Voices from the 18th Century: Joseph Haydn’s contract with Prince Paul Anton Esterházy



Franz Joseph Haydn entered the service of Prince Paul Anton Esterházy in 1761. The contract, dated May 1st, stipulated in detail what his responsibilities were to be as Vice-Capellmeister. At the time, Gregor Joseph Werner was Capellmeister, but the expectations written into the contract placed a heavy burden on Haydn, nonetheless. Werner was in charge of music for the church, while Haydn was in control of the court and chamber music.

The fourteen points in Haydn’s contract are telling of an all-consuming job. And while he ultimately flourished in the position, eventually being appointed Cappellmeister on Werner’s death, the contract makes for a fascinating read, especially points two through four.

“2. The said Joseph [Haydn] shall be considered and treated as a member of the household. Therefore his Serene Highness is graciously pleased to place confidence in his conducting himself as becomes an honorable official of a princely house. He must be temperate, not showing himself overbearing toward his musicians, but mild and lenient, straightforward and composed.

It is especially to be observed that when the orchestra shall be summoned to perform before company, the Vice-Capellmeister and all the musicians shall appear in uniform, and the said Joseph [Haydn] shall take care that he and all the members of his orchestra follow the instructions given, and appear in white stockings, white linen, powdered, and with either queue or a tiewig.

3. Whereas the other musicians are referred for directions to the said Vice-Capellmeister, he shall therefore take the more care to conduct himself in an exemplary manner, abstaining from undue familiarity and from vulgarity in eating, drinking, and conversation, not dispensing with the respect due to him, but acting uprightly and influencing his subordinates to preserve such harmony as is becoming in them, remembering how displeasing the consequences of any discord or dispute would be to his Serene Highness.

4. The said Vice-Capellmeister shall be under obligation to compose such music as his Serene Highness may command, and neither to communicate such compositions to any other person, nor to allow them to be copied, but he shall retain them for the absolute use of his Highness, and not compose for any other person without the knowledge and permission of his Highness.” (Translation: Karl Geiringer)

It’s worth remembering that Haydn was a servant at Esterháza. In points two and three he is told exactly how to behave himself, what to wear, etc. He is also reminded that he is a role model to his musicians (also servants). In point four, Haydn gives away all rights to his compositions, making them Esterházy property.

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  • Hello, Mr. Gordillo!
    Sorry for my poor english…
    I’m a 31 years old History teacher in Southern Brazil (city of Curitiba) and I’m Post-Gratuating in Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná. At the end of the post-graduation, I’ll be Especialist (ergo, latu sensu) in History of the Art.
    And I’m, making a work about Haydn, and became curious about this contract with the prince. Various authors that I have (oh God, how do I say “read” in Past Tense.. forgot that, will search in Google after…) consulted had related to the contract´s importance: as you said, a voice from that time.
    And I didn’d found it, until I found your post. Thank you, really helped me. I’ll put the correct reference to your site in my work!! By the way, would you, perhaps, tell me from where you knew about the contract, so I could read that to? Like, the “fountain”? That would be great!!

    My e-mail: professorleonardo@yahoo.com.br

    Thanks again!

    Best Regards (this I learned from Google!!!)


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