Haydn often attributed his musical genius and originality to his enforced isolation from Vienna, the musical capital of the world. “I was set apart from the world,” he explained, “there was no one in the vicinity to confuse and annoy me in my course, and so I had to be original.”
In the thirty years that he worked for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn was largely confined to the backwaters of Eisenstadt and Eszterháza. Still, he must have missed the vibrant city where he spent most of his boyhood and youth. Eisenstadt was so remote, it was not even on the postal route.
Mail was delivered to the Esterházy postal station in Groβhöflein, three miles from Eisenstadt and then conveyed by the Prince’s coach to the palace. Letters were a long time in the coming, but must have been eagerly anticipated.
So, when I wrote A Minor Deception, I couldn’t resist sending Haydn’s friend and Konzertmeister, Luigi Tomasini, to Vienna for a short stint in the imperial court at the request of the Empress’s son and co-regent, the Archduke Joseph. The Archduke had by this time in 1766 succeeded his father as Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II, but he wouldn’t properly be king of the Austrian and Hungarian lands the Habsburgs controlled until his mother’s death.
Only the most avid music scholars are likely to know who Tomasini was. But in his own day, he was known as a virtuoso violinist and was a gifted composer in his own right. He had started life as a servant, musical valets who could accompany their employers on an instrument being a much sought-after commodity.
If Tomasini ever had to leave the Esterházy orchestra for a brief visit to Vienna, Haydn would undoubtedly have missed his immensely talented violinist. But at the same time, he would have looked forward to Tomasini’s accounts of current musical trends and tastes in the capital he was so far from.
“Mio Caro Giuseppe,” I can imagine Luigi writing as he begins to recount for Haydn all the musical happenings at the imperial court. (Haydn used the Italian form of his name on his music.) Now, Haydn is too caught up in the events in Eisenstadt—the disappearance of the violinist who temporarily takes over from Luigi; the Empress’s visit to Eisenstadt; and the theft of all the music composed for her—to read his correspondence during the course of the novel.
So, I thought I’d let you look over his shoulder as he reads it now.
“You must know,” Luigi reports, “that two nights ago the Archduke Joseph organized an evening of music for a small company of his friends.”
Unlike his mother, Joseph II was no fan of Haydn’s work. Somewhat old-fashioned in his tastes, he preferred the old contrapuntal styles, and he was especially fond of fugues. So much so, that the court composer Florian Leopold Gassman frequently incorporated them in his string quartets as did another composer the Archduke favored—Luigi Boccherini.
Not surprisingly, then, Joseph’s soirée included a work by Boccherini, a string quartet. “The piece so remarkably like your own recently published divertimento in B-flat,” Luigi writes, “it has earned the poor man the nickname of ‘Haydn’s wife.’
“Why, no sooner had we finished playing the piece than I heard one of the guests express his astonishment at the similarity in the works. Thereupon, his companion leaned over and whispered: ‘Small wonder! Where Haydn goes, our Boccherini, like a faithful wife, never fails to follow.’
“The Archduke must have overheard the remark, for he puffed out his chest, and said: ‘At least Boccherini understands counterpoint.’ For the second movement was a fugue—a mere repetition of melodic phrases as is usual with him rather than a true development of the theme. So for all the Archduke’s defense of him, I doubt Boccherini will ever live down his new nickname. It is all anyone can do not to address him as Frau Haydn to his face!”
Now, I’ve made up the story of how Boccherini came by his nickname, but that he was referred to as Haydn’s wife, and for the very reason I’ve cited, is quite true.