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Haydn and the Holiday Feast

How did Haydn, a devout Catholic, mark feast days? None of his early biographers make much mention of what he did. Feast Days of the diverse saints in the Roman Catholic calendar were, of course, marked in Vienna. Processions were common and the imperial couple frequently attended the many convents that dotted the inner city to celebrate the day.

But was there any that was marked as a holiday, celebrated by all?

Now, Valentine’s Day may be a modern invention, but the Feast of St. Valentine was until recently marked on the Catholic Calendar. There’s no reason to suppose that the Feast Day was celebrated on a day other than February 14, the day we commonly know to be Valentine’s Day.

And apparently, the Roman Emperor Claudius killed two different Valentines in two separate years on February 14. Both men were sainted, and their feast day soon became conflated with the Feast of Lupercalia—a festival of fertility—which was celebrated around the same time.

Letters from as far back as the fifteenth or sixteenth century in England suggest that the Feast Day of St. Valentine was associated with love and the common folk celebrated it in a manner not very different from us. It was common, apparently, for young men to pick out the name of a woman from an urn.

Other countries, too, had courtship rituals. In Germany, red flowers—roses or tulips—might be sent to the beloved. Later in the eighteenth century, Freundeschaftskarten—handmade cards—with fancy lace borders and a red heart were often exchanged. And this tradition came to the new world.

So, how did eighteenth-century Austrians mark the day?

Apparently, not at all. Yes, the Feast Day of St. Valentine was part of the calendar. But it was celebrated not in February, but in July.  According to Janet Page’s Convent Music and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Vienna, the imperial couple—in 1703, this would have been Joseph I and his Empress Wilhelmine-Amalia, Maria Theresa’s uncle and aunt—attended St. Agnes to mark the Feast Day of St. Valentine.

The music performed was an oratorio celebrating the feats of Judith, the Hebrew woman who infiltrated the Assyrian camp and beheaded their general, Holofernes. Definitely not a celebration of love, but rather of heroism. The performance in 1704 alluded apparently to the War of Spanish Succession, suggesting no doubt the heroism of the Habsburgs and their policies in this regard.

So, were there no courtly love traditions in Vienna?

According to Rumpf Solveigh-Dorner, a librarian who’s been of great help to me with the Haydn Mysteries, the Feast of St. Anne is the closest one comes to such a thing in eighteenth-century Austria. Valentine’s Day in its modern form appears to have been introduced to the Austrians by the allied troops post World War II.

Now, the Feast of St. Anne was also celebrated at the end of July—just like the Feast Day of St. Valentine. According to Solveigh-Dorner, St. Anne’s Feast Day was an official holiday.

The name Anne was a popular one in Austria so the patron saint was naturally venerated. Girls and women named Anne received special gifts—painted fans or embroidered handkerchiefs—marked with their name. Bands of musicians as well as lovers would serenade their Annes on the eve of the Feast Day.

There were balls and from about 1776 onward even public fireworks as well as performances at the theater.

In a letter from July 27, 1782, for instance, Mozart writes:

My opera [The Abduction from the Seraglio] was given for the third time yesterday for the honor of all Nannerls and was universally applauded; as before the theatre was packed, in spite of the terrible heat. It’s supposed to be given again next Friday, but I’ve protested as I don’t want it to become hackneyed.

Nannerl is the Austrian diminutive for Anne.

Only women named Anne benefited from the festival and not one of them was expected to give her lover a gift in return. I wonder if Haydn’s wife, who had an Anna in her name, Maria Anna, expected to be celebrated and serenaded on the Feast Day of St. Anne.

I think she might have been offended if Haydn hadn’t marked the day in some way.

Feast of Love, Haydn, Maria Anna, St. Anne, St. Valentine

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