Franz Josef Haydn (1732-1809) was something unusual among great composers: an unassuming, generous, thoroughly nice human being. He was the most celebrated composer in Europe when Mozart came along, and his response to being overtaken was to befriend Mozart, help mentor him, and praise him to the skies. After Mozart’s early death in 1791, Haydn was again the top man, only to be overtaken by Beethoven, who had been his student, and again Haydn had nothing but praise. His unfailing helpfulness to younger musicians earned him the nickname “Papa”.
Haydn was also funny. He spent most of his adulthood as the music director for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy One summer the court orchestra had spent what they felt was far too long at Esterházy’s summer palace in Hungary and wanted to return to Austria where their wives and families were. Haydn expressed this with a symphony. After the last movement (a traditional presto in sonata form), comes a coda in which, one by one, the musicians blow out the candles on their music stands, pack up their instruments, and leave, until all that’s left are two violins. Esterházy got the message, as his court went back to Eisenstadt the next day.
All the music from the this series can be found and enjoyed here.