Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Michael Haydn Symphonies

Michael Haydn
Michael Haydn (1737-1806)

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post marked the 283rd birthday of the composer, organist, and violinist Michael Haydn, a musician of outstanding talent whose reputation has, sadly and unfairly, been obscured by that of his older brother, Joseph Haydn.

Michael Haydn was five years younger than Joseph, having been born in the Austrian village of Rohrau on September 14, 1737. He died in Salzburg on August 10, 1806, predeceasing his older brother by some three years. 

At the age of eight, Michael followed his brother to Vienna to become – as had Joseph – a student and choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Of the two, Michael was considered the superior student and singer. Like Joseph, Michael harbored the ambition to be a composer, an ambition he was able to freely indulge when he took up the position – in 1743, at the age 26 – of concertmaster in Salzburg, a job he held for the remaining 43 years of his life. Among the people responsible for actually hiring Michael Haydn (which occurred the previous year, in 1762) was Salzburg’s new court Kapellmeister, one Leopold Mozart, who in 1762 was preparing to take his preternaturally talented children – Wolfgang, 6 and Nannerl, 11 – on the first (and most famous) of their international concert tours.

Michael Haydn wrote a lot of music there in Salzburg. And while he is remembered today mostly for his sacred music, he wrote scads of secular works as well, including, according to modern scholarship, 41 symphonies. Over the years, many of Michael Haydn’s works were misidentified as having been composed by Wolfgang Mozart, no small testament to their quality. 

The most famous of these misidentified works is Mozart’s so-called Symphony No. 37 in G Major, K. 444. It’s a story I know I’ve told before, but I don’t care; I’ve gotten to that age where I know I’ll be forgiven for repeating myself! ……

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