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Lessons from Music History

Lesson 6- Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

~ Served with ale and stollen


“When I sit at my old worm-eaten piano, I envy no king in his happiness.” This statement of Franz Josef Haydn, when he was young and unknown, illustrates the contentment and humility he retained long after he was acclaimed by the world. Being recognized as the world’s greatest living composer was not Haydn’s foundational source of contentment.

This simple and modest man of faith was equally as humble when he was a poor youth playing for his supper in the streets of Vienna as he was years later as a renowned musician entertaining the royalty of Europe.

Living in a class-conscious society, Haydn chose to retain the lowliness of his early life long after the increase in his fame and fortune. Haydn often dressed as a peasant in his shirtsleeves, attending church with the common people. In the manner of a contented servant of God, Haydn answered one adoring fan: “Do not speak so to me. You see only a man whom God has granted talent and a good heart.”

Late in life, he admitted, “I have associated with kings, emperors, and many great gentlemen and have heard many flattering things from them; but I do not wish to live on an intimate footing with such persons, and prefer people of my own status”.

Such a successful career might have invited a lesser man to an early retirement—to rest and enjoy the fruit of his labors. Yet Haydn continued to work through his last year. Three masterpieces: The Seasons, The Seven Last Words of Christ, and The Creation, were all composed late in his life. Simplicity, generosity, and productivity exemplified his life to the very end.

I, too, in a “big city” word of music, often run into people who would like to conceal or forget their unimpressive beginnings. But those very beginnings are a part of who we are; to forget them is to forget how God used our early circumstances to shape us into what we are today. What’s more, the humble memory of our past may keep us from being lured by the temptations of our present.

Isaiah’s challenge should be owned by each of us: “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn”. (Isaiah 51:1)

Who knows what beautiful sculpture can be cut from the stone in your family’s quarry?



~ From Spiritual Moments with the Great Composers by Patrick Kavanaugh

   (Zondervan Publishing House, 1995)


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