Bonn, 1790: Haydn Meets Beethoven for the First Time
When Ludwig van Beethoven was 20 years old, Santa Claus brought him the chance to meet one of his musical idols. Franz Joseph Haydn was passing through Beethoven’s hometown, Bonn, on his way to London. On the day after Christmas, Bonn’s Elector, Max Franz, invited Haydn to a party in his honor with local musicians. While no records indicate the dinner party’s precise guest list — there was no Evite back then — Beethoven, considered Bonn’s best pianist and emerging composer, was almost definitely there.
Whatever impression the young Ludwig might have made on the exalted master that Christmas, a year and a half passed before Haydn, stopping again in Bonn, concluded that Beethoven’s unprecedented talent demanded the cultivation of none other than Haydn himself. In November of 1792, Beethoven, his luggage full of scores and sketches, arrived in Vienna as Haydn’s newest pupil, beginning the most significant chapter yet of his instruction.
Mannheim, 1798: Aloysia Weber Swipes Left on Mozart
Mozart returned on Christmas Day the following year for a brief stay at the Weber family home. But the thrill, as they say, was gone. To Mozart’s dismay, Aloysia pretended not to recognize him! Not one to pout or cry on Christmas, the undeterred composer set his sights on Aloysia’s younger sister, Constanze, and the two eventually married.
Tribschen, 1870: Richard Wagner Nails the Whole Secret Santa Thing
Richard Wagner would never win Husband of the Year, but every once in a while he could bring his “A” game. After his wife Cosima gave birth to the couple’s son Siegfried in 1869, Wagner started working on a new composition. He kept it secret and made elaborate plans to surprise her on her birthday, December 25. That Christmas morning, Cosima Wagner awoke to the sound of a small ensemble on her staircase, playing her husband’s new piece called “Siegfried Idyll.”
Helsinki, 1911: Sibelius Beats the Christmas Blues With Song
Though Jean Sibelius was not religious, he made an exception once per year for Christmas observances. But the composer wasn’t exactly a sweater-wearing and gingerbread-baking Christmas superfan. In fact, the holiday seemed to put him a remarkable funk: “Immediately after Christmas is over, things improve and life is fun once more,” he told his secretary. Nevertheless, Christmas brought the Sibelius family together: the children would sing songs their father had composed just for the occasion. His carols, which remain an important part of the Finnish holiday tradition, offer no hints of the composer’s dark mood.
|Johannes Brahms drinking it up with family in Fellinger, 1896. (UNESCO)|
Leipzig, 1723: The New Guy Makes a Big Impression
There are some people who can vacation and unplug during the Christmas holiday and then there was Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1723, Bach arrived in Leipzig as the new choirmaster of the city’s St. Thomas Church. Determined to make a great first impression during the busiest time of the church year, Bach worked avidly to unveil his first major liturgical composition, his Magnificat, as well as four bonus hymns for that Christmas. Bach hadn’t been the first choice for the Leipzig job (Georg Philipp Telemann was the church’s first pick) but he more than beat expectations and remained happily in Leipzig until the end of his life.