Happy Birthday Joseph Haydn

Born on March 31, 1732 in Rohrau, Austria, Franz Joseph Haydn's father was a wheelwright, his mother a former cook. The second child of his parents, Haydn began to display musical talent early on in life, wanting to give him the training he needed, his parents agreed to let their cousin, a principal and choirmaster in Hainburg, take Haydn to the school at age six.

Haydn's experience in Hainburg was good for his musical abilities, but bad for his soul. The young boy was often left without much to eat during his time there, and was not given the same love he might have received from his parents.  When the musical director of a church in Vienna offered to take Haydn as a chorister at age eight, his parents accepted.

Haydn spent nine years at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, but when his voice changed, he was expelled from the school. Haydn began doing odd jobs to make money, and taught himself music theory, eventually he worked his way up to becoming the musical director for count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin. It was in this position that he composed his first symphony.

Haydn's wife Anna. Unauthenticated miniature attributed to Ludwig Guttenbrunn (Burgenländisches Landesmuseum)

In 1760 he married Maria Anna Aloisia Appolonia Keller, they never had children. A year later, Haydn became assistant music director for Esterhazy family, his kindness to the staff and good nature here earned him the title "Papa" by many of the musicians and later earned him the post of musical director.

As a "house officer" in the Esterházy establishment, Haydn wore livery and followed the family as they moved among their various palaces, most importantly the family's ancestral seat Schloss Esterházy in Eisenstadt and later on Esterháza, a grand new palace built in rural Hungary in the 1760s. Haydn had a huge range of responsibilities, including composition, running the orchestra, playing chamber music for and with his patrons, and eventually the mounting of operatic productions. Despite this backbreaking workload, the job was in artistic terms a superb opportunity for Haydn. The Esterházy princes (Paul Anton, then from 1762–1790 Nikolaus I) were musical connoisseurs who appreciated his work and gave him daily access to his own small orchestra. During the nearly thirty years that Haydn worked at the Esterházy court, he produced a flood of compositions, and his musical style continued to develop.


1779 was a watershed year for Haydn, as his contract was renegotiated: whereas previously all his compositions were the property of the Esterházy family, he now was permitted to write for others and sell his work to publishers. Haydn soon shifted his emphasis in composition to reflect this (fewer operas, and more quartets and symphonies) and he negotiated with multiple publishers, both Austrian and foreign. His new employment contract "acted as a catalyst in the next stage in Haydn's career, the achievement of international popularity. The new publication campaign resulted in the composition of a great number of new string quartets (the six-quartet sets of Op. 33, 50, 54/55, and 64). Haydn also composed in response to commissions from abroad: the Paris symphonies (1785–1786) and the original orchestral version of The Seven Last Words of Christ (1786), a commission from Cádiz, Spain.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who Haydn had met sometime around 1784 were good friends and according to later testimony by Michael Kelly and others, the two composers occasionally played in string quartets together. Haydn was hugely impressed with Mozart's work and praised it unstintingly to others. Mozart evidently returned the esteem, as seen in his dedication of a set of six quartets, now called the "Haydn" quartets, to his friend. In 1785 Haydn was admitted to the same Masonic lodge as Mozart, the "Zur wahren Eintracht [de]" in Vienna.

Haydn spent his last twelve years in the "Haydn house" in Vienna's sixth district, composing important late works including "Die Schoepfung" (The Creation) and "Die Vier Jahreszeiten" (The Seasons), where he died in 1809 at the age of 77.

Source Wikipedia

Happy Birthday Johann Sebastian Bach!

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was music's most sublime creative genius. Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist of the Baroque Era. Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21st 1685 in Eisenach, Germany.

He started life as part of an established family of musicians: his father (pictured) was director of the town musicians and court trumpeter for the Duke, and his uncles all held professional posts as trumpeters, organists, court musicians, and composers. The name 'Bach' opened all sorts of musical doors, and the family enjoyed a wide reputation for their talent.

The young Bach was offered a choral scholarship to the prestigious St Michael's School in 1699. Unsurprisingly, the young Bach made quite the impression at the Latin Grammar School, where he was invited to sing in the Georgenkirche choir with the other pupils. Described as having an 'uncommonly fine treble voice', it's here the young composer encountered the Lutheran spirit first hand, cementing the religious faith which inspired so many of his later compositions.

Both of J. S. Bach’s parents had died by the time he was ten. The boy went to live with his eldest brother, also named Johann Christoph, who was the organist at the Michaeliskirche at Ohrdruf . It was under his guidance that J. S. Bach laid the foundations of his keyboard technique.

1703 saw Bach become the organist at St Boniface's Church in Arnstadt - a role that saw him on a regular salary and expanding his skills at the keyboard. 

Bach composed the cantata Gott ist mein König in 1708 - he was paid handsomely, and it helped him cement his early career.

The Brandenburg Concertos were composed in 1721 as a sort-of musical job application for the Margrave Ludwig of Brandenburg - it was unsuccessful.

In his later years Bach faced harsh criticism. During the 1720s and 1730s when he was composing his most important works - the Passions and the Goldberg Variations among them - a new Italian style invaded Germany, making his work appear outdated.

The Well Tempered Clavier, a quintessential student text, was finished in 1744 and comprised two volumes of piano music in every musical key.

With the notable exception of opera, Bach composed towering masterpieces in every major Baroque genre: sonatas, concertos, suites and cantatas, as well as innumerable keyboard, organ and choral works.

Bach died on July 28th 1750 in Leipzig. It is still disputed whether it was a botched eye operation or a stroke caused by pneumonia were to blame for his death.

Bach's popularity was decaying until 1829, when Mendelssohn performed the St Matthew Passion and rescued Bach from oblivion.

The Magic of the Street Pianos

Street or public pianos are now quite commonplace, often located in railways stations or public spaces for anyone to play. The first public piano was in Sheffield, UK, in 2003, with a friendly “Play me” sign on it. It proved hugely popular and in 2008 the Play Me I’m Yours project, created by artist Luke Jerram, was first commissioned in Birmingham, UK, with 15 street pianos located across the city. Within just a few weeks it was estimated that over 140,000 people played or listened to music from the pianos.

The project has since gone from strength to strength, with more than 1900 street pianos located in 70 cities worldwide. Street pianos attract players of all ages and abilities – Sir Elton John and the Russian pianist Valentina Lisitsa have both played the street piano at London’s St Pancras Station, amongst countless others. Members of a piano club I’m connected with made a special club trip to play the street piano at St Pancras to perform exam pieces and other repertoire, treating the experience as an important performance opportunity.

For those of us of a very nervous performance disposition, these are GREAT. For attracting more people to music making rather than the commercialised electronic production and marketing the general public THINK is music, even better. - David, advanced amateur pianist, London

For many people, street pianos offer a special kind of pleasure, an escape from the everyday, a chance share music with others, or simply to practise. Many people, including a number of professional pianists, highlight the usefulness of street pianos for practising while waiting for a train, especially if one doesn’t have access to an acoustic piano at home.

 …street pianos are a great way to connect with people who may never have come to a concert before - Daniel Roberts, concert pianist, Brazil  (Source: Interlude)

Donated in 2016, Elton’s piano wasn’t the first at St Pancras. The oldest one on the concourse is brightly painted and was donated in 2012. It comes with an instruction “Play me. I’m Yours”.

One of over 1,900 upright pianos rescued from landfill to appear in public places in 60 cities all over the world – from New York to San Jose and Paris to London.
At St Pancras station one of the regular players of the piano is a man who has “homeless ups and downs” and who calls himself Michael Piano Man. He says simply: “The piano keeps me alive.”

When he first saw the piano at St Pancras he says: “It was like I’d walked into the Garden of Eden. Everyone has their bad days and you need something to help those bad days. It’s therapy.

“I don’t see doctors. When I go to the piano, I find all the medicine that I need. I help myself – the piano heals me.”

The piano, he says, “strokes your heart, it mellows you”.

Jerram launched the project as an ongoing artwork in 2008 and ­estimates its pianos have been listened to by more than 10 million people worldwide. 

The Composer And His Muse: Isabella Colbrano and Gioachin Rossini

Colbran, born in Madrid, studied under Girolamo Crescenti in Paris. By the age of twenty she had achieved fame throughout Europe for her voice. She moved to Naples, a hub of European music during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Teatro di San Carlo, built during the Bourbon dynasty, had been home to famous singers like the castrato Farinelli and represented a destination venue for talented singers.

Isabella Colbran als Desdemona
Colbran became the prima donna of the Teatro di San Carlo company,where she counted among her admirers the King of Naples as well as an adoring public. In time she became the mistress of the theater's impresario, Domenico Barbaia.

Barbaia engaged Gioachino Rossini, the most famous composer of his time, to pen a series of Neapolitan operas as a vehicle for Colbran’s rich vocal gifts. It didn’t turn out as he planned: Colbran left him for Rossini!

As Elizabeth, Queen of England

This well known fact is a case in point in regard to the lack of primary source material for Barbaja’s biography.  It would be fascinating to know what Barbaja thought of Colbran leaving him for his star composer, but no letter has survived, or was probably ever written.  We know that Barbaja’s business relationship continued after the Rossinis’ marriage, but the relationship grew more contentious.  We also know that the three of them spent many weeks together in Barbaja’s villa on Ischia before Colbran and Rossini became an ‘item’.  But, frustratingly, we have no idea what Barbaja thought about it all.

In 1815, with Isabella at the peak of her popularity, Rossini composed the title role of Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra especially for his muse. In Otello, Ossia il Moro di Venezia she sang Desdemona.

They tied the knot in 1822, and their fruitful musical marriage continued with Armida, Mosè in Egitto, Ricciardo e Zoraide, Ermione, La donna del Iago, Maometto II and Zelmira, all composed by Rossini for his leading lady.

The ninth and final work Rossini wrote for Isabella was "Semiramide" which she premiered at La Fenice, Venice, on February 3, 1823; the couple traveled to London in 1824 but Isabella's voice was already in decline and after her flop as Zelmira she sang little, finally leaving the stage in 1827. The marriage was rocky as Isabella was a compulsive gambler and Rossini had a poor concept of fidelity but the couple did not formally separate until 1836.  Rossini's enduring fame rests on operas not written for Isabella but he was always to cite her as the greatest interpreter of his music.