Discrepancies in Haydn Biographies: A Lecture Delivered in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library of Congress, May 18, 1962

Discrepancies in Haydn Biographies: A Lecture Delivered in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library of Congress, May 18, 1962

Discrepancies in Haydn Biographies: A Lecture Delivered in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library of Congress, May 18, 1962

Discrepancies in Haydn Biographies: A Lecture Delivered in the Whittall Pavilion of the Library of Congress, May 18, 1962

Excerpt

ANYONE WHO READS a Haydn biography of some scope will soon notice that the greater part of the book is not about Haydn himself. The reader will find detailed descriptions of persons and circumstances that have only a loose connection with Haydn--if indeed they have any at all! The recounting of Haydn's life is the smallest portion of these biographies--and this portion, in turn, is 75 percent anecdotal.

As a matter of fact, we do not really know very much about Haydn's life. And it is remarkable how many of the sources concerned with it--sources parts of which older biographers were able to employ--have been lost. A few examples will suffice. The Weimar collection used by Gerber at the beginning of the nineteenth century was burned in 1825. A collection belonging to the Bishops of Passau was similarly destroyed by fire some years earlier. "A Traveler" writing in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung in 1827 claimed to have seen a large number of opera scores in Eisenstadt, but today only a small quantity of such scores can still be found in the Esterházy Archives, which have since been moved to Budapest. The holdings of Lippe-Detmold, which Brahms diligently studied, have subsequently vanished from the face of the earth, and the Breitkopf Collection, of which Pohl made exhaustive use for his biography of Haydn, likewise no longer exists.

Fortunately, there has survived an autobiographical sketch, written by Haydn at Esterháza Castle on July 6, 1776. There are two extant autographs of this document. One is located in the Szechényi Library in Budapest; the other, a fair copy of the first, is in my library. There is a third copy in Budapest, but it is not in Haydn's hand. Excerpts from this sketch were inaccurately published in 1778 in the periodical Das gelehrte Österreich . It was not until 1836 that the Wiener Zeitschrift für Literatur und Mode published it in its entirety, but this publication was based on a vanished copy . . .

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