At the age of six, the young Sepperl, as Haydn’s parents called him, set off for Hainburg, a small town on the banks of the Danube about eight miles from Rohrau. There he was to attend the parish school where his cousin Johann Mathias Franck was headmaster.
The school day was long, starting at 7am and ending at 3pm with a two-hour break for mass and lunch at 10am.
During these hours, Sepperl along with eighty other students received instruction in reading, writing, arithmetic, as well as the Bible and the catechism. Afternoons, once classes were over, were devoted to music.
Franck was also the Choir Director of the Church of SS. Philip and James, and Haydn later recalled singing masses in the choir loft.
Although no thought of being a composer, especially one attached to a secular court, could have entered the minds of either the six-year old Haydn or his parents, his training at his cousin Franck’s school could not have been more perfectly designed for it. He was taught to sing and was instructed in almost every string and wind instrument as well as the timpani, or kettledrum.
“I shall owe it to this man even in my grave,” Haydn said to his biographer Georg August Dies, “that he set me in so many different things, although I received in the process more thrashings than food.”
To the end of his days, he would remember Franck with gratitude, keeping a portrait of the headmaster in his house and leaving Franck’s daughter and her husband one hundred gulden in his will.
It was through his cousin and headmaster at the school in Hainburg that Haydn came into contact with one of the most influential figures in the musical world of Vienna: Georg Reutter (1708-72) Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s in Vienna and later the imperial court.
Reutter on a visit to Hainburg confided in the local priest, Anton Johann Palmb, that he would soon need to replace his older choir-boys, whose voices were breaking. Palmb, thinking Haydn, then seven, would be perfect, sent for the boy at once. But the starving Sepperl was more interested in the bowl of sweet cherries before the Kapellmeister from Vienna than in his future prospects as a choir-boy at St. Stephen’s.
Nevertheless, he sang the verses Reutter put before him, and with the promise of the cherries as a reward, even learnt to execute a trill. Reutter was sufficiently impressed to recruit him on the spot, but suggested Sepperl practice his scales to develop pitch accuracy.
Unfamiliar with the Italian solfeggio system (ut, re, mi) Haydn developed his own system, using German pitch names.
A year later, Haydn left for Vienna, taking, thanks to his association with Franck, his second step on the path to Parnassus. The boy from Rohrau would now be a chorister in the most famous cathedral in the imperial capital.