Johann Michael Haydn - A short Biography

  Michael Haydn was born on September the 14th 1737 in Rohrau, Lower Austria on the domains of the Counts Harrach. As one of twelve children born to wheelwright (and later Bürgermeister) Mathias Haydn and his wife Anna Maria, née Koller, who had been a cook at the Harrack Castle. Most of their children died in infancy. The oldest surviving, Franz Josef was born on March 31st 1732.1  Michael, called Hanssmichl by his father, received his first musical training in Rohrau, and in nearby Hainburg, where he was a choirboy.10

In 1745 he followed in brother Josephs footsteps and became a chorister in St.Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna. The choir was led by Kapellmeister Georg von Reutter, with whom both of the boys had quite some trouble and often found themselves punished by. On a visit in Vienna late in his life, Michael passed the Choir school in company with some good friends and said: "I that dear house for many a year I collected a trashing every week". On his first appearance before Empress Maria Theresia, she was so moved by his beautiful voice, that she presented him with 24 ducats. He sent half of the money back to his father, who had just lost one of his animals. The other half he gave Reutter for safekeeping and never saw them again.1

At St.Stephens he received rudimentary instruction in theory and practice of music. He studied violin and organ with Reutter. And equally important, he had the opportunity to hear and perform music of the leading composers of that time.2 He became skilled enough in playing the organ to act as deputy organist of St.Stephen's.3 He was a chorister until around 1752, but didn't leave St.Stephen's until sometime around 1757. He attended the Jesuit Seminary, studying history, geography and the classics and was well educated. In 1753-4 one of his fellow students was Johann Georg Albrechtsberger. He taught himself composition from Fux's 'Gradus ad Parnassum'3 and soon showed unusual promise. His first known work came in 1754. The brilliant Missa in honorem Sanctissimae Trinitatis, which by far outshines brother Josef's first works of the genre.

In 1759 the famous Benedictine Monastery of Göttweig, accuired a Mass in C major from Michael. None of Joseph's appear before 1762.11 Also in 1759, Michael had undertaken a pilgrimage walk to Mariazell and composed an Ave Regina for the Benedictine priory there.1

In 1760 he was appointed Kapellmeister to the Bishop of Grosswardein, Count Adam Patáchich. Grosswardein, then Southern Hungary, today Oradea in Northwestern Rumania. Here he apparently had to rely on supplemental earnings from his works to make a living, and he left in April 1762.2 At some point during the next year he appeared in Salzburg, where he was to remain until his death.

On August 14, 1763 he was appointed concertmaster and court composer to the archiepiscopal establishment, under Prince-Archbishop Siegmund, Count von Schrattenbach. He quickly rose to a position of prominence in the Salzburg Kapelle, surpassing by far the abilities of his older colleagues.

On August 17th 1768 he married Maria Magdalena Lipp, daughter of the second organist of the Cathedral. Maria Magdalena was a singer at the Salzburg Court, known to have taken part in Mozart's early operas. They had a daughter, Aloisia Josefa in january 1770, but she died only a few days before her first birthday.

Michaels relationship with the young Mozart (Wolfgang Amadeus), seems to have been very fine. Although Mozart occationally made some rude remarks about Michael in his letters, he was very impressed with Michael's music. There is little evidence of a teacher/pupil relationship, but Mozart often studied Michaels works and on several occations found direct inspiration in them. They coorporated on a work and on a couple of occations helped supplying works for each other. They maintained contact, even when Mozart left for Vienna.

The relationship with Mozart senior (Leopold), was a little more tricky. Michael was a highly qualified competitor to the posts in Salzburgs music life. Leopold was generally both positive and supportive towards Michael, but from time to time, and when Wolfgang was in need for a position, Leopold could become equally negative and withdraw his support. This is not so surprising. Family comes first and Leopold always worked hard on behalf of his beloved children.5

In 1781 he overtook the post of organist of the Cathedral in Salzburg, when young Mozart permanantly left for Vienna. At this point he already held the same post in the churches of the Holy Trinity and of St.Peter. These posts he took over from Anton Adlgasser in 1777. He was also teaching at the chapel boy's college. in 1787 he became violin instructor for the court (succeeding Leopold Mozart on his death).

The most famous of Michaels pupils was probably Carl Maria von Weber (1786 - 1826) whom he taught counterpoint around 1798. Another was Anton Diabelli (1781 - 1858), who wrote a 'Trauermarsch' when Michael Died. Other pupils were Sigismund Neukomm (1778 - 1858), Ignaz Assmayr (1790 - 1862) and Joseph Woelfl (1772 - 1812).

In December 1800 Salzburg was taken by the French and Michael had some of his property seized, including a months salary. To help him, Joseph sent him money and a gold watch. And Empress Maria Theresia commissioned a mass and later a Requiem. Around this time, he visits Joseph in Eisenstadt, where he was offered the position as second Kapellmeister. This he refused however, hoping that conditions would improve in Salzburg. They did, but not nearly as he had expected and in a letter to his brother dated February 1804, Michael clearly regrets having turned down the Prince's 'generous offer'. He was also offered a position in Florence, to run the music for the Grand Duke of Tuscany.11

His reputation as a composer grew far beyond the confines of Salzburg and Austria and in 1804 he became a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music.

Michael died on August 10th 1806 in Sanktpetrischen Haus in Festungsgasse, Salzburg. He was buried at St.Peter's Churchyard (Petersfriedhof), where a monument today can be seen. This place of honour is maintained by members of the St.Peter's community.

Michael maintained a lifelong friendship with the Benedictine brothers of the Abbey of St.Peter in Salzburg. A relationship that still today remains one of the monastery's proudest distinctions. He lived in one of the abbey houses.

The following description of Michael was given by one of the monks of St.Peter, Gabriel Hutter. 'His character was quiet, discreet modesty. Drink and gambling were far removed from him, moderation in thinking, speaking, even in judging other musical works, were what made him beloved and valued'.


©2003-9 : - The Danish Michael Haydn Project. Last updated : 5/12-2009.