Monday, March 31, 2008

Franz Joseph Haydn

On this day in 1732 the composer Franz Joseph Haydn was born. Probably best known by musicians for his multitudinous symphonies and chamber pieces, yet he was also an accomplished composer of sacred choral music, several masses and the sublime oratorio The Creation.

Many years ago, someone told me that Haydn had claimed that the music of his masses was so joyful because he could never think of God without smiling. Since then I've never found that attribution in print, but it's not hard to imagine him saying something like that. The Haydn masses are happy compositions and well worth hearing if you haven't.

Haydn shows up in hymnbooks also. His most well-known tune, AUSTRIA, written as a national hymn for his native country, reportedly after a trip to England during which he was impressed and pleased on hearing God save the king sung. Sadly, in modern times the tune has fallen somewhat out of favor due to its use as the national anthem of Germany during World War II, and modern hymnals are likely to set John Newton's Glorious things of thee are spoken to other tunes.

Another tune was developed from the opening phrase of The heavens are telling, a chorus from The Creation.

The spacious firmament on high,
With all the blue ethereal sky,
And spangled heavens, a shining frame
Their great Original proclaim.
Th’unwearied sun, from day to day,
Does his Creator’s powers display,
And publishes to every land
The work of an Almighty hand.

Soon as the evening shades prevail
The moon takes up the wondrous tale,
And nightly to the listening earth
Repeats the story of her birth;
While all the stars that round her burn
And all the planets in their turn,
Confirm the tidings as they roll,
And spread the truth from pole to pole.

What though in solemn silence all
Move round this dark terrestrial ball?
What though no real voice nor sound
Amid their radiant orbs be found?
In reason’s ear they all rejoice,
And utter forth a glorious voice,
Forever singing as they shine,
“The hand that made us is divine.”

Joseph Addison, 1712
Franz Joseph Haydn, 1798

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