History’s most gifted artists and composers often have biographies of brooding and self-destructive excess. Then there is Franz Joseph Haydn, 1721-1809, the Austrian composer who was incredibly happy. That’s not to say his life was easy. Haydn was born into a family of peasants. He frequently knew hunger and desperation. Two different times fires swept through his property obliterating stacks of handwritten musical scores—the only copies of his work.
Through it all, Haydn was joyful. Haydn made some of the greatest music the world has ever known. Most people can name at least one of ‘the big three’ classical composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. But among music critics, Haydn is known as the father of the symphony, string quartet and piano sonata.
Haydn wrote 106 symphonies (by comparison, Beethoven wrote just 9); more than 80 string quartets; 20 operas; 62 piano sonatas; and Catholic masses, cantatas, and other vocal numbers too numerous to count. Many potential masterpieces never saw the light of day. Haydn’s wife occasionally took original compositions from his desk and used the paper to curl her hair, or to line the bottom of pie pans.
Haydn acknowledged the source of his gifts as he wrote “to God be the glory alone” at the bottom of most of his compositions. The peasant boy ultimately made a great deal of money, but he gave most of it away. He knew God’s gifts had come to him because they were on their way to someone else.
His greatest acts of generosity were more subtle. Haydn recognized he could either use his brilliance to enhance his own name, or he could make an investment in the next generation. He chose to become a mentor to the two of the big three.
Haydn was Mozart’s closest friend and lavished encouragement on the young prodigy when others were eaten alive with envy. Haydn was also approached by the young Beethoven with whom Haydn shared his time and affirmation. Beethoven dedicated three of his works to the old master and wept openly during Haydn’s final public appearance.
While we seek prosperity and happiness, God’s grace and gift’s come to us because they are supposed to be on their way to someone else. What blessings from God can you invest in the people around you?
-Rev Dr William Lewis