Franz Michael Haydn, like his older brother, also became a composer, but was better known for his church compositions rather than his secular works. Now, there’s nothing to suggest that the two didn’t get on well. Michael, for much of his life, remained in Salzburg, employed by the same Archbishop who was employer to Leopold Mozart, father of the more famous Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
There would not have been much occasion for the two brothers to meet: one in Salzburg, the other in a small town in Royal Hungary. They must have written to each other, but very little of Haydn’s correspondence appears to have survived. But we do know that later in life, Haydn tried to get Michael a position at the Esterházy court, urged him, in fact, to take it, but Michael eventually decided not to.
What else do we know about Michael? He apparently drank too much, but had a good relationship with his wife. And he took great exception to Haydn joking about having been born on April Fool’s Day and, therefore, being something of a fool. So, Michael must have been quite fond of Haydn.
But as I mentioned in a previous post, Haydn’s Women, it’s just more fun to write unpleasant characters. And Michael—pompous, belligerent, with the temperament of a crab—made for a better story character than a more affable man might have been.
But was this sense of ill-feeling and latent rivalry between the two brothers entirely made up? Let’s take a look at some other facts that make their relationship, as described in A Minor Deception, a little more plausible.
Haydn was the star singer at St. Stephen’s until his younger brother Michael came along. Even the Empress remarked upon Michael’s sweet singing voice, suggesting that Joseph’s solos be given to Michael instead.
Later, while Haydn was still toiling to make ends meet, desperately hoping for a good position as a musician at one of the secular courts, he was eclipsed again. Michael at the very young age of twenty was able to find a well-paying position with the Bishop of Grosswardein.
Karl Geiringer, another of Haydn’s biographers, speculates that these events may have led to some jealousy and envy on his part. It would have been only natural to have felt some resentment, I’m sure. But perhaps, it spurred Haydn into working even harder to reverse their fortunes.
“The wheel is turning; he who is down must go up,” croaks the old crone in “The Baker’s Boy.” And the wheel did turn. Within their own lifetime, Haydn’s achievements far outshone his brother’s. Did Michael, perhaps, feel a bit resentful about this? Maybe.
At any event, this idea of Haydn feeling eclipsed fuels his involvement in proving the baker’s boy innocent in the eponymous story. Twenty-three other exquisite mysteries are included in this anthology edited by the inimitable Kaye George, an award-winning short story writer and a novelist whose books have earned Agatha and Silver Falchion nominations.
It comes out this July, and I hope I’ve enticed you sufficiently to take a closer look at it.