(Johann) Michael Haydn


Along with his more famous brother Franz Josef Haydn, Michael Haydn sang from an early age at St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, where his voice was noted for its range and clarity.  Here he also studied the work of Fux until his voice broke and he was forced to find alternative employment.  In 1757 he was appointed Kappellmeister under the bishop of Grosswardein, Hungary (now in Romania).  Here he began to compose masses, symphonies and other major works, and in 1762 was offered a post in Salzburg.  Under the patronage of Archbishop Sigismund Schrattenbach it is possible he was observed by the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  with father Leopold, who was known to frequent the court.

The death of the Archbishop led Michael Haydn to write his Requiem in C minor (1771), one of his most famous works and probably a large influence on Mozart's masterpiece.  Leopold and Wolfgang copied out several of his sacred pieces, and Wolfgang even dedicated a pair of original duets to him in 1783.  In response to the demands of the church, Haydn's religious music became less florid and adopted a greater number of German texts, achieving greater popularity in the process.  In fact, Haydn's music seems to have brought pleasure to all who encountered it, from his landlords who are said to have accepted it in lieu of rent, to the Empress Maria Theresia, who took great delight in singing the solo part in the Missa sotto il titulo di Teresia which Haydn wrote for her in 1801.

The French occupation of Salzburg brought an end to Haydn's tenure there, and he was forced to flee to Vienna.  Declining to join his brother in the Esterházy service, he remained in the city and continued to compose, beginning work on a second requiem.  Dedicated to the Empress Maria Theresia, Haydn was unable to complete it before his death in 1806.

Although sharing his brother's prolific nature, Michael Haydn did not make the great developmental strides in symphonic form for which Franz Joseph is remembered.  Although on occasion using novel instrumentation, when restricted to the conventional orchestra Michael was not as inventive in arrangement or in working through his themes, leaving the winds and lower strings frequently underused.  Perhaps remaining in provincial Salzburg left him unchallenged or untouched by external influences, but this counted for little in the eyes of his devotees and revivalists, among them his pupils Carl Maria von Weber and Anton Diabelli .

Show more