Michael Haydn

Michael Haydn was five years younger than his more famous brother Joseph.

Both brothers were stars of the Vienna Boys’ Choir in their time, and both went on to spend most of their professional lives working for one employer.

Michael had the better start: while Joseph was still trying to scrape a living teaching the piano and doing free-lance work, Michael landed the job of Kapellmeister to the Archbishop of Grosswardein (now Oradea in Romania). Then in 1762 he was offered a position with better prospects, in the court of Archbishop Schrattenbach of Salzburg. He remained in Salzburg for the rest of his life. He soon was promoted to the position of Konzertmeister in which capacity he was called upon to write dramatic music for the Benedictine University Theatre. This included at one point a collaboration with the 11-year-old W.A.Mozart. When Archbishop Schrattenbach died nine years later, his successor, Heironymus Colloredo, did not support the theatre and it closed. From now on, his output would be mainly for the Church.

He thrived under the rule of Archbishop Colloredo, producing much of his best work, and it appeared he might become Kapellmeister. This stirred jealousies and suddenly there were vicious rumours about his weakness for alcohol and so he was given the position of organist at the Dreifaltigkeitskirche instead.

By the 1790s he was highly regarded both as a composer and teacher – his pupils including one Carl Maria von Weber. His music was in demand in Vienna including at least one commission from his brother’s personal friend the Empress Maria Theresia. Indeed he was much drawn towards Vienna, particularly since Napoleon’s troops had over-run Salzburg exiling the Archbishop. But in 1803 the Archduke Ferdinand stepped in, and on the Archbishop’s behalf gave him a rise in salary which kept him securely in Salzburg until his death on August 10th 1806.

Michael Haydn’s Run, ye shepherds

Michael Haydn (1737 – 1806)

Run ye shepherds was probably composed in 1775, in Salzburg. Michael Haydn worked for the Archbishops of Salzburg for most of his professional life. This was early in the reign of Archbishop Colloredo who was famous for favouring simplicity in church music (causing problems for some of his composers). Michael Haydn had already been working towards a simpler style of composition and he flourished under this new Archbishop.

The words of Run ye shepherds are simple and direct. Haydn sets them to music of a näive charm which perfectly matches their simplicity. The centre-piece of the work is a contemplative soprano solo ‘O happy shepherds’. This is framed by two short choruses: first the excited shepherds hurrying to the stable; then a lullaby which ends with the baby asleep.

Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637 – 1707)

Although he saw himself as Danish, Buxtehude is known as a German composer – the giant of the mid-baroque’.  He was known primarily – and employed – as an organist. His first job was in Helsingborg (now Sweden) when he was 10 or 11 years old.

Twenty years later he applied successfully for the post of Organist at the Marienkirche in the centre of Lübeck. He immediately married a daughter of his predecessor, Franz Tunder; he was also automatically appointed Werkmeister of the church.

As organist he was responsible for providing music for the main services every Sunday, composing music where necessary. He was greatly revered for his improvisations on the organ. In addition to this and his administrative Werkmeister activities, he became famous for his Abendmusike, ‘Evening-musics’, which had been initiated by Tunder, his predecessor. When Buxtehude took over he assigned them to Sundays in Advent and Trinity.

These Abendmusike would now often take the form of oratorios which were the church equivalent of operas. They were highly dramatic, and clearly were a huge influence on Bach in his settings of the Passion.

In old age he was something of a celebrity. He stayed rooted in Lübeck, but people came from far and wide to hear him play the organ. Handel visited from nearby Hamburg, also Bach from distant Arnheim. Bach’s obituary stated he ‘took Buxtehude as his model in the art of the organ’; it may well have been that seeing Buxtehude as the director of music in the city of Lübeck gave him the idea of pursuing something similar himself – in Leipzig, as it turned out.

Haydn’s Kleine Orgelmesse (Missa Brevis Sancti Johannis de Deo)

Joseph Haydn’s employer, Count Nicolaus I of Esterhazy, was a keen amateur musician and made huge demands on Haydn. This meant the greater part of Haydn’s output took the shape of symphonies and chamber music written for the Court. But he was called upon at times to compose music for the Church.

Haydn presenting the Mass to the brothers in 1775

In Eisenstadt, just down the road from the Esterhazy Palace was the Abbey of the Brothers of Mercy (Barmherziger Brüder) – it is now the hospital. Haydn (who also lived in the same street) had a great liking for the Brotherhood, and this lovely little Mass is one of a number of works he wrote for them.  It is deliberately modest both in the musical resources needed to perform it and in its dimensions.  To keep it short, Haydn used the common practice in the Gloria and the Credo of having four lines of text sung simultaneously by different voices; tricky if you’re trying to follow the words, but it does eat up the text!

The interior of the Brothers’ chapel, with the organ Haydn played at the first performance