Joseph Haydn was without a doubt one of the greatest composers of his day. He was
loved very much as both a man and a musician, and unlike many other composers when he died
in 1809, he was one of the most celebrated composers in the world.
Haydn once said, "Young people can see from my example that something can still come
from nothing, but what I am is the result of dire necessity." And it was very true. The story of
Haydn was a classic story of "rags to riches." His father, Mathias Haydn (1699-1763), was a
wheelwright who after traveling through Germany settled in Rohrau, a village in Austria near the
border of Hungary. A year later, Mathias married Anna Maria Koller (1707-1754), and on April
1, 1732, Franz Joseph Haydn was born. He was the eldest of twelve children, six of whom never
lived past infancy. They lived in a quiet, modest home, which was always kept neat and tidy.
Music played a big role in the Haydn home. Mathias, through years of travel, learned how to play
the harp and would come home after work and practice. He and his wife would sing Austrian
folk songs along to the music, and the children quickly caught on. This was a nightly ritual and
one night a distant cousin named Johann Mathias Franck visited the Haydn family in Rohrau.
Franck was the school rector from Haimburg and was responsible for the music there. When he
saw the family singing after dinner, he took particular notice to the young Joseph Haydn who
was strumming his arm with a stick, pretending he was playing the violin. It was clear that
Joseph had a natural talent for music, since he kept time and pitch perfectly without ever having
any musical training. As a result, Franck offered to take Joseph back to Haimburg with him and
give him an education in music, which would most definitely lead him to becoming a clergyman.
Because his parents had a great deal of respect for the clergy, they jumped at the opportunity,
and when he was only six years old he left for Haimburg. There he was under a very strict
schedule which included lessons in reading, writing, and catechism, followed by Mass in the
church, and of course instruction in singing and playing almost all wind and string instruments.
Joseph also learned to play the timpani, and did so in a Holy Week procession. He had a deep
love for music and was very grateful for his stay at Haimburg. He once said, "I shall owe it to
that man [Franck] even in my grave that he taught me so many things, though in the process I
have received more thrashings than food."
In 1740, Karl Georg Reutter, the music director of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna
came to Hainburg in search of new, young boys to replace the older ones whose voices broke.
Haydn was immediately recommended, and after singing a few pieces for Reutter, the badly
nourished boy was taken in as a new student to...