Academic journal article Alcoholism

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) Pathography on the Occasion of the 200th Anniversary of Haydn's Death

Academic journal article Alcoholism

JOSEPH HAYDN (1732-1809) Pathography on the Occasion of the 200th Anniversary of Haydn's Death

Article excerpt

Summary - In this pathography we discussed Haydn's diseases which include nasal polyps and the especially progressive atherosclerotic process in the last ten years of his life. Those diseases led towards cerebrovascular disorder, heart failure and caused his physical and mental decline. Neurosyphilis is also discussed as a possible cause of his death.

Key words: Joseph Haydn; composer; pathography; disease; atherosclerosis; neurosyphilis


Haydn's biography has not been described in details as much as other famous artists' lives. His life was quite monotonous without any spectacular events as he was one of the last composers serving aristocrats or courts. He was born on 31 March 1732 in a village called Rohrau, in the region of today's Burgenland in Austria. The Croatian minority also lives in that region so Kuhac, Croatian musicologist, supposed that Haydn had Croatian origins, but this was later rejected.

Joseph Haydn was strong but not very tall. He had an eagle shaped nose and many scars on his face, consequence of smallpox. He was clever, open-minded, bright and wise, often ironic, full of humour, witty, handy and quick in communicating with other people. He was very bright-natured, charming and very well-educated. He had his own library with an immense choice of books. He gave the impression of maturity to his contemporaries; he possessed good trading skills, behaving almost like a businessman, with clear attitudes and opinions which he did not change easily.

He shared the destiny of an »aristocratic« musician. He bore it with reality and dignity and therefore lived calmly and without financial problems. Haydn liked easy-going and attractive women. He had a relationship with a court singer Lucia Polzelli who was about thirty years younger than him. He also had an affair with Lady Marianne von Genzinger from Vienna, who was more intellectual - but this relationship lasted short until her early death. The relationship with Rebecca Schoeder, a musician's widow, was more personal. She was not very young, but educated, pretty and nice. He said about her: »I would probably marry her if I were not already married«.

During his entire life he was mainly in good health until the last decade of his life. Nevertheless, in 1770 he had a high fever and in 1782 he twisted his left leg. He had had catarrh problems for years, mostly because of his nose polyps. He had them often removed by doctors in Eisenstadt, then the Austrian Army doctor Brambille and the famous London surgeon John Hunter. Haydn often referred to his polyps in a funny way (» . . . when will I finally bury this »guy« - polyp - under the ground? ... »)12 His health problems deteriorated rapidly in the last decade of his long life. Haydn was a remarkable composer of a number of operas, symphonies and oratories. At 65 he was at the peak of his creating per- formance. He started composing an ora- tory »The Creation« and successfully completed it within two years. At the age 68 he noticed to have problems with composing another oratory, »The Sea- son« which he confirmed in his letters. In one of those letters addressed to the edi- tor Breitkopf he noted: » . . .and I regret I can only work very little because of my age and weak mental forces. People, nev- ertheless, complimented my last works but nobody could believe how much ef- fort and strength it took. There were days when my mind was completely blank - my nerves were weak and my mood was bad. I would not be able to work for days and couldn't put myself together, encour- age myself, sit at the piano and start writ- ing notes again...«3·4 In 1800 Haydn wrote again about his serious condition - he could not work for longer periods of time. It is known that this was not a sud- den disease, but a deteriorating condi- tion. He refused to participate at certain concerts to perform his own pieces, ex- plaining that he had a »rheumatic head- ache«. His biographer Dies wrote that in 1806 Haydn would make basic mistakes while playing the piano and that he used to complain: »You can hear for yourself that this cannot go any further. …

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