents so much pleased the public, that a performer, above whom he had been preferred, on leaving the opera-house drew his sword on him, and Handel was preserved from a fatal thrust by a music-book buttoned under his coat. It was at Hamburgh that he composed his first opera of " Almeria," being then, according to one account, under fifteen years of age.

He next visited Venice, and at that city composed his "Aggrippina," which was performed twenty-seven nights successively with unbounded applause. Rome was his next stage, and the reputation he had acquired occasioned Cardinal Ottoboni, a great musical amateur, to introduce him to Correlli, who played the first violin in his band. Handel composed a piece for him, which that celebrated performer found too difficult for his execution. Here also the young Saxon had a trial of skill on the harpsichord, with the famous Scarletti, the event of which is differently related, but it is agreed, that upon the organ his superiority was allowed even by Scarletti himself.

Handel resided in Italy nearly six years, during which he composed an abundance of music of almost every species. These early productions would be great curiosities, but many of them are lost to us. In returning to his native country, Hanover was the first place at which he stopt, where he met with Stephani, with whom he had been acquainted at Venice, and who was then master of the chapel to our George I. then elector at Hanover. There was also a nobleman who had taken great notice of him in Italy, baron Kilmansegge, who so well recommended him to his electoral highness, that he immediately offered him a pension of fifteen hundred crowns as an inducement to stay. Many of the nobility of England also were impatient for an opera from him, whereupon he composed "Rinaldo," in which the famous Nicolani sung.

The low state of music at that time in London, and the wretched squabbles at the Haymarket, made the nobility desirous that he should compose for the theatre. The king was persuaded to

« TrướcTiếp tục »