Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Ronald Holder and PG Distributed Proofreaders
THE WORLD'S GREAT MEN OF MUSIC
_Author of "Piano Mastery, First and Second Series,"
"Home-Help in Music Study," "Self-Help in
Piano Study," "Vocal Mastery," etc_.
Also Published Under the Title of
"Story-Lives of Master Musicians"
FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY
Printed in the United States of America
The preparation of this volume began with a period of delightful
research work in a great musical library. As a honey-bee flutters
from flower to flower, culling sweetness from many blossoms, so
the compiler of such stories as these must gather facts from many
sources--from biography, letters, journals and musical history. Then,
impressed with the personality and individual achievement of each
composer, the author has endeavored to present his life story.
While the aim has been to make the story-sketches interesting to
young people, the author hopes that they may prove valuable to musical
readers of all ages. Students of piano, violin or other instruments
need to know how the great composers lived their lives. In every
musical career described in this book, from the old masters
represented by Bach and Beethoven to the musical prophets of our own
day, there is a wealth of inspiration and practical guidance for the
artist in any field. Through their struggles, sorrows and triumphs,
divine melody and harmony came into being, which will bless the world
for all time to come.
II JOHN SEBASTIAN BACH
III GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL
IV CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK
V JOSEF HAYDN
VI WOLFGANG MOZART
VII LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
VIII CARL MARIA VON WEBER
IX FRANZ SCHUBERT
X FELIX MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY
XI ROBERT SCHUMANN
XII FREDERIC CHOPIN
XIII HECTOR BERLIOZ
XIV FRANZ LISZT
XV GIUSEPPE VERDI
XVI RICHARD WAGNER
XVII CESAR FRANCK
XVIII JOHANNES BRAHMS
XIX EDWARD GRIEG
XX PETER ILYITCH TSCHAIKOWSKY
XXI EDWARD MACDOWELL
XXII CLAUDE ACHILLE DEBUSSY
XXIII ARTURO TOSCANINI
XXIV LEOPOLD STOKOWSKY
XXV SERGE KOUSSEVITZKY
[Illustration: LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN]
[Illustration: JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH]
[Illustration: JOHANNES BRAHMS]
[Illustration: PETER ILYITCH TSCHAIKOWSKY]
To learn something of the life and labors of Palestrina, one of the
earliest as well as one of the greatest musicians, we must go back in
the world's history nearly four hundred years. And even then we may
not be able to discover all the events of his life as some of the
records have been lost. But we have the main facts, and know that
Palestrina's name will be revered for all time as the man who strove
to make sacred music the expression of lofty and spiritual meaning.
Upon a hoary spur of the Apennines stands the crumbling town of
Palestrina. It is very old now; it was old when Rome was young. Four
hundred years ago Palestrina was dominated by the great castle of its
lords, the proud Colonnas. Naturally the town was much more important
in those days than it is to-day.
At that time there lived in Palestrina a peasant pair, Sante Pierluigi
and his wife Maria, who seem to have been an honest couple, and not
grindingly poor, since the will of Sante's mother has lately been
found, in which she bequeathed a house in Palestrina to her two sons.
Besides this she left behind a fine store of bed linen, mattresses and
cooking utensils. Maria Gismondi also had a little property.
To this pair was born, probably in 1526, a boy whom they named
Giovanni Pierluigi, which means John Peter Louis. This boy, from a
tiniest child, loved beauty of sight and sound. And this is not at
all surprising, for a child surrounded from infancy by the natural
loveliness and glory of old Palestrina, would unconsciously breathe in
a sense of beauty and grandeur.
It was soon discovered the boy had a voice, and his mother is said
to have sold some land she owned to provide for her son's musical
From the rocky heights on which their town was built, the people
of Palestrina could look across the Campagna--the great plain
between--and see the walls and towers of Rome. At the time of our
story, Saint Peter's had withstood the sack of the city, which
happened a dozen years before, and Bramante's vast basilica had
already begun to rise. The artistic life of Rome was still at high
tide, for Raphael had passed away but twenty years before, and Michael
Angelo was at work on his Last Judgment.
Though painting and sculpture flourished, music did not keep pace with
advance in other arts. The leading musicians were Belgian, Spanish or
French, and their music did not match the great achievements attained
in the kindred art of the time--architecture, sculpture and painting.
There was needed a new impetus, a vital force. Its rise began when
the peasant youth John Peter Louis descended from the heights of
Palestrina to the banks of the Tiber.
It is said that Tomasso Crinello was the boy's master; whether this
is true or not, he was surely trained in the Netherland manner of
The youth, whom we shall now call Palestrina, as he is known by the
name of his birthplace, returned from Rome at the age of eighteen to
his native town, in 1544, as a practising musician, and took a post at
the Cathedral of Saint Agapitus. Here he engaged himself for life, to
be present every day at mass and vespers, and to teach singing to
the canons and choristers. Thus he spent the early years of his young
manhood directing the daily services and drumming the rudiments of
music into the heads of the little choristers. It may have been dry
and wearisome labor; but afterward, when Palestrina began to reform
the music of the church, it must have been of great advantage to him
to know so absolutely the liturgy, not only of Saint Peter's and Saint
John Lateran, but also that in the simple cathedral of his own small
Young Palestrina, living his simple, busy life in his home town, never
dreamed he was destined to become a great musician. He married in
1548, when he was about twenty-two. If he had wished to secure one of
the great musical appointments in Rome, it was a very unwise thing for
him to marry, for single singers were preferred in nine cases out of
ten. Palestrina did not seem to realize this danger to a brilliant
career, and took his bride, Lucrezia, for pure love. She seems to have
been a person after his own heart, besides having a comfortable dowry
of her own. They had a happy union, which lasted for more than thirty
Although he had agreed to remain for life at the cathedral church of
Saint Agapitus, it seems that such contracts could be broken without
peril. Thus, after seven years of service, he once more turned his
steps toward the Eternal City.
He returned to Rome as a recognized musician. In 1551 he became master
of the Capella Giulia, at the modest salary of six scudi a month,
something like ten dollars. But the young chapel master seemed
satisfied. Hardly three years after his arrival had elapsed, when
he had written and printed a book containing five masses, which he
dedicated to Pope Julius III. This act pleased the pontiff, who, in
January, 1555, appointed Palestrina one of the singers of the Sistine
Chapel, with an increased salary.
It seems however, that the Sistine singers resented the appointment
of a new member, and complained about it. Several changes in the Papal
chair occurred at this time, and when Paul IV, as Pope, came into
power, he began at once with reforms. Finding that Palestrina and two
other singers were married men, he put all three out, though granting
an annuity of six scudi a month for each.
The loss of this post was a great humiliation, which Palestrina found
it hard to endure. He fell ill at this time, and the outlook was dark
indeed, with a wife and three little children to provide for.
But the clouds soon lifted. Within a few weeks after this unfortunate
event, the rejected singer of the Sistine Chapel was created Chapel
Master of Saint John Lateran, the splendid basilica, where the young
Orlandus Lassus had so recently directed the music. As Palestrina
could still keep his six scudi pension, increased with the added
salary of the new position, he was able to establish his family in a
pretty villa on the Coelian Hill, where he could be near his work at
the Lateran, but far enough removed from the turmoil of the city to
obtain the quiet he desired, and where he lived in tranquillity for
the next five years.
Palestrina spent forty-four years of his life in Rome. All the eleven
popes who reigned during this long period honored Palestrina as a
great musician. Marcellus II spent a part of his three weeks' reign
in showing kindness to the young Chapel master, which the composer
returned by naming for this pontiff a famous work, "Mass of Pope
Marcellus." Pius IV, who was in power when the mass was performed,
praised it eloquently, saying John Peter Louis of Palestrina was a new
John, bringing down to the church militant the harmonies of that
"new song" which John the Apostle heard in the Holy City. The
musician-pope, Gregory XIII, to whom Palestrina dedicated his grandest
motets, entrusted him with the sacred task of revising the ancient
chant. Pope Sixtus V greatly praised his beautiful mass, "Assumpta est
Maria" and promoted him to higher honors.
With this encouragement and patronage, Palestrina labored five years
at the Lateran, ten years at Santa Maria Maggiore and twenty three at
Saint Peter's. At the last named it was his second term, of course,
but it continued from 1571 to his death. He was happy in his work, in
his home and in his friends. He also saved quite a little money and
was able to give his daughter-in-law, in 1577, 1300 scudi; he is known
indeed, to have bought land, vineyards and houses in and about Rome.
All was not a life of sunshine for Palestrina, for he suffered many
domestic sorrows. His three promising sons died one after another.
They were talented young men, who might have followed in the footsteps
of their distinguished father. In 1580 his wife died also. Yet neither
poignant sorrow, worldly glory nor ascetic piety blighted his homely
affections. At the Jubilee of Pope Gregory XIII, in 1575, when 1500
pilgrims from the town of Palestrina descended the hills on the way
to Rome, it was their old townsman, Giovanni Pierluigi, who led their
songs, as they entered the Eternal City, their maidens clad in white
robes, and their young men bearing olive branches.
It is said of Palestrina that he became the "savior of church music,"
at a time when it had almost been decided to banish all music from the
service except the chant, because so many secular subjects had been
set to music and used in church. Things had come to a very difficult
pass, until at last the fathers turned to Palestrina, desiring him
to compose a mass in which sacred words should be heard throughout.
Palestrina, deeply realizing his responsibility, wrote not only one
but three, which, on being heard, pleased greatly by their piety,
meekness, and beautiful spirit. Feeling more sure of himself,
Palestrina continued to compose masses, until he had created
ninety-three in all. He also wrote many motets on the Song of Solomon,
his Stabat Mater, which was edited two hundred and fifty years later
by Richard Wagner, and his lamentations, which were composed at the
request of Sixtus V.
Palestrina's end came February 2, 1594. He died in Rome, a devout
Christian, and on his coffin were engraved the simple but splendid
words: "Prince of Music."
JOHN SEBASTIAN BACH
Away back in 1685, almost two hundred and fifty years ago, one of the
greatest musicians of the world first saw the light, in the little
town of Eisenach, nestling on the edge of the Thuringen forest. The
long low-roofed cottage where little Johann Sebastian Bach was born,
is still standing, and carefully preserved.
The name Bach belonged to a long race of musicians, who strove to
elevate the growing art of music. For nearly two hundred years there
had been organists and composers in the family; Sebastian's father,
Johann Ambrosius Bach was organist of the Lutheran Church in Eisenach,
and naturally a love of music was fostered in the home. It is no
wonder that little Sebastian should have shown a fondness for music
almost from infancy. But, beyond learning the violin from his father,
he had not advanced very far in his studies, when, in his tenth
year he lost both his parents and was taken care of by his brother
Christoph, fourteen years older, a respectable musician and organist
in a neighboring town. To give his little brother lessons on the
clavier, and send him to the Lyceum to learn Latin, singing and other
school subjects seemed to Christoph to include all that could be
expected of him. That his small brother possessed musical genius of
the highest order, was an idea he could not grasp; or if he did, he
repressed the boy with indifference and harsh treatment.
Little Sebastian suffered in silence from this coldness. Fortunately
the force of his genius was too great to be crushed. He knew all the
simple pieces by heart, which his brother set for his lessons, and
he longed for bigger things. There was a book of manuscript music
containing pieces by Buxtehude and Frohberger, famous masters of the
time, in the possession of Christoph. Sebastian greatly desired to
play the pieces in that book, but his brother kept it under lock and
key in his cupboard, or bookcase. One day the child mustered courage
to ask permission to take the book for a little while. Instead of
yielding to the boy's request Christoph became angry, told him not to
imagine he could study such masters as Buxtehude and Frohberger, but
should be content to get the lessons assigned him.
The injustice of this refusal fired Sebastian with the determination
to get possession of the coveted book at all costs. One moonlight
night, long after every one had retired, he decided to put into
execution a project he had dreamed of for some time.
Creeping noiselessly down stairs he stood before the bookcase and
sought the precious volume. There it was with the names of the various
musicians printed in large letters on the back in his brother's
handwriting. To get his small hands between the bars and draw the book
outward took some time. But how to get it out. After much labor he
found one bar weaker than the others, which could be bent.
When at last the book was in his hands, he clasped it to his breast
and hurried quickly back to his chamber. Placing the book on a table
in front of the window, where the moonlight fell full upon it, he took
pen and music paper and began copying out the pieces in the book.
This was but the beginning of nights of endless toil. For six months
whenever there were moonlight nights, Sebastian was at the window
working at his task with passionate eagerness.
At last it was finished, and Sebastian in the joy of possessing it for
his very own, crept into bed without the precaution of putting
away all traces of his work. Poor boy, he had to pay dearly for his
forgetfulness. As he lay sleeping, Christoph, thinking he heard sounds
in his brother's room, came to seek the cause. His glance, as he
entered the room, fell on the open books. There was no pity in
his heart for all this devoted labor, only anger that he had been
outwitted by his small brother. He took both books away and hid them
in a place where Sebastian could never find them. But he did not
reflect that the boy had the memory of all this beautiful music
indelibly printed on his mind, which helped him to bear the bitter
disappointment of the loss of his work.
When he was fifteen Sebastian left his brother's roof and entered the
Latin school connected with the Church of St. Michael at Lueneburg. It
was found he had a beautiful soprano voice, which placed him with the
scholars who were chosen to sing in the church service in return for
a free education. There were two church schools in Lueneburg, and the
rivalry between them was so keen, that when the scholars sang in the
streets during the winter months to collect money for their support,
the routes for each had to be carefully marked out, to prevent
Soon after he entered St. Michael's, Bach lost his beautiful soprano
voice; his knowledge of violin and clavier, however, enabled him
to keep his place in the school. The boy worked hard at his musical
studies, giving his spare time to the study of the best composers. He
began to realize that he cared more for the organ than for any other
instrument; indeed his love for it became a passion. He was too
poor to take lessons, for he was almost entirely self-dependent--a
penniless scholar, living on the plainest of fare, yet determined to
gain a knowledge of the music he longed for.
One of the great organists of the time was Johann Adam Reinken. When
Sebastian learned that this master played the organ in St. Katharine's
Church in Hamburg, he determined to walk the whole distance thither to
hear him. Now Hamburg was called in those days the "Paradise of German
music," and was twenty-five good English miles from the little town
of Lueneburg, but what did that matter to the eager lad? Obstacles only
fired him to strive the harder for what he desired to attain.
The great joy of listening to such a master made him forget the long
tramp and all the weariness, and spurred him on to repeat the journey
whenever he had saved a few shillings to pay for food and lodging. On
one occasion he lingered a little longer in Hamburg than usual, until
his funds were well-nigh exhausted, and before him was the long walk
without any food. As he trudged along he came upon a small inn, from
the open door of which came a delightful savory odor. He could not
resist looking in through the window. At that instant a window above
was thrown open and a couple of herrings' heads were tossed into the
road. The herring is a favorite article of food in Germany and poor
Sebastian was glad to pick up these bits to satisfy the cravings of
hunger. What was his surprise on pulling the heads to pieces to
find each one contained a Danish ducat. When he recovered from his
astonishment, he entered the inn and made a good meal with part of the
money; the rest ensured another visit to Hamburg.
After remaining three years in Lueneburg, Bach secured a post as
violinist in the private band of Prince Johann Ernst of Saxe-Weimar;
but this was only to fill the time till he could find a place to
play the instrument he so loved. An opportunity soon came. The old
Thuringian town Arnstadt had a new church and a fine new organ. The
consistory of the church were looking for a capable organist and
Bach's request to be allowed to try the instrument was readily
As soon as they heard him play they offered him the post, with promise
of increasing the salary by a contribution from the town funds. Bach
thus found himself at the age of eighteen installed as organist at a
salary of fifty florins, with thirty thalers in addition for board and
lodging, equal, all in all, to less than fifty dollars. In those days
this amount was considered a fair sum for a young player. On August
14, 1703, the young organist entered upon his duties, promising
solemnly to be diligent and faithful to all requirements.
The requirements of the post fortunately left him plenty of leisure to
study. Up to this time he had done very little composing, but now he
set about teaching himself the art of composition.
The first thing he did was to take a number of concertos written for
the violin by Vivaldi, and set them for the harpsichord. In this way
he learned to express himself and to attain facility in putting his
thoughts on paper without first playing them on an instrument. He
worked alone in this way with no assistance from any one, and often
studied till far into the night to perfect himself in this branch of
From the very beginning, his playing on the new organ excited
admiration, but his artistic temperament frequently threatened to
be his undoing. For the young enthusiast was no sooner seated at the
organ to conduct the church music than he forgot that the choir and
congregation were depending on him and would begin to improvise at
such length that the singing had to stop altogether, while the people
listened in mute admiration. Of course there were many disputes
between the new organist and the elders of the church, but they
overlooked his vagaries because of his genius.
Yet he must have been a trial to that well-ordered body. Once he asked
for a month's leave of absence to visit Luebeck, where the celebrated
Buxtehude was playing the organ in the Marien Kirche during Advent.
Luebeck was fifty miles from Arnstadt, but the courageous boy made the
entire journey on foot. He enjoyed the music at Luebeck so much that
he quite forgot his promise to return in one month until he had stayed
three. His pockets being quite empty, he thought for the first time of
returning to his post. Of course there was trouble on his return, but
the authorities retained him in spite of all, for the esteem in which
they held his gifts.
Bach soon began to find Arnstadt too small and narrow for his soaring
desires. Besides, his fame was growing and his name becoming known in
the larger, adjacent towns. When he was offered the post of organist
at St. Blasius at Muelhausen, near Eisenach, he accepted at once. He
was told he might name his own salary. If Bach had been avaricious he
could have asked a large sum, but he modestly named the small amount
he had received at Arnstadt with the addition of certain articles of
food which should be delivered at his door, gratis.
Bach's prospects were now so much improved that he thought he might
make a home for himself. He had fallen in love with a cousin, Maria
Bach, and they were married October 17, 1707.
The young organist only remained in Muelhausen a year, for he received
a more important offer. He was invited to play before Duke Wilhelm
Ernst of Weimar, and hastened thither, hoping this might lead to an
appointment at Court. He was not disappointed, for the Duke was so
delighted with Bach's playing that he at once offered him the post of
A wider outlook now opened for Sebastian Bach, who had all his young
life struggled with poverty and privation. He was now able to give
much time to composition, and began to write those masterpieces for
the organ which have placed his name on the highest pinnacle in the
temple of music.
In his comfortable Weimar home the musician had the quiet and
leisure that he needed to perfect his art on all sides, not only in
composition but in organ and harpsichord playing. He felt that he had
conquered all difficulties of both instruments, and one day boasted
to a friend that he could play any piece, no matter how difficult, at
sight, without a mistake. In order to test this statement the friend
invited him to breakfast shortly after. On the harpsichord were
several pieces of music, one of which, though apparently simple,
was really very difficult. His host left the room to prepare the
breakfast, while Bach began to try over the music. All went well until
he came to the difficult piece which he began quite boldly but stuck
in the middle. It went no better after several attempts. As his friend
entered, bringing the breakfast, Bach exclaimed:--"You are right. One
cannot play everything perfectly at sight,--it is impossible!"
Duke Wilhelm Ernst, in 1714, raised him to the position of
Head-Concert Master, a position which offered added privileges. Every
autumn he used his annual vacation in traveling to the principal towns
to give performances on organ and clavier. By such means he gained a
great reputation both as player and composer.
On one of these tours he arrived in Dresden in time to learn of a
French player who had just come to town. Jean Marchand had won a great
reputation in France, where he was organist to the King at Versailles,
and regarded as the most fashionable musician of the day. All this had
made him very conceited and overbearing. Every one was discussing the
Frenchman's wonderful playing and it was whispered he had been offered
an appointment in Dresden.
The friends of Bach proposed that he should engage Marchand in a
contest, to defend the musical honor of the German nation. Both
musicians were willing; the King promised to attend.
The day fixed for the trial arrived; a brilliant company assembled.
Bach made his appearance, and all was ready, but the adversary failed
to come. After a considerable delay it was learned that Marchand had
fled the city.
In 1717, on his return from Dresden, Bach was appointed Capellmeister
to the young Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Coethen. The Prince was an
enthusiastic lover of music, and at Coethen Bach led a happy, busy
life. The Prince often journeyed to different towns to gratify his
taste for music, and always took Bach with him. On one of these trips
he was unable to receive the news that his wife had suddenly passed
away, and was buried before he could return to Coethen. This was a
severe blow to the whole family.
Four years afterward, Bach married again, Anna Magdalena Wuelkens was
in every way suited for a musician's wife, and for her he composed
many of the delightful dances which we now so greatly enjoy. He also
wrote a number of books of studies for his wife and his sons, several
of whom later became good musicians and composers.
Perhaps no man ever led a more crowded life, though outwardly a quiet
one. He never had an idle moment. When not playing, composing or
teaching, he would be found engraving music on copper, since that work
was costly in those days. Or he would be manufacturing some kind of
musical instrument. At least two are known to be of his invention.
Bach began to realize that the Coethen post, while it gave him plenty
of leisure for his work, did not give him the scope he needed for his
art. The Prince had lately married, and did not seem to care as much
for music as before.
The wider opportunity which Bach sought came when he was appointed
director of music in the churches of St. Thomas and St. Nicholas
in Leipsic, and Cantor of the Thomas-Schule there. With the Leipsic
period Bach entered the last stage of his career, for he retained this
post for the rest of his life. He labored unceasingly, in spite of
many obstacles and petty restrictions, to train the boys under his
care, and raise the standard of musical efficiency in the Schule, as
choirs of both churches were recruited from the scholars of the Thomas
During the twenty-seven years of life in Leipsic, Bach wrote some of
his greatest works, such as the Oratorios of St. Matthew and St. John,
and the Mass in B Minor. It was the Passion according to St. Matthew
that Mendelssohn, about a hundred years later discovered, studied
with so much zeal, and performed in Berlin, with so much devotion and
Bach always preferred a life of quiet and retirement; simplicity had
ever been his chief characteristic. He was always very religious; his
greatest works voice the noblest sentiments of exaltation.
Bach's modesty and retiring disposition is illustrated by the
following little incident. Carl Philip Emmanuel, his third son, was
cembalist in the royal orchestra of Frederick the Great. His Majesty
was very fond of music and played the flute to some extent. He had
several times sent messages to Bach by Philip Emmanuel, that he would
like to see him. But Bach, intent on his work, ignored the royal
favor, until he finally received an imperative command, which could
not be disobeyed. He then, with his son Friedmann, set out for
The King was about to begin the evening's music when he learned that
Bach had arrived. With a smile he turned to his musicians: "Gentlemen,
old Bach has come." Bach was sent for at once, without having time
to change his traveling dress. His Majesty received him with great
kindness and respect, and showed him through the palace, where he
must try the Silbermann pianofortes, of which there were several. Bach
improvised on each and the King gave a theme which he treated as a
fantasia, to the astonishment of all. Frederick next asked him to play
a six part fugue, and then Bach improvised one on a theme of his own.
The King clapped his hands, exclaiming over and over, "Only one Bach!
Only one Bach!" It was a great evening for the master, and one he
Just after completing his great work, The Art of Fugue, Bach became
totally blind, due no doubt, to the great strain he had always put
upon his eyes, in not only writing his own music, but in copying out
large works of the older masters. Notwithstanding this handicap he
continued at work up to the very last. On the morning of the day on
which he passed away, July 28, 1750, he suddenly regained his sight. A
few hours later he became unconscious and passed in sleep.
Bach was laid to rest in the churchyard of St. John's at Leipsic, but
no stone marks his resting place. Only the town library register tells
that Johann Sebastian Bach, Musical Director and Singing Master of the
St. Thomas School, was carried to his grave July 30, 1750.
But the memory of Bach is enduring, his fame immortal and the love his
beautiful music inspires increases from year to year, wherever that
music is known, all over the world.
GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL
While little Sebastian Bach was laboriously copying out music by pale
moonlight, because of his great love for it, another child of the same
age was finding the greatest happiness of his life seated before an
old spinet, standing in a lumber garret. He was trying to make music
from those half dumb keys. No one had taught him how to play; it was
innate genius that guided his little hands to find the right harmonies
and bring melody out of the old spinet.
The boy's name was George Frederick Handel, and he was born in the
German town of Halle, February 23, 1685. Almost from infancy he showed
a remarkable fondness for music. His toys must be able to produce
musical sounds or he did not care for them. The child did not inherit
a love for music from his father, for Dr. Handel, who was a surgeon,
looked on music with contempt, as something beneath the notice of a
gentleman. He had decided his son was to be a lawyer, and refused
to allow him to attend school for fear some one might teach him his
notes. The mother was a sweet gentle woman, a second wife, and much
younger than her husband, who seemed to have ruled his household with
a rod of iron.
When little George was about five, a kind friend, who knew how he
longed to make music, had a spinet sent to him unbeknown to his
father, and placed in a corner of the old garret. Here the child loved
to come when he could escape notice. Often at night, when all were
asleep, he would steal away to the garret and work at the spinet,
mastering difficulties one by one. The strings of the instrument had
been wound with cloth to deaden the sound, and thus made only a tiny
After this secret practising had been going on for some time, it was
discovered one night, when little George was enjoying his favorite
pastime. He had been missed and the whole house went in search.
Finally the father, holding high the lantern in his hand and followed
by mother and the rest of the inmates, reached the garret, and there
found the lost child seated at his beloved spinet, quite lost to
the material world. There is no record of any angry outburst on the
father's part and it is likely little George was left in peace.
One day when the boy was seven years old, the father was about to
start for the castle of the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, to see his son,
a stepbrother of George, who was a _valet de chambre_ to the Duke.
Little George begged to go too, for he knew there was music to be
heard at the castle. In spite of his father's refusal he made up his
mind to go if he had to run every step of the way. So watching his
chance, he started to run after the coach in which his father rode.
The child had no idea it was a distance of forty miles. He strove
bravely to keep pace with the horses, but the roads were rough and
muddy. His strength beginning to fail, he called out to the coachman
to stop. His father, hearing the boy's voice looked out of the window.
Instead of scolding the little scamp roundly, he was touched by his
woebegone appearance, had him lifted into the coach and carried on to
George enjoyed himself hugely at the castle. The musicians were very
kind to him, and his delight could hardly be restrained when he was
allowed to try the beautiful organ in the chapel. The organist stood
behind him and arranged the stops, and the child put his fingers on
the keys that made the big pipes speak. During his stay, George had
several chances to play; one was on a Sunday at the close of the
service. The organist lifted him upon the bench and bade him play.
Instead of the Duke and all his people leaving the chapel, they stayed
to listen. When the music ceased the Duke asked: "Who is that child?
Does anybody know his name?" The organist was sent for, and then
little George was brought. The Duke patted him on the head, praised
his playing and said he was sure to become a good musician. The
organist then remarked he had heard the father disapproved of his
musical studies. The Duke was greatly astonished. He sent for the
father and after speaking highly of the boy's talent, said that
to place any obstacle in the child's way would be unworthy of the
father's honorable profession.
And so it was settled that George Frederick should devote himself to
music. Frederick Zachau, organist of the cathedral at Halle, was
the teacher chosen to instruct the boy on the organ, harpsichord and
violin. He also taught him composition, and showed him how different
countries and composers differed in their ideas of musical style. Very
soon the boy was composing the regular weekly service for the church,
besides playing the organ whenever Zachau happened to be absent. At
that time the boy could not have been more than eight years old.
After three years' hard work his teacher told him he must seek another
master, as he could teach him nothing more. So the boy was sent to
Berlin, to continue his studies. Two of the prominent musicians there
were Ariosti and Buononcini; the former received the boy kindly and
gave him great encouragement; the other took a dislike to the little
fellow, and tried to injure him. Pretending to test his musicianship,
Buononcini composed a very difficult piece for the harpsichord
and asked him to play it at sight. This the boy did with ease and
correctness. The Elector was delighted with the little musician,
offered him a place at Court and even promised to send him to Italy
to pursue his studies. Both offers were refused and George returned to
Halle and to his old master, who was happy to have him back once more.
Not long after this the boy's father passed away, and as there was but
little money left for the mother, her son decided at once that he must
support himself and not deprive her of her small income. He acted as
deputy organist at the Cathedral and Castle of Halle, and a few years
later, when the post was vacant, secured it at a salary of less
than forty dollars a year and free lodging. George Frederick was now
seventeen and longed for a broader field. Knowing that he must leave
Halle to find it, he said good-by to his mother, and in January 1703,
set out for Hamburg to seek his fortune.
The Opera House Orchestra needed a supplementary violin. It was a very
small post, but he took it, pretending not to be able to do anything
better. However a chance soon came his way to show what he was capable
of. One day the conductor, who always presided at the harpsichord, was
absent, and no one was there to take his place. Without delay George
came forward and took his vacant seat. He conducted so ably, that he
secured the position for himself.
The young musician led a busy life in Hamburg, filled with teaching,
study and composition. As his fame increased he secured more pupils,
and he was not only able to support himself, but could send some money
to his mother. He believed in saving money whenever he could; he knew
a man should not only be self supporting, but somewhat independent, in
order to produce works of art.
Handel now turned his attention to opera, composing "Almira, Queen of
Castile," which was produced in Hamburg early in January 1705. This
success encouraged him to write others; indeed he was the author of
forty operas, which are only remembered now by an occasional aria.
During these several years of hard work he had looked forward to a
journey to Italy, for study. He was now a composer of some note and
decided it was high time to carry out his cherished desire.
He remained some time in Florence and composed the opera "Rodrigo,"
which was performed with great success. While in Venice he brought
out another opera, "Agrippina," which had even greater success. Rome
delighted him especially and he returned for a second time in 1709.
Here he composed his first oratorio, the "Resurrection," which was
produced there. Handel returned to Germany the following year. The
Elector of Hanover was kind to him, and offered him the post of
Capellmeister, with a salary of about fifteen hundred dollars. He
had long desired to visit England, and the Elector gave him leave of
absence. First, however, he went to Halle to see his mother and his
old teacher. We can imagine the joy of the meeting, and how proud and
happy both were at the success of the young musician. After a little
time spent with his dear ones, he set out for England.
Handel came to London, preceded by the fame of his Italian success.
Italian opera was the vogue just then in the English capital, but
it was so badly produced that a man of Handel's genius was needed to
properly set it before the people. He had not been long on English
soil when he produced his opera "Rinaldo," at the Queen's Theater;
it had taken him just two weeks to compose the opera. It had great
success and ran night after night. There are many beautiful airs in
"Rinaldo," some of which we hear to-day with the deepest pleasure.
"Lascia ch'jo pianga" and "Cara si's sposa" are two of them. The
Londoners had welcomed Handel with great cordiality and with his
new opera he was firmly established in their regard. With the young
musician likewise there seemed to be a sincere affection for England.
He returned in due time to his duties in Hanover, but he felt that
London was the field for his future activities.
It was not very long after his return to Germany that he sought
another leave of absence to visit England, promising to return within
a "reasonable time." London received him with open arms and many great
people showered favors upon him. Lord Burlington invited him to his
residence in Piccadilly, which at that time consisted of green fields.
The only return to be made for all this social and home luxury was
that he should conduct the Earl's chamber concerts. Handel devoted his
abundant leisure to composition, at which he worked with much ardor.
His fame was making great strides, and when the Peace of Utrecht was
signed and a Thanksgiving service was to be held in St. Paul's, he was
commissioned to compose a Te Deum and Jubilate. To show appreciation
for his work and in honor of the event, Queen Anne awarded Handel a
life pension of a thousand dollars.
The death of the Queen, not long after, brought the Elector of Hanover
to England, to succeed her as George I. It was not likely that King
George would look with favor on his former Capellmeister, who had so
long deserted his post. But an opportunity soon came to placate his
Majesty. A royal entertainment, with decorated barges on the Thames
was arranged. An orchestra was to furnish the music, and the Lord
Chamberlain commissioned Handel to compose music for the fete. He
wrote a series of pieces, since known as "Water Music." The king was
greatly delighted with the music, had it repeated, and learning that
Handel conducted in person, sent for him, forgave all and granted him
another pension of a thousand dollars. He was also appointed teacher
to the daughters of the Prince of Wales, at a salary of a thousand
a year. With the combined sum (three thousand dollars) which he now
received, he felt quite independent, indeed a man of means.
Not long after this Handel was appointed Chapel master to the Duke
of Chandos, and was expected to live at the princely mansion he
inhabited. The size and magnificence of The Cannons was the talk of
the country for miles around. Here the composer lived and worked,
played the organ in the chapel, composed church music for the service
and wrote his first English oratorio, "Esther." This was performed in
the Duke's chapel, and the Duke on this occasion handed the composer
five thousand dollars. Numerous compositions for the harpsichord
belong to this period, among them the air and variations known as
"The Harmonious Blacksmith." The story goes that Handel was walking
to Cannons through the village of Edgeware, and being overtaken by a
heavy shower, sought shelter in the smithy. The blacksmith was singing
at his work and his hammer kept time with his song. The composer was
struck with the air and its accompaniment, and as soon as he reached
home, wrote out the tune with the variations. This story has been
disputed, and it is not known whether it is true or not.
When Handel first came to London, he had done much to encourage the
production of opera in the Italian style. Later these productions
had to be given up for lack of money, and the King's Theater remained
closed for a long time. Finally a number of rich men formed a society
to revive opera in London. The King subscribed liberally to the
venture. Handel was at once engaged as composer and impressario. He
started work on a new opera and when that was well along, set out for
Germany, going to Dresden to select singers. On his return he stopped
at Halle, where his mother was still living, but his old teacher had
The new opera "Radamisto" was ready early in 1720, and produced at the
Royal Academy of Music, as the theater was now called. The success
of the production was tremendous. But Handel, by his self-will had
stirred up envy and jealousy, and an opposition party was formed,
headed by his old enemy from Hamburg, Buononcini, who had come to
London to try his fortunes. A test opera was planned, of which Handel
wrote the third act, Buononcini the second and a third musician the
first. When the new work was performed, the third act was pronounced
by the judges much superior to the second. But Buononcini's friends
would not accept defeat, and the battle between all parties was
violent. Newspapers were full of it, and many verses were written.
Handel cared not a whit for all this tempest, but calmly went his way.
In 1723, his opera "Ottone" was to be produced. The great singer
Cuzzoni had been engaged, but the capricious lady did not arrive in
England till the rehearsals were far advanced, which of course did not
please the composer. When she did appear she refused to sing the aria
as he had composed it. He flew into a rage, took her by the arm and
threatened to throw her out of the window unless she obeyed. The
singer was so frightened by his anger that she sang as he directed,
and made a great success of the aria.
Handel's industry in composing for the Royal Academy of Music
was untiring. For the first eight years from the beginning of the
Society's work he had composed and produced fourteen operas. During
all this time, his enemies never ceased their efforts to destroy him.
The great expense of operatic production, the troubles and quarrels
with singers, at last brought the Academy to the end of its resources.
At this juncture, the famous "Beggar's Opera," by John Gay, was
brought out at a rival theater. It was a collection of most beautiful
melodies from various sources, used with words quite unworthy of them.
But the fickle public hailed the piece with delight, and its success
was the means of bringing total failure to the Royal Academy. Handel,
however, in spite of the schemes of his enemies, was determined to
carry on the work with his own fortune. He went again to Italy to
engage new singers, stopping at Halle to see his mother who was ill.
She passed away the next year at the age of eighty.
Handel tried for several years to keep Italian opera going in London,
in spite of the lack of musical taste and the opposition of his
enemies; but in 1737, he was forced to give up the struggle. He was
deeply in debt, his whole fortune of ten thousand pounds had been
swept away and his health broken by anxiety. He would not give up;
after a brief rest, he returned to London to begin the conflict anew.
The effort to re-awaken the English public's interest in Italian opera
seemed useless, and the composer at last gave up the struggle. He was
now fifty-five, and began to think of turning his attention to more
serious work. Handel has been called the father of the oratorio; he
composed at least twenty-eight works in this style, the best
known being "Samson," "Israel in Egypt," "Jephtha," "Saul," "Judas
Maccabaeus" and greatest of all, the "Messiah."
The composer conceived the idea of writing the last named work in
1741. Towards the end of this year he was invited to visit Ireland
to make known some of his works. On the way there he was detained at
Chester for several days by contrary winds. He must have had the score
of the "Messiah" with him, for he got together some choir boys to try
over a few of the choral parts. "Can you sing at sight?" was put to
each boy before he was asked to sing. One broke down at the start.
"What de devil you mean!" cried the impetuous composer, snatching the
music from him. "Didn't you say you could sing at sight?"
"Yes sir, but not at _first_ sight."
The people of Dublin warmly welcomed Handel, and the new oratorio,
the "Messiah," was performed at Music Hall, with choirs of both
cathedrals, and with some concertos on the organ played by the
composer. The performance took place, April 13, 1742. Four hundred
pounds were realized, which were given to charity. The success was so
great that a second performance was announced. Ladies were requested
to come without crinoline, thereby providing a hundred more seats than
at the first event.
The Irish people were so cordial, that the composer remained almost
a year among them. For it was not till March 23, 1743, that the
"Messiah" was performed in London. The King was one of the great
audience who heard it. All were so deeply impressed by the Hallelujah
chorus, that with the opening words, "For the Lord God omnipotent
reigneth," the whole audience, including the King, sprang to their
feet, and remained standing through the entire chorus. From that time
to this it has always been the custom to stand during this chorus,
whenever it is performed.
Once started on this line of thought, one oratorio after another
flowed from his prolific pen, though none of them proved to be as
exalted in conception as the "Messiah." The last work of this style
was "Jephtha," which contains the beautiful song, "Waft her, angels."
While engaged in composing this oratorio, Handel became blind, but
this affliction did not seem to lessen his power for work. He was now
sixty-eight, and had conquered and lived down most of the hostility
that had been so bitter against him. His fortunes also constantly
improved, so that when he passed away he left twenty thousand pounds.
The great composer was a big man, both physically and mentally. A
friend describes his countenance as full of fire; "when he smiled it
was like the sun bursting out of a black cloud. It was a sudden flash
of intelligence, wit and good humor, which illumined his countenance,
which I have hardly ever seen in any other." He could relish a joke,
and had a keen sense of humor. Few things outside his work interested
him; but he was fond of the theater, and liked to go to picture sales.
His fiery temper often led him to explode at trifles. No talking among
the listeners could be borne by him while he was conducting. He did
not hesitate to visit violent abuse on the heads of those who ventured
to speak while he was directing and not even the presence of royalty
could restrain his anger.
Handel was always generous in assisting those who needed aid, and he
helped found the Society for Aiding Distressed Musicians. His last
appearance in public, was at a performance of the "Messiah," at Covent
Garden, on April 6, 1759. His death occurred on the 14th of the same
month, at the house in Brook Street where he had lived for many years.
Thus, while born in the same year as Sebastian Bach, he outlived him
by about a decade. He was buried in Westminster Abbey, and later a
fine monument was erected to his memory. The most of his manuscripts
came into the possession of King George III, and are preserved in the
musical library of Buckingham Palace.
CHRISTOPH WILLIBALD GLUCK
Christoph Willibald Gluck has been called the "regenerator of the
opera" for he appeared just at the right moment to rescue opera
from the deplorable state into which it had fallen. At that time the
composers often yielded to the caprices of the singers and wrote to
suit them, while the singers themselves, through vanity and ignorance,
made such requirements that opera itself often became ridiculous.
Gluck desired "to restrict the art of music to its true object, that
of aiding the effect of poetry by giving greater expression to words
and scenes, without interrupting the action or the plot." He wrote
only operas, and some of his best works keep the stage to-day. They
are simple in design yet powerful in appeal: very original and stamped
with refinement and true feeling.
The boy Christoph, like many another lad who became a great musician,
had a sorrowful childhood, full of poverty and neglect. His home was
in the little town of Weissenwangen, on the borders of Bohemia, where
he was born July 2, 1714. As a little lad he early manifested a love
for music, but his parents were in very straitened circumstances and
could not afford to pay for musical instruction. He was sent to one of
the public schools. Fortunately the art of reading music from notes,
formation of scales and fundamentals, was taught along with general
While his father lived the boy was sure of sympathy and affection,
though circumstances were of the poorest. But the good man passed away
when the boy was quite young, and then matters were much worse. He was
gradually neglected until he was at last left to shift for himself.
He possessed not only talent but perseverance and the will to succeed.
The violoncello attracted him, and he began to teach himself to play
it, with no other help than an old instruction book. Determination
conquered many difficulties however, and before long he had made
sufficient progress to enable him to join a troop of traveling
minstrels. From Prague they made their way to Vienna.
Arrived in Vienna, that rich, gay, laughter-loving city, where the
people loved music and often did much for it, the youth's musical
talent together with his forlorn appearance and condition won sympathy
from a few generous souls, who not only provided a home and took care
of his material needs, but gave him also the means to continue his
musical studies. Christoph was overcome with gratitude and made the
best possible use of his opportunities. For nearly two years he gave
himself up to his musical studies.
Italy was the goal of his ambition, and at last the opportunity
to visit that land of song was within his grasp. At the age of
twenty-four, in the year 1738, Gluck bade adieu to his many kind
friends in Vienna, and set out to complete his studies in Italy. Milan
was his objective point. Soon after arriving there he had the good
fortune to meet Padre Martini, the celebrated master of musical
theory. Young Gluck at once placed himself under the great man's
guidance and labored diligently with him for about four years. How
much he owed to the careful training Martini was able to give, was
seen in even his first attempts at operatic composition.
At the conclusion of this long period of devoted study, Gluck began to
write an opera, entitled "Artaxerxes." When completed it was accepted
at the Milan Theater, brought out in 1741 and met with much success.
This success induced one of the managers in Venice to offer him an
engagement for that city if he would compose a new opera. Gluck then
produced "Clytemnestra." This second work had a remarkable success,
and the managers arranged for the composition of another opera, which
was "Demetrio," which, like the others was most favorably received.
Gluck now had offers from Turin, so that the next two years were spent
between that city and Milan, for which cities he wrote five or six
operas. By this time the name of Gluck had become famous all over
Italy; indeed his fame had spread to other countries, with the
result that tempting offers for new operas flowed in to him from all
directions. Especially was a London manager, a certain Lord Middlesex,
anxious to entice the young composer from Italy to come over to
London, and produce some of his works at the King's Theater in the
The noble manager made a good offer too, and Gluck felt he ought to
accept. He reached London in 1745, but owing to the rebellion which
had broken out in Scotland all the theaters were closed, and the city
in more or less confusion. However a chance to hear the famous German
composer, who had traveled such a distance, was not to be lost, and
Lord Middlesex besought the Powers to re-open the theater. After much
pleading his request was finally granted. The opening opera, written
on purpose to introduce Gluck to English audiences, was entitled "La
Caduta del Giganti,"--"Fall of the Giants"--and did not seem to please
the public. But the young composer was undaunted. His next opera,
"Artamene," pleased them no better. The mind of the people was taken
up at that period with politics and political events, and they cared
less than usual for music and the arts. Then, too, Handel, at the
height of his fame, was living in London, honored and courted by the
aristocracy and the world of fashion.
Though disappointed at his lack of success, Gluck remained in England
several years, constantly composing operas, none of which seemed to
win success. At last he took his way quietly back to Vienna. In 1754,
he was invited to Rome, where he produced several operas, among them
"Antigone"; they were all successful, showing the Italians appreciated
his work. He now proceeded to Florence, and while there became
acquainted with an Italian poet, Ranieri di Calzabigi. They were
mutually attracted to each other, and on parting had sworn to use
their influence and talents to reform Italian opera.
Gluck returned to Vienna, and continued to compose operas. In 1764,
"Orfeo" was produced,--an example of the new reform in opera! "Orfeo"
was received most favorably and sung twenty-eight times, a long run
for those days. The singing and acting of Guadagni made the opera
quite the rage, and the work began to be known in England. Even in
Paris and Parma it became a great favorite. The composer was
now fifty, and his greatest works had yet--with the exception or
"Orfeo"--to be written. He began to develop that purity of style which
we find in "Alceste," "Iphigenie en Tauride" and others. "Alceste" was
the second opera on the reformed plan which simplified the music to
give more prominence to the poetry. It was produced in Vienna in 1769,
with the text written by Calzabigi. The opera was ahead of "Orfeo" in
simplicity and nobility, but it did not seem to please the critics.
The composer himself wrote: "Pedants and critics, an infinite
multitude, form the greatest obstacle to the progress of art. They
think themselves entitled to pass a verdict on 'Alceste' from some
informal rehearsals, badly conducted and executed. Some fastidious
ear found a vocal passage too harsh, or another too impassioned,
forgetting that forcible expression and striking contrasts are
absolutely necessary. It was likewise decided in full conclave, that
this style of music was barbarous and extravagant."
In spite of the judgment of the critics, "Alceste" increased the
fame of Gluck to a great degree. Paris wanted to see the man who had
revolutionized Italian opera. The French Royale Academie had made him
an offer to visit the capital, for which he was to write a new opera
for a debut. A French poet, Du Rollet, living in Vienna, offered to
write a libretto for the new opera, and assured him there was every
chance for success in a visit to France. The libretto was thereupon
written, or rather arranged from Racine's "Iphigenie en Aulide," and
with this, Chevalier Gluck, lately made Knight of the papal order of
the Golden Spur, set out for Paris.
And now began a long season of hard work. The opera "Iphigenie"
took about a year to compose, besides a careful study of the French
language. He had even more trouble with the slovenly, ignorant
orchestra, than he had with the French language. The orchestra
declared itself against foreign music; but this opposition was
softened down by his former pupil and patroness, the charming Marie
Antoinette, Queen of France.
After many trials and delays, "Iphigenie" was produced August 19,
1774. The opera proved an enormous success. The beautiful Queen
herself gave the signal for applause in which the whole house joined.
The charming Sophie Arnould sang the part of Iphigenie and seemed
to quite satisfy the composer. Larrivee was the Agamemnon, and other
parts were well sung. The French were thoroughly delighted. They
feted and praised Gluck, declaring he had discovered the music of the
ancient Greeks, that he was the only man in Europe who could express
real feelings in music. Marie Antoinette wrote to her sister: "We had,
on the nineteenth, the first performance of Gluck's 'Iphigenie,' and
it was a glorious triumph. I was quite enchanted, and nothing else is
talked of. All the world wishes to see the piece, and Gluck seems well
The next year, 1775, Gluck brought out an adaptation suitable for
the French stage, of his "Alceste," which again aroused the greatest
enthusiasm. The theater was crammed at every performance. Marie
Antoinette's favorite composer was again praised to the skies, and was
declared to be the greatest composer living.
But Gluck had one powerful opponent at the French Court, who was none
other than the famous Madame du Barry, the favorite of Louis XV. Since
the Queen had her pet musical composer, Mme. du Barry wished to have
hers. An Italian by birth, she could gather about her a powerful
Italian faction, who were bent upon opposition to the Austrian Gluck.
She had listened to his praises long enough, and the tremendous
success of "Alceste" had been the last straw and brought things to a
climax. Du Barry would have some one to represent Italian music, and
applied to the Italian ambassador to desire Piccini to come to Paris.
On the arrival of Piccini, Madame du Barry began activities, aided by
Louis XV himself. She gathered a powerful Italian party about her,
and their first act was to induce the Grand Opera management to make
Piccini an offer for a new opera, although they had already made the
same offer to Gluck. This breach of good faith led to a furious war,
in which all Paris joined; it was fierce and bitter while it lasted.
Even politics were forgotten for the time being. Part of the press
took up one side and part the other. Many pamphlets, poems and satires
appeared, in which both composers were unmercifully attacked. Gluck
was at the time in Germany, and Piccini had come to Paris principally
to secure the tempting fee offered him. The leaders of the feud kept
things well stirred up, so that a stranger could not enter a cafe,
hotel or theater without first answering the question whether he stood
for Gluck or Piccini. Many foolish lies were told of Gluck in his
absence. It was declared by the Piccinists that he went away on
purpose, to escape the war; that he could no longer write melodies
because he was a dried up old man and had nothing new to give France.
These lies and false stories were put to flight one evening when the
Abbe Arnaud, one of Gluck's most ardent adherents, declared in an
aristocratic company, that the Chevalier was returning to France with
an "Orlando" and an "Armide" in his portfolio.
"Piccini is also working on an 'Orlando,'" spoke up a follower of that
"That will be all the better," returned the abbe, "for we shall then
have an 'Orlando' and also an 'Orlandino.'"
When Gluck arrived in Paris, he brought with him the finished opera of
"Armide," which was produced at the Paris Grand Opera on September
23, 1777. At first it was merely a _succes d'estime_, but soon became
immensely popular. On the first night many of the critics were against
the opera, which was called too noisy. The composer, however, felt he
had done some of his best work in "Armide"; that the music was written
in such style that it would not grow old, at least not for a long
time. He had taken the greatest pains in composing it, and declared
that if it were not properly rehearsed at the Opera he would not let
them have it at all, but would retain the work himself for his own
pleasure. He wrote to a friend: "I have put forth what little strength
is left in me, into 'Armide'; I confess I should like to finish my
career with it."
It is said the Gluck composed "Armide" in order to praise the beauty
of Marie Antoinette, and she for her part showed the deepest interest
in the success of the piece, and really "became quite a slave to
it." Gluck often told her he "rearranged his music according to the
impression it made upon the Queen."
"Great as was the success of 'Armide,'" wrote the Princess de
Lamballe, "no one prized this beautiful work more highly than the
composer of it. He was passionately enamored of it; he told the Queen
the air of France had rejuvenated his creative powers, and the sight
of her majesty had given such a wonderful impetus to the flow
of ideas, that his composition had become like herself, angelic,
The growing success of "Armide" only added fuel to the flame of
controversy which had been stirred up. To cap the climax, Piccini
had finished his opera, which was duly brought out and met with a
brilliant reception. Indeed its success was greater than that won by
"Armide," much to the delight of the Piccinists. Of course the natural
outcome was that the other party should do something to surpass the
work of their rivals. Marie Antoinette was besought to prevail on
Gluck to write another opera.
A new director was now in charge of the Opera House. He conceived the
bright idea of setting the two composers at work on the same subject,
which was to be "Iphigenie en Tauride." This plan made great commotion
in the ranks of the rival factions, as each wished to have their
composer's work performed first. The director promised that Piccini's
opera should be first placed in rehearsal. Gluck soon finished his
and handed it in, but the Italian, trusting to the director's word of
honor, was not troubled when he heard the news, though he determined
to complete his as soon as possible. A few days later, when he went to
the Opera House with his completed score, he was horrified to find the
work of his rival already in rehearsal. There was a lively scene, but
the manager said he had received orders to produce the work of Gluck
at once, and he must obey. On the 18th of May, 1779, the Gluck opera
was first performed. It produced the greatest excitement and had a
marvelous success. Even Piccini succumbed to the spell, for the music
made such an impression on him that he did not wish his own work to be
The director, however, insisted, and soon after the second Iphigenie
appeared. The first night the opera did not greatly please; the next
night proved a comic tragedy, as the prima donna was intoxicated.
After a couple of days' imprisonment she returned and sang well. But
the war between the two factions continued till the death of Gluck,
and the retirement of Piccini.
The following year, in September, Gluck finished a new opera, "Echo et
Narcisse," and with this work decided to close his career, feeling he
was too old to write longer for the lyric stage. He was then nearly
seventy years old, and retired to Vienna, to rest and enjoy the fruits
of all his years of incessant toil. He was now rich, as he had earned
nearly thirty thousand pounds. Kings and princes came to do him honor,
and to tell him what pleasure his music had always given them.
Gluck passed away on November 15, 1787, honored and beloved by all.
The simple beauty and purity of his music are as moving and expressive
to-day as when it was written, and the "Michael of Music" speaks to us
still in his operas, whenever they are adequately performed.
In Josef Haydn we have one of the classic composers, a sweet, gentle
spirit, who suffered many privations in early life, and through his
own industrious efforts rose to positions of respect and honor, the
result of unremitting toil and devotion to a noble ideal. Like many
of the other great musicians, through hardship and sorrow he won his
place among the elect.
Fifteen leagues south of Vienna, amid marshy flats along the river
Leitha, lies the small village of Rehrau. At the end of the straggling
street which constitutes the village, stood a low thatched cottage
and next to it a wheelwright's shop, with a small patch of greensward
before it. The master wheelwright, Mathias Haydn, was sexton, too, of
the little church on the hill. He was a worthy man and very religious.
A deep love for music was part of the man's nature, and it was shared
to a large extent by his wife Maria. Every Sunday evening he would
bring out his harp, on which he had taught himself to play, and he
and his wife would sing songs and hymns, accompanied by the harp. The
children, too, would add their voices to the concert. The little
boy Josef, sat near his father and watched his playing with rapt
attention. Sometimes he would take two sticks and make believe play
the violin, just as he had seen the village schoolmaster do. And
when he sang hymns with the others, his voice was sweet and true. The
father watched the child with interest, and a new hope rose within
him. His own life had been a bitter disappointment, for he had been
unable to satisfy his longing for a knowledge of the art he loved.
Perhaps Josef might one day become a musician--indeed he might even
rise to be Capellmeister.
Little Josef was born March 31, 1732. The mother had a secret desire
that the boy should join the priesthood, but the father, as we have
seen, hoped he would make a musical career, and determined, though
poor in this world's goods, to aid him in every possible way.
About this time a distant relative, one Johann Mathias Frankh by name,
arrived at the Haydn cottage on a visit. He was a schoolmaster at
Hainburg, a little town four leagues away. During the regular evening
concert he took particular notice of Josef and his toy violin. The
child's sweet voice indicated that he had the makings of a good
musician. At last he said: "If you will let me take Sepperl, I will
see he is properly taught; I can see he promises well."
The parents were quite willing and as for little Sepperl, he was
simply overjoyed, for he longed to learn more about the beautiful
music which filled his soul. He went with his new cousin, as he called
Frankh, without any hesitation, and with the expectation that his
childish day dreams were to be realized.
A new world indeed opened to the six year old boy, but it was not all
beautiful. Frankh was a careful and strict teacher; Josef not only was
taught to sing well, but learned much about various instruments.
He had school lessons also. But his life in other ways was hard
and cheerless. The wife of his cousin treated him with the utmost
indifference, never looking after his clothing or his well being in
any way. After a time his destitute and neglected appearance was
a source of misery to the refined, sensitive boy, but he tried to
realize that present conditions could not last forever, and he bravely
endeavored to make the best of them. Meanwhile the training of his
voice was well advanced and when not in school he could nearly always
be found in church, listening to the organ and the singing. Not long
after, he was admitted to the choir, where his sweet young voice
joined in the church anthems. Always before his mind was a great city
where he knew he would find the most beautiful music--the music of his
dreams. That city was Vienna, but it lay far away. Josef looked down
at his ragged clothing and wondered if he would ever see that magical
One morning his cousin told him there would be a procession through
the town in honor of a prominent citizen who had just passed away. A
drummer was needed and the cousin had proposed Josef. He showed the
boy how to make the strokes for a march, with the result that Josef
walked in the procession and felt quite proud of this exhibition of
his skill. The very drum he used that day is preserved in the little
church at Hamburg.
A great event occurred in Josef's prospects at the end of his second
year of school life at Hamburg. The Capellmeister, Reutter by name, of
St. Stephen's cathedral in Vienna, came to see his friend, the pastor
of Hamburg. He happened to say he was looking for a few good voices
for the choir. "I can find you one at least," said the pastor; "he is
a scholar of Frankh, the schoolmaster, and has a sweet voice."
Josef was sent for and the schoolmaster soon returned leading him by
"Well my little fellow," said the Capellmeister, drawing him to his
knee, "can you make a shake?"
"No sir, but neither can my cousin Frankh."
Reutter laughed at this frankness, and then proceeded to show him how
the shake was done. Josef after a few trials was able to perform the
shake to the entire satisfaction of his teacher. After testing him on
a portion of a mass the Capellmeister was willing to take him to the
Cantorei or Choir school of St. Stephen's in Vienna. The boy's heart
gave a great leap. Vienna, the city of his dreams. And he was really
going there! He could scarcely believe in his good fortune. If he
could have known all that was to befall him there, he might not have
been so eager to go. But he was only a little eight-year-old boy, and
childhood's dreams are rosy.
Once arrived at the Cantorei, Josef plunged into his studies with
great fervor, and his progress was most rapid. He was now possessed
with a desire to compose, but had not the slightest idea how to go
about such a feat. However, he hoarded every scrap of music paper he
could find and covered it with notes. Reutter gave no encouragement to
such proceedings. One day he asked what the boy was about, and when
he heard the lad was composing a "Salve Regina," for twelve voices,
he remarked it would be better to write it for two voices before
attempting it in twelve. "And if you must try your hand at
composition," added Reutter more kindly, "write variations on the
motets and vespers which are played in church."
As neither the Capellmeister nor any of the teachers offered to
show Josef the principles of composition, he was thrown upon his own
resources. With much self denial he scraped together enough money to
buy two books which he had seen at the second hand bookseller's and
which he had longed to possess. One was Fox's "Gradus ad Parnassum,"
a treatise on composition and counterpoint; the other Matheson's "The
Complete Capellmeister." Happy in the possession of these books, Josef
used every moment outside of school and choir practise to study them.
He loved fun and games as well as any boy, but music always came
first. The desire to perfect himself was so strong that he often added
several hours each day to those already required, working sixteen or
eighteen hours out of the twenty-four.
And thus a number of years slipped away amid these happy surroundings.
Little Josef was now a likely lad of about fifteen years. It was
arranged that his younger brother Michael was to come to the Cantorei.
Josef looked eagerly forward to this event, planning how he would help
the little one over the beginning and show him the pleasant things
that would happen to him in the new life. But the elder brother could
not foresee the sorrow and privation in store for him. From the moment
Michael's pure young voice filled the vast spaces of the cathedral, it
was plain that Josef's singing could not compete with it. His soprano
showed signs of breaking, and gradually the principal solo parts,
which had always fallen to him, were given to the new chorister. On
a special church day, when there was more elaborate music, the "Salve
Regina," which had always been given to Josef, was sung so beautifully
by the little brother, that the Emperor and Empress were delighted,
and they presented the young singer with twenty ducats.
Poor Josef! He realized that his place was virtually taken by the
brother he had welcomed so joyously only a short time before. No one
was to blame of course; it was one of those things that could not be
avoided. But what actually caused him to leave St. Stephen's was a
boyish prank played on one of the choir boys, who sat in front of
him. Taking up a new pair of shears lying near, he snipped off, in a
mischievous moment, the boy's pigtail. For this jest he was punished
and then dismissed from the school. He could hardly realize it, in his
first dazed, angry condition. Not to enjoy the busy life any more, not
to see Michael and the others and have a comfortable home and sing
in the Cathedral. How he lived after that he hardly knew. But several
miserable days went by. One rainy night a young man whom he had known
before, came upon him near the Cathedral, and was struck by his
white, pinched face. He asked where the boy was living. "Nowhere--I am
starving," was the reply. Honest Franz Spangler was touched at once.
"We can't stand here in the rain," he said. "You know I haven't a
palace to offer, but you are welcome to share my poor place for one
night anyway. Then we shall see."
It was indeed a poor garret where the Spanglers lived, but the
cheerful fire and warm bread and milk were luxuries to the starving
lad. Best of all was it to curl up on the floor, beside the dying
embers and fall into refreshing slumber. The next morning the world
looked brighter. He had made up his mind not to try and see his
brother; he would support himself by music. He did not know just how
he was going to do this, but determined to fight for it _and never
Spangler, deeply touched by the boy's forlorn case, offered to let
him occupy a corner of his garret until he could find work, and Josef
gratefully accepted. The boy hoped he could quickly find something to
do; but many weary months were spent in looking for employment and
in seeking to secure pupils, before there was the slightest sign
of success. Thinly clad as he was and with the vigorous appetite of
seventeen, which was scarcely ever appeased, he struggled on, hopeful
that spring would bring some sort of good cheer.
But spring came, yet no employment was in sight. His sole earnings had
been the coppers thrown to him as he stood singing in the snow covered
streets, during the long cold winter. Now it was spring, and hope rose
within him. He had been taught to have simple faith in God, and felt
sure that in some way his needs would be met.
At last the tide turned slightly. A few pupils attracted by the small
fee he charged, took lessons on the clavier; he got a few engagements
to play violin at balls and parties, while some budding composers got
him to revise their manuscripts for a small fee. All these cheering
signs of better times made Josef hopeful and grateful. One day a
special piece of good fortune came his way. A man who loved music,
at whose house he had sometimes played, sent him a hundred and fifty
florins, to be repaid without interest whenever convenient.
This sum seemed to Haydn a real fortune. He was able to leave the
Spanglers and take up a garret of his own. There was no stove in it
and winter was coming on; it was only partly light, even at midday,
but the youth was happy. For he had acquired a little worm-eaten
spinet, and he had added to his treasures the first six sonatas of
On the third floor of the house which contained the garret, lived a
celebrated Italian poet, Metastasio. Haydn and the poet struck up an
acquaintance, which resulted in the musician's introduction to the
poet's favorite pupil, Marianne Martinez. Also through Metastasio,
Haydn met Nicolo Porpora, an eminent teacher of singing and
composition. About this time another avenue opened to him. It was a
fashion in Vienna to pick up a few florins by serenading prominent
persons. A manager of one of the principal theaters in Vienna, Felix
Kurz, had recently married a beautiful woman, whose loveliness was
much talked of. It occurred to Haydn to take a couple of companions
along and serenade the lady, playing some of his own music. Soon after
they had begun to play the house door opened and Kurz himself stood
there in dressing gown and slippers. "Whose music was that you were
playing?" he asked. "My own," was the answer. "Indeed; then just step
inside." The three entered, wondering. They were presented to Madame,
then were given refreshments. "Come and see me to-morrow," said Kurz
when the boys left; "I think I have some work for you."
Haydn called next day and learned the manager had written a libretto
of a comic opera which he called "The Devil on two Sticks," and was
looking for some one to compose the music. In one place there was to
be a tempest at sea, and Haydn was asked how he would represent that.
As he had never seen the sea, he was at a loss how to express it. The
manager said he himself had never seen the ocean, but to his mind it
was like this, and he began to toss his arms wildly about. Haydn tried
every way he could think of to represent the ocean, but Kurz was not
satisfied. At last he flung his hands down with a crash on each end
of the keyboard and brought them together in the middle. "That's it,
that's it," cried the manager and embraced the youth excitedly. All
went well with the rest of the opera. It was finished and produced,
but did not make much stir, a fact which was not displeasing to the
composer, as he was not proud of his first attempt.
His acquaintance with Porpora promised better things. The singing
master had noticed his skill in playing the harpsichord, and offered
to engage him as accompanist. Haydn gladly accepted at once, hoping to
pick up much musical knowledge in this way. Old Porpora was very
harsh and domineering at first, treating him more like a valet than
a musician. But at last he was won over by Haydn's gentleness and
patience, until he was willing to answer all his questions and
to correct his compositions. Best of all he brought Haydn to the
attention of the nobleman in whose house he was teaching, so that
when the nobleman and his family went to the baths of Mannersdorf for
several months, Haydn was asked to go along as accompanist to Porpora.
The distinguished musicians he met at Mannersdorf were all very kind
to him and showed much interest in his compositions, many of which
were performed during this visit. The nobleman, impressed with Haydn's
desire to succeed, allotted him a pension of a sum equal to fifteen
dollars a month. The young musician's first act on receiving this was
to buy himself a neat suit of black.
Good fortune followed him on his return to Vienna. More pupils came,
until he was able to raise his prices and move into better lodgings.
A wealthy patron of music, the Countess of Thun, sent for him to come
and see her. She had heard one of his clavier sonatas played, found
it charming and wished to see the composer. Her manner was so
sympathetic, that Haydn was led to tell her the story of his
struggles. Tears came into her eyes as she listened. She promised her
support as friend and pupil, and Haydn left her with a happy, grateful
His compositions were heard in the best musical circles in Vienna, and
the future was bright with promise. A wealthy music patron persuaded
him to write a string quartet, the first of many to follow. Through
this man he received, in 1759, an appointment of music director to a
rich Bohemian, Count Morzin, who had a small orchestra at his country
seat. In the same year the first Symphony was composed.
As brighter days dawned, Haydn procured all the works on theory
obtainable, and studied them deeply. He had mastered the difficulties
of the "Gradus," one of the books purchased years before, and without
any outside help had worked out his musical independence, uninfluenced
by any other musician. He was now twenty-six, and his fame was
growing. Meanwhile an affair of the heart had great influence on his
life. Sometime previously Haydn had been engaged to give lessons
on the harpsichord to two daughters of a wig-maker named Keller. An
attachment soon sprang up between the teacher and the younger of the
girls. His poverty had stood in the way of making his feelings known.
But as prosperity began to dawn, he grew courageous and asked the
maiden to become his wife. His disappointment was keen when he found
the girl had in the meantime decided to take the veil. The wig-maker
proved to be a matchmaker, for when he learned how matters stood he
urged the composer to take the sister, who was only three years older.
The gentle Haydn was unable to withstand the pressure brought to bear,
and consented. After his bride was his he found he had won a virago,
one who cared nothing for art or for her husband's ideals, if only she
could have enough money to spend.
The composer was in sad straits for a while, but fortunately a way
opened by means of which he could be free. Count Morzin, where he had
conducted the orchestra, was obliged to reduce his establishment and
dismissed his band and its director. As soon as this was known, the
reigning Prince of Hungary, Paul Anton Esterhazy offered Haydn the
post of assistant Capellmeister at his country seat of Eisenstadt.
The head Capellmeister, Werner, was old, but the Prince kept him
on account of his long service. Haydn, however, was to have
entire control of the orchestra, and also of most of the musical
Haydn was blissfully happy over the realization of his highest hopes.
In his wildest dreams he had never imagined such magnificence as he
found at the palace of Eisenstadt. The great buildings, troops of
servants, the wonderful parks and gardens, with their flowers, lakes
and fountains almost made him believe he was in fairyland. Of course
there would be some hard work, though it would not seem hard amid such
fascinating surroundings and there would be plenty of leisure for his
own creative activities. Best of all his wife could not be with him.
Prince Paul Anton passed away after a year and his brother Nikolaus
succeeded him. He advanced Haydn still further, and increased his
salary. Werner, the old Capellmeister, died in 1766, and Haydn
succeeded to the full title. This was the father's dream for his boy
Josef, and it had been abundantly realized. His mother had passed
away, but his father was living, and had come, on one occasion,
to Eisenstadt to see him. His brother Michael who had now become
Concertmeister in Salzburg, spent several happy days with him also.
The summer residence of Prince Nikolaus at Esterhazy had been rebuilt,
enlarged and was more magnificent than Eisenstadt. The music was more
elaborate. The Prince was so fond of the life there that he postponed
his return to town till late in the autumn.
In order to give him a hint through music, Haydn composed what he
called the "Farewell Symphony," in which, toward the close each pair
of players in turn rose, extinguished their candles and passed out,
until only the first violinist remained. He last of all blew out his
light and left, while Haydn prepared to follow. The Prince at last
understood, and treating the whole as a joke, gave orders for the
departure of the household.
In 1790 Haydn lost the master to whom he was so devotedly attached.
He received a pension of a thousand florins on condition that he would
retain his post. But Prince Anton, who succeeded his brother, cared
nothing for music; Haydn was not obliged to live at the palace and
returned to Vienna. Several attempts had already been made to induce
him to visit London, but he always had refused. Now there seemed to be
no obstacle in the way. One day a visitor called. "My name is Salomon;
I have come from London to fetch you; we will settle terms to-morrow."
On the sail from Calais to Dover, the composer first saw the sea and
was reminded of his boyish efforts to describe it in tones.
London welcomed Haydn warmly, for his fame had preceded him and his
music was familiar. The first concert was given March 11, 1790 at the
Hanover Square Rooms, and was a great success. This was followed by a
series of concerts, and at last a benefit for the composer on May 16,
which was an ovation and realized three hundred and fifty pounds. He
heard the "Messiah" for the first time and when, at the "Hallelujah
Chorus," the audience sprang to its feet, he burst into tears,
exclaiming "He is the master of us all!"
At Oxford, in July, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of
Music, and three great concerts were given in his honor, with special
performers brought from London. In fact the whole visit to England had
been such a success that he repeated the trip in 1794, and received
even greater honors. His symphonies were heard on all London
programs. He was the lion of the season, and was frequently invited to
Buckingham Palace to play for the King and Queen, who always urged
him to live in England. Haydn was now sixty-five; he had composed
quantities of music, but his greatest work, "The Creation," was not
yet written. While in London, Salomon had shown him a poem founded on
"Paradise Lost," written years before in the hope that Handel would
use it for an oratorio. Haydn decided to try his hand at oratorio on
this subject. As he went on, it grew to be a labor of love and prayer.
It was finished and performed in Vienna, March 19, 1799, and made
a profound impression. The composer at once began work on a second
oratorio, founded on Thompson's "Seasons." The desire for work was
strong within, but his health was failing. "'The Seasons' gave me my
finishing stroke," he often remarked to friends.
Haydn was acknowledged on every hand as the father of instrumental
music. He laid great stress on melody. "It is the air which is
the charm of music," he said, "and it is the air which is the most
difficult to produce. The invention of a fine melody is a work of
Full of years and honors, respected and beloved, Father Haydn passed
away. As Vienna was at that time in the hands of the French, he was
given a very simple burial. In 1820 Prince Esterhazy had the remains
reinterred in the upper parish church at Eisenstadt, where a simple
stone with Latin inscription is placed in the wall above the vault to
mark the spot.
The early December dusk was closing in over the quaint old city of
Salzburg. Up on the heights above the town the battlements of the
great castle caught a reflection of the last gleams of light in the
sky. But the narrow streets below were quite in shadow.
In one of the substantial looking houses on a principal thoroughfare,
called the Getreide Gasse, lights gleamed from windows on the third
floor. Within, all was arranged as if for some special occasion.
The larger room, with its three windows looking on the street, was
immaculate in its neatness. The brass candlesticks shone like gold,
the mahogany table was polished like a mirror, the simple furniture
likewise. For today was Father Mozart's birthday and the little
household was to celebrate the event.
Mother Mozart had been busy all day putting everything in order
while Nannerl, the seven year old daughter, had been helping. Little
Wolfgang, now three years old, in his childish eagerness to be as busy
as the others, had only hindered, and had to be reprimanded once in a
while. One could never be vexed with the little elf, even if he turned
somersaults in new clean clothes, or made chalk figures all over the
living-room chairs. He never meant to do any harm, and was always so
tenderhearted and lovable, it was hard to scold him.
And this was the Father's birthday, about the most important of all
the family celebrations. Already the roast on the spit was nearing
perfection, while in the oven a fine cake was browning.
When all was ready and Leopold Mozart had received the good wishes
of the little household, baby Wolfgang was mounted on a footstool to
recite a poem, in honor of the occasion. When he had finished it he
stood quietly a moment then reaching out his tiny arms, clasped them
tightly about his father's neck, and said:
"Dear papa, I love you very, very much; after God, next comes my
Leopold Mozart was a musician and held the post of Vice-Capellmeister.
Music was honored in this simple home, and when two of the Court
musicians, friends of Father Mozart, came in to join the festivities
on this birthday night, a toast was drunk to the honor of _Musica_,
the divine goddess of tones.
"I wonder if even a little of my own musical knowledge and love for
the art will overflow upon the two dear children," remarked Father
Mozart, gazing down tenderly on the little ones.
"Why not," answered the mother; "you long ago promised to begin
lessons with Nannerl; can she not start this very night?"
"Yes, indeed, Papachen, may I not learn to play the piano? I promise
to work very hard."
"Very well," answered the father; "you shall see I am grateful for all
the love you have showed me tonight, and I will begin to teach Nannerl
"I want to learn music too," broke in little Wolfgang, looking at his
father with beaming eyes.
Every one laughed at this, while the father said baby Wolfgang would
have to grow some inches before he could reach the keys.
The lesson began, and the little girl showed both quickness and
patience to grasp the ideas. No one at first noticed the tiny child
who planted himself at his sister's elbow, the light of the candles
falling on his delicate, sensitive features and bright brown hair. His
glance never left Nannerl's fingers as they felt hesitatingly
among the white and black keys, while his ear easily understood the
intervals she tried to play.
When the little girl left the piano, or the harpsichord, as it was
called in those days, Wolfgang slipped into her place and began to
repeat with his tiny fingers what his father had taught her. He sought
the different intervals, and when at last he found them, his little
face beamed with joy. In a short time he was able to play all the
simple exercises that had been given his sister.
The parents listened to their wonder-child with ever increasing
astonishment, mingled with tears of emotion. It was plain to be seen
that Wolfgang must have lessons as well as Nannerl. And what joy it
would be to teach them both.
It was a happy household that retired that night. Nannerl was happy
because she at last had the chance to take piano lessons. Wolfgang,
little "Starbeam," dreamed of the wonderful Goddess of Music, who
carried him away to fairyland which was filled with beautiful music.
The parents were filled with joy that heaven had granted them such
blessings in their children.
The musical progress of the children was quite remarkable. Marianne,
which was Nannerl's real name, soon began to play very well indeed,
while little Wolfgang hardly had to be told anything in music, for
he seemed to know it already. The father would write Minuets for the
little girl to study; her tiny brother would learn them in half an
hour. Soon Wolfgang was able to compose his own Minuets. Several have
come down to us which he wrote when he was five years old; and they
are quite perfect in form and style.
One day Father Mozart brought home Schachtner, the Court trumpeter, to
dinner. Coming suddenly into the living-room, they found the tiny elf
busily writing at his father's desk.
"Whatever are you doing, Wolferl?" cried his father, gazing at the ink
stained fingers of his little son and then at the paper covered with
"Oh, Papa, a piano sonata, but it isn't finished yet."
"Never mind that," said Leopold Mozart, "let us see it, it must be
something very fine." Taking up the paper the father and his friend
looked at it curiously. The sheets were bedaubed with ink stains that
almost concealed the notes. For the child had thrust his pen each time
to the bottom of the ink well, so that frequent blots on the paper
were the result. These did not trouble him in the least, for he
merely rubbed his hand over the offending blot and proceeded with his
At first the two friends laughed heartily to see how the little
composer had written the notes over smudges, but soon the father's
eyes filled with happy tears.
"Look, my dear Schachtner!" he cried. "See how correct and orderly it
all is, all written according to rule. Only one could never play it
for it seems to be too difficult."
"But it's a sonata, Papa, and one must practice it first, of course,
but this is the way it should go."
He sprang to the piano and began to play. The small fingers could not
master the more intricate parts, but gave sufficient idea of how he
intended the piece to sound.
They stood in speechless astonishment at this proof of the child's
powers; then Leopold Mozart caught up the little composer and kissing
him cried, "My Wolfgang, you will become a great musician."
Wolfgang, not content with merely learning the piano, begged to study
the violin also. His violin lessons had hardly begun when one evening
his father and two friends were about to play a set of six trios,
composed by Wentzl, one of the players. Wolfgang begged to be allowed
to play the second violin. Needless to say his request was refused.
At last he was told he might sit next to Schachtner and make believe
play, though he must make no sound.
The playing began, when before long it was seen the boy was actually
playing the second violin part and doing it correctly. The second
violin ceased bowing in amazement and allowed Wolfgang to go on alone.
After this he was permitted to play all the second violin part of
the whole six pieces. Emboldened by this success, he volunteered
to attempt the first violin part, an offer which was greeted with
laughter; but nothing daunted, he took up his violin and began. There
were mistakes here and there, of course, but he persisted to the end,
to the astonishment of all.
Three years had passed swiftly by since little Wolfgang Mozart began
to study music the night of his father's fortieth birthday. He had
made marvelous progress and already the fame of his powers had passed
beyond the narrow limits of his native town. Leopold Mozart had no
means other than the salary which he received from the Court. His
children's musical gifts induced the father to turn them to advantage,
both to supply the family needs and to provide the children a broad
education in music. He determined to travel with the children. A
first experiment in January, 1762, had proved so successful that the
following September they set out for Vienna. Wolfgang was now six
years old and Marianne eleven.
At Linz they gave a successful concert and every one was delighted
with the playing of the children. From here they continued their
journey as far as the monastery of Ips, where they expected to stay
for the night. It had been a wonderful day, spent in sailing down
the majestic Danube, till they reached the grey old building with
its battlemented walls. Soon after they arrived, Father Mozart took
Wolfgang into the chapel to see the organ.
The child gazed with awe at the great pipes, the keyboard and the
pedals. He begged his father to explain their working, and then as
the father filled the great bellows the tiny organist pushed aside
the organ bench, stood upon the pedals and trod them, as though he had
always known how. The monks in the monastery hastened to the chapel,
holding their breath as one pointed to the figure of a tiny child in
the organ loft. Was it possible, they asked themselves, that a child
could produce such beautiful music? They remained rooted to the spot,
till Wolfgang happened to see them and crept meekly down from his
All the rest of the journey to Vienna, Wolfgang was the life of the
party, eager to know the name and history of everything they met. At
the custom-house on the frontier, he made friends with the officials
by playing for them on his violin, and thus secured an easy pass for
Arrived at Vienna, Leopold Mozart found the fame of the children's
playing had preceded them. A kind and gracious welcome awaited the
little party when they went to the palace of Schoenbrunn. The Emperor
Franz Josef took to Wolfgang at once, was delighted with his playing
and called him his "little magician." The boy's powers were tested by
being required to read difficult pieces at sight, and playing with one
finger, as the Emperor jestingly asked him to do. Next, the keyboard
was covered with a cloth, as a final test, but little Wolfgang played
as finely as before, to the great delight of the company who applauded
heartily. The little magician was so pleased with the kindness of both
the Emperor and Empress that he returned it in his own childish way,
by climbing into the lap of the Empress and giving her a hug and a
kiss, just as though she were his own mother. He was also greatly
attracted by the little Princess Marie Antoinette, a beautiful child
of about his own age, with long fair curls and laughing blue eyes. The
two struck up an immediate friendship.
After the favor shown them at Court, the gifted children became the
rage in Vienna society. Invitations poured in from every side, and
many gifts. Those bestowed by the royal family were perhaps the most
valued. Wolfgang's present was a violet colored suit, trimmed with
broad gold braid, while Nannerl received a pretty white silk dress.
Each of the children also received a beautiful diamond ring from the
Emperor. A portrait of the boy in his gala suit, which was painted at
the time, is still preserved.
The following year the Mozarts took the children on a longer journey,
this time with Paris in view. They stopped at many towns and cities
on the way. At Frankfort the first performance was so successful that
three more were given. A newspaper of the time says "little Mozart
is able to name all notes played at a distance, whether single or in
chords, whether played on the piano, or any other instrument, bell,
glass or clock." The father offered as an additional attraction that
Wolfgang would play with the keyboard covered.
The family stayed five months in Paris; the children played before
the Court at Versailles, exciting surprise and enthusiasm there and
wherever they appeared. From Paris they traveled to London, in April,
Leopold Mozart's first care on reaching the great English metropolis
was to obtain an introduction at Court. King George III and the Queen
were very fond of music, and it was not long before an invitation came
for the children to attend at the Palace. The King showed the greatest
interest in Wolfgang, asking him to play at sight difficult pieces by
Bach and Handel. Then the boy, after accompanying the Queen in a song,
selected the bass part in a piece by Handel, and improvised a charming
melody to it. The King was so impressed that he wished him to play the
organ, in the playing of which Wolfgang won a further triumph.
The King's birthday was to be celebrated on June 4 and London was
crowded with people from all parts of the country. Leopold Mozart had
chosen June 5 as the date for his first public concert. The hall was
filled to overflowing; one hundred guineas being taken in. Many of the
assisting performers would take no fee for their services, which added
to the father's gratitude and happiness.
Not long after this Leopold Mozart fell ill, and the little family
moved to Chelsea, for the quiet and good air. Later they were
given another reception at Court, where, after Wolfgang's wonderful
performances, the children won much applause by playing some piano
duets composed by the boy--a style of composition then quite new.
In July, 1765, the family left London and traveled in Holland, after
which came a second visit to Paris, where they added to their former
triumphs, in addition to playing in many towns on the way back.
Finally the long tour was brought to a close by the return to Salzburg
in November, 1766.
At the period of musical history in which the gifted boy lived, a
musician's education was not complete unless he went to Italy, for
this country stood first as the home of music. Leopold Mozart had made
a couple of trips to Vienna with his children, the account of which
need not detain us here. He had decided that Wolfgang must go to
Italy, and breathe in the atmosphere of that land of song. And so in
December, 1769, father and son set out for the sunny south, with high
hopes for success.
Mozart's happy nature was jubilant over the journey. He watched
eagerly the peasants as they danced on the vine-clad terraces,
overlooking the deep blue lakes,--or listened as they sang at their
work in the sunny fields. He gazed at the wonderful processions of
priests through narrow streets of the towns, but above all there was
the grand music in the cathedrals.
The young musician had plenty of work to do, more than most boys
of thirteen. For, besides the concerts he had to give, he was set
difficult problems by the various professors who wished to test his
powers. The fame of his playing constantly spread, so the further he
traveled into Italy there were more demands to hear him. At Roveredo,
where it was announced he would play the organ in St. Thomas's Church,
the crowd was so great he could scarcely get to the organ-loft. The
vast audience listened spellbound, and then refused to disperse till
they had caught a glimpse of the boy player. At Verona he had another
triumph; one of his symphonies was performed, and his portrait was
ordered to be painted.
When they reached Milan the Chief musician of the city subjected the
boy to severe tests, all of which he accomplished to the astonishment
and delight of everybody. It was at Bologna however, where he met
the most flattering reception. Here was the home of the famous Padre
Martini, the aged composer of church music. Father Martini was almost
worshiped by the Italians; he was a most lovable man and looked up to
as a great composer. He had long ago given up attending concerts, so
that every one was astonished when he was present in the brilliant
audience gathered at Count Pallavicini's mansion to listen to the
boy's playing. Wolfgang did his best, for he realized the importance
of the event. Father Martini took the boy to his heart at once,
invited him to visit him as often as possible during his stay,
and gave him several fugue subjects to work out. These the boy
accomplished with ease, and the Padre declared he was perfectly
satisfied with his knowledge of composition.
The journey to Rome was now continued, and for Wolfgang it was a
succession of triumphs. At Florence he played before the Court of the
Archduke Leopold, and solved every problem put to him by the Court
music director as easily as though he were eating a bit of bread.
It was Holy Week when young Mozart and his father entered Rome, and
the city lay under the spell of the great festival of the year. They
soon joined the throngs that filled the vast temple of St. Peter's,
to which all turn during this solemn season. After attending a service
and viewing the treasures of the Cathedral, they turned their steps to
the Sistine Chapel, which contains the wonderful painting of the Last
Judgment by Michael Angelo. It was here that the celebrated Miserere
by Allegri was performed. Wolfgang had been looking forward to this
moment all through the latter part of his journey. His father had told
him how jealously guarded this music was; it could never be performed
in any other place, and the singers could never take their parts out
of the chapel. He was intensely eager to hear this work. And indeed it
would be difficult to imagine anything more beautiful and impressive
than the singing of the Miserere, which means "Have Mercy." It follows
the solemn service called Tenebrae, (Darkness) during which the six
tall candles on the altar are extinguished one by one,--till but one
is left, which is removed to a space behind the altar. Then in almost
complete darkness the Miserere begins. A single voice is heard singing
the antiphon, or short introduction,--and then comes silence, a
silence so profound that the listener scarcely dares to breathe
for fear of disturbing it. At length the first sad notes of the
supplication are heard, like the softest wailing of an anguished
spirit; they gradually gain force till the whole building seems to
throb with the thrilling intensity of the music.
The young musician was profoundly moved; the father too was much
affected by the solemn service. Neither spoke as they left the chapel
and sought their lodgings. After they had retired the boy could not
sleep; his thoughts were filled with the wonderful music he had heard.
He arose, lit the lamp, and got out pens and music paper. He worked
industriously the long night through. When morning dawned the boy sat
with his beautiful head upon his folded arms, asleep, while before him
on the table lay a score of the Miserere of Allegri, entirely written
The next day, Good Friday, the Miserere was performed for the second
time. Wolfgang, the boy of fourteen, who had performed the wonderful
feat of writing this work out after one hearing, again attended the
service, keeping the score in his hat, and found his work was nearly
perfect, needing but a couple of trifling corrections.
The news of this startling feat gained for the young musician a
cordial welcome into the houses of the great in Rome; during their