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The Brothers Haydn

A Whiff of Murder

“Their middle brother was difficult enough to exhaust even Johann’s infinite resources of tact and patience”–A Minor Deception, Chapter Ten

What exactly do we know about Haydn’s brothers and his relationship with them? Not much, unfortunately. Certainly not enough for a writer to have a sense of their characters and to develop their personalities.

Haydn was the oldest of the three brothers. Franz Michael, five years younger, was next. And then came Johann Evangelist, all of eleven years younger than Haydn. In my conception of them, Haydn and Michael, the two older sons, have a somewhat adversarial relationship with each other; Johann acts as peacemaker, but is closer to Haydn.

It seems only natural that the eldest and youngest brothers should have been so close. After all, they were both musicians in the employ of the Esterházy family.

All three brothers had been choirboys at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Johann was the only one of the three to have retained his singing voice as an adult. He joined the Esterházy troupe of singers, but was not paid very much. He was apparently not a very good singer, although we only have Salieri’s word for this.

Haydn, an old man at the time, was deeply distressed when Johann passed away. The Esterházy Princesses were kind enough to visit him and offer their condolences. I think we can safely conclude Haydn was very close to his youngest brother. But then my imagination took over and went a little farther.

Haydn relies upon Johann for more than just his musical expertise—helping to train the opera singers, edit works for performance, conduct the orchestra. He also relies upon Johann for his innate wisdom. If Johann was indeed not a particularly good singer, that would surely spare him to take on these other tasks.

In my conception of him, it is Johann who most closely resembles their father Mathias. Haydn seems to think so, at any rate:

Johann smiled and tilted his head in a way that reminded the Kapellmeister of their father. In just this had his father regarded him when he had despaired of his future, convinced it was ruined unless he became a castrato.

This is a detail that’s come down to us from Haydn’s biographers. When Haydn, desperate at losing his voice, decided to castrate himself, Mathias rushed to Vienna, determined to stop the operation.

He arrived just in time, and it must have taken considerable wisdom on his part to persuade his adolescent son that his life wasn’t over simply because his voice had broken. He did live long enough to see his eldest son hired as Vice-Kapellmeister at the Esterházy court.

We know very little of Mathias. He played the harp by ear and enjoyed singing. He was a wheelwright and later became a Marktrichter—judge—of the market-town of Rohrau. Could Haydn’s sleuthing abilities have come from his father who, in his capacity as Marktrichter, would have had to determine the guilt of offenders?

“The apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree,” the Bürgermeister of Eisenstadt remarks in my short story “Whiff of Murder,” having seen Haydn’s sleuthing abilities at play. The story is available at: Taste of Murder

And what of Michael? Part II of this post appears tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Day of the Dark, Haydn brothers, Haydn mysteries, Michael Haydn. Johann Evangelist, Minor Deception, Whiff of Murder

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