At Saint Stephen's
S AINT STEPHEN'S cathedral at Vienna, a fine example of the German architecture of that time, was in the midst of large grounds, access to which was had on its various sides by four gates, kept closed at night. Rows of old houses surrounded the enclosure in which the different cathedral officials lived. Among them was the cantorei, occupied by the cantor, subcantor, and two preceptors, who led in the church music, and instructed the choir boys in music, Latin, and the various school duties. Both teachers and pupils lived in the cantorei, and were boarded there.
The city paid their living expenses, for the old residents of Vienna were proud of the home for music and church service which they had established. They were proud, likewise, because it would provide musical education for all time, spread far and wide the knowledge of the art peculiarly dear to every Viennese heart, and strengthen the love for it.
Reutter, whose acquaintance we have already made, was at the head of the cantorei. He was also the cathedral chapelmaster, and directed the royal chamber and table music, as well as the music in the cathedral. The various sacred and secular works which he wrote testify to his extraordinary industry. The Empress Maria Theresa always preferred his compositions for the feast day services. His masses invariably attracted large audiences. He also wrote music to many dramatic poems, and personally directed the rehearsals and performances on court gala occasions. As this service brought him in contact with members of the court, who often took part in these performances, he had tact enough to ingratiate himself with them, and thus became a favorite.
The chapel under Reutter at that time included nine choir boys, three extra singers, and a band of eighteen players. The choir boys were required to be good singers, as the works selected for performance called for unusual vocal ability. It was a strenuous service. Besides the daily high mass and vespers, there were other occasions when the chapel had to appear. The anniversary of the delivery of the city from the Turks was celebrated with extraordinary church pomp; likewise memorable events in the imperial family. Upon such occasions religious brotherhoods made grand processions. The different nationalities and faculties of the university—Hungarians and Saxons, doctors and jurists—honored their royal patrons with masses and music. The Empress on high feast days was borne in a litter at the head of her retinue, followed by knights of the Golden Fleece, state dignitaries, chamberlains, the high steward, privy councillors, the rector magnificus, deans of all the faculties, and the burgomaster and magistrates. Over one of the gates was a gallery where, on such occasions, the chapel had to await the arrival and departure of the court.
Joseph Haydn entered upon this new scene of action in 1740, and made his home at the cantorei or chapel house. The change from his quiet little village to the splendors of the imperial city, in the centre of whose religious life he now found himself, deeply impressed the eight-year-old boy. From his roof chamber, where he lived with his new comrades, he looked down upon the great churchyard crowded with simple gravestones, splendid monuments, and wreaths. In place of the unpretentious church in Hainburg, he enjoyed the spectacle of a majestic cathedral close at hand. He had only to step to his window to see its sky-piercing towers decorated to their very summits with elegant statues, images of animals, and wonderful arabesques. And what a sight met the gaze of the child at evening, when the moon poured its full light upon the glazed tiles of the roof and a deep silence brooded over the churchyard, broken now and then by a little bell on one of the towers where some one was administering the sacrament for the dead! The impressiveness of the place, however, was strongest to him in the daytime, when the majestic peals of the huge Josephine bell, cast from Turkish cannon, rang out upon the air.
The interior of the cathedral also had extraordinary attractions for the boy, particularly when he listened to the tones of the organ. At such times he would steal in to hear the playing, which he afterwards mastered without instruction. There was much to be seen also. The vast auditorium with its thirty-eight richly decorated altars, was lighted by numerous tall stained-glass windows. Among the many monuments erected in memory of famous personages was that of Prince Eugene, Austria's great soldier. From the vaulted arches hung the "blood standard" captured from the Turks in 1684 by Duke Carl von Lothringen.
Shortly after entering the chapel house the new scholar had an opportunity to assist in one of the most important of the religious festivals. During Passion Week there was an annual procession headed by a troop of schoolgirls, dressed in their best, who strewed the way with flowers. Then followed the archbishop and the entire cathedral officials waving palms. The boys, the choir, and some of the priests sang alternately those portions of the Scriptures describing Christ's entry into Jerusalem; and the boys, following the sentiment of the verses, spread their vestures upon the cathedral floor and covered them with palm branches.
Among the girls strewing the flowers were two, related to the violinist Keller, who played in the chapel, and who had already become greatly attached to the talented boy. After the ceremonies were finished Keller showed the girls the way home and hastily introduced Haydn to them. They were the little daughters of Keller, a hairdresser and wigmaker—Anna, aged eleven, and Josepha, six. The boy little dreamed that one of them would in due time be his wife. Besides the violinist, Haydn had found a genial companion among the choir boys, whose acquaintance was destined to exert an important influence upon his career. His name was Spangler. In a few weeks, however, it was his ill luck to be separated from his new friend. As the fifteen-year-old choir boy's voice was changing and he had lost his usefulness as a soprano singer, he was dismissed by Reutter and left to take his chances in the world.
"It's no use, Sepperl," said Spangler, in taking his leave; "When a choir boy gets a beard, which he cannot very well help, he croaks like a frog, and it is very doubtful whether he will ever again be a nightingale."
These words had prophetic significance for Haydn, and he remembered them when, at a time of great need, he met his companion ten years afterwards.
Haydn's studies in singing as well as in piano and violin-playing were directed by skilful teachers, but he did not have systematic or thorough instruction in composition. He contrived to hear the best music of every kind, however, and he heard it intelligently.
When sufficiently advanced in his studies to fill a choir boy's position, his instruction came to a standstill, for, as we have seen, the church-service demanded most of his time. He had an irresistible desire not only to learn, but also to create. He filled every sheet of paper he could lay his hands on with lines stuck full of notes, for he thought it must be all right if the paper were only nice and full of black note-heads. One day Reutter surprised him while engaged upon a composition bearing the pretentious title of "Salve Regina."
"Well, well, my boy," he exclaimed, laughing, "So you are writing a piece for twelve voices which no throats can sing or instruments play! Had you not better try writing for two voices first?"
The boy was incessantly busy. He often stole away from pleasant sport with his comrades, so that he could practise undisturbed upon the piano or violin. And this was no small sacrifice, for he was fond of games, and the churchyard was just the place for them. Broad avenues led to the gates, and these were intersected by narrower ones, separated from the grave-lots by simple railings. In these paths the boys played tag or ran races. The gravestones made excellent places for concealment in playing hide-and-seek. Near the great cathedral-gate were the lodgings of the sacristan and the place where the hearses were kept, also the shop of the old bookman and treasurer, Johann Georg Binz. By the side of the old leather-bound volumes music was exposed for sale, for there was not at that time any regular music store in Vienna. The music was in manuscript, for engraved music could be obtained only in Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Leipsic, or in London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Ordinary as this music was, it had a great attraction for Haydn. He went there almost daily, longingly gazing at the treasures. This same Johann Georg Binz advertised in the Wiener Zeitung of 1795 "The latest works of the renowned master, Haydn, which were performed during his London visit with the greatest success"—the same Haydn, the simple little choir boy who stood there flattening his nose against Binz's shabby shop-window.
Haydn's voice grew more and more beautiful, and his singing disclosed such refinement, musical intelligence, and deep feeling, that all hearers were greatly impressed by it whenever he had a solo in the service. The Empress Maria Theresa, who was an accomplished singer herself, was most enthusiastic in her praises of the young singer, whose silvery, flexible soprano was hardly surpassed by the voices of the famous prima donnas, and Reutter also received many a compliment from her which was flattering to his own ambition.
The two little daughters of Keller, the hairdresser, frequently attended service in the cathedral. At its close they would run out into the churchyard to meet their relative, Keller; and if Haydn approached from the other side of the cathedral, Josepha, the younger, made no concealment of her admiration for the singer, and gazed at him with all her eyes as if he were some curious little animal.
At that time, however, Joseph cared little for female adoration. He much preferred that of the baker, near Saint Stephen's, who always sent him a big salt cake, from the toothsome delicacies in his shop, after he had sung a solo. Joseph's vigorous appetite increased as his little figure grew, which was unfortunate, for it was difficult to satisfy the cravings of hunger in the chapel-house. Although the city paid for their subsistence, the boys were kept on short commons by the parsimonious Reutter. All the more welcome therefore were the invitations they received for social occasions, at which they sang and afterwards were served as guests at table, and sometimes handsomely compensated by the host. Haydn never failed to improve these table opportunities and the chance to stuff his pockets with delicacies, upon which he would regale himself later in the solitude of the churchyard or at night in bed.
Unvarying cheerfulness was the dominating element of Haydn's character. He instinctively saw the humorous side of people and things, and also was fond of odd pranks. When he was about fifteen years of age, the Empress went to Schönbrunn, her favorite residence, during the Whitsuntide festival, the cathedral chapel having arrived in advance to perform the music of the services. The choir boys filled their play-hours with all kinds of games in the beautiful park. The new summer castle was at that time being built out of the materials of the old hunting-castle, which was destroyed by the Turks. The scaffolding was an inviting place for feats of hazardous climbing. Looking out of the window one day, the Empress noticed their risky performances and issued an order forbidding any further sport of that kind. The order, however, was soon forgotten, and the boys chased each other over the scaffolding worse than ever. Thereupon the Empress summoned the chapel master and complained of their conduct.
One of the boys was more active than the rest, and continually urged them on by his own exploits. He swung on the shaky boards so that they bent like willow twigs, made venturesome jumps, ran up the ladders like a squirrel, and then came down, rung by rung, with lightning-like swiftness, his body hanging in the air. The Empress called the chapel master's attention to his antics.
"There is the ringleader," said she. "What is the name of that wild lad?"
"That is Sepperl, or Haydn," replied Reutter, turning red.
"So, so," said the Empress. "I had no idea he was so mischievous. Let him have a good feruling."
Reutter hastened to carry out the order personally. Feruling meant blows upon the palm of the hand with a stick, but, owing to the Empress's kindness, Haydn did not suffer much from it. Who knows what might have happened, however, if the punishment for his acrobatic performances had not been tempered by musical mercy? Reutter was well satisfied with the final outcome of the matter. The same year of Sepperl's adventures his father came to Vienna to inquire about the boy's progress. Reutter said to him, "If you had as many sons as Jacob, I would take care of all of them." Father Haydn took him at his word. Heaven blessed him eventually with twelve children, but except Joseph and his elder sister, only one lived. This was Michael, now eight years old, whom Haydn had never seen, and only knew of from his parent's letters. Reutter declared his willingness to take Michael into the chapel-house; and so in the Autumn of 1745 Joseph had the pleasure of seeing his brother face to face and welcoming him as a fellow scholar. He had some one now with whom he could talk of father, mother, and the home, and it was particularly gratifying to him that he could help his brother in some branches of study.
As the years passed, Brother Michael proved to be a very industrious and ambitious boy. He had a soprano voice of agreeable quality and great range, and he continually grew in Reutter's favor. He considered him as the successor of Joseph, who was now approaching the time when his voice must change. Reutter had been told by the Empress more than once that Haydn's voice, which she had praised so often, was fast losing its quality. Indeed, upon one occasion she jocosely remarked, "He crows like a cock." The hint was not lost upon Reutter.
Not long after this the Empress, with her husband and all the household, went to the neighboring monastery of Klosterneuburg to attend the annual celebration of Saint Leopold's Day,—the festival of the patron saint of Lower Austria. The music on this occasion was performed by the royal chapel, under Reutter's direction, and he had assigned the solo to the young Michael. It was a "Salve Regina" of such beauty, and sung so well, that the Empress was delighted. On the same day Michael was summoned before Her Majesty, who praised him, inquired about his circumstances, and presented him with twenty-four ducats.
"What are you going to do with so much money?" asked Reutter.
"I will send half to my father," replied Michael. "Please keep the other half for me."
Joseph was glad of his brother's success, although he felt that his days in the chapel-house were now numbered. He had no more solos to sing. He could no longer conceal the fact that his changing voice had ended his career as a choir-singer. He knew, however, that he could succeed as a violinist, though Reutter did not think so, and was only waiting an opportunity to dismiss the now useless scholar without much ceremony. He found it at last, and Haydn helped to furnish it himself.
Though Joseph was no longer a child, he still had a child's mischievous disposition, and was fond of tricks and practical jokes. To meet a long-felt want in the school, a new pair of scissors had been purchased. Joseph took such pleasure with the bright, sharp instrument, that he could not resist the temptation of trying it upon everything he could lay his hands on. He snipped off the corners of the music sheets, and also found that he could cut a tallow candle in two without mutilating the wick. During study hours he noticed the queue of one of his companions right before him. He wondered if the scissors, which had done such nice work, would cut that thick twist. He decided to try. He gave one snip,—and, alas! the pigtail dropped as if it had been severed by an executioner's axe. Its owner clapped his hand to the back of his head, and, discovering its loss, lustily yelled, "Murder!" The culprit was discovered at once, scissors in hand, and complaint was made to Reutter, who administered speedy justice. Joseph was sentenced to receive a dozen blows with the ferule. He dreaded the disgrace of punishment at his age, for he was now eighteen. He begged for leniency. He would accept any other penalty in place of corporal punishment.
Reutter, however, who had been longing for just such a chance as this, was inexorable. Haydn, in his desperation, said: "I would rather be dismissed than suffer such a disgrace."
"That is not going to help you," replied Reutter, more obdurate even than he was at first. "You will get your well-deserved flogging, and then you can take yourself out of the chapel-house."