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A very obvious ‘Farewell’.

January 17, 2011

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Today I cam across a funny little story from 1772 which made me smile for its opposition to the powerful and downright ‘up yours’ attitude which many would love to put in practice in their own way today.

So…..(if you are sitting comfortably?!) there was once a Prince called Nickolaus, he was such a powerful and rich prince that he demanded that music should be played for him whenever and wherever he desired it (the world would be a better place if this was commonplace for everyone but alas we are mere peasants). Thus, he called upon the most famed musician in Europe to come and live in his palace and play beautiful masterpieces whenever he, the fickle, prince wanted.

Along came Haydn, the most revered, musical genius in the land. He gladly accepted the prestigious role and lived 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the Prince’s sumptuous, summer palace at ‘Eszterhauser’ ready to make any of the Prince’s musical whims and desires come true. The Prince often asked Haydn for a number of musical pieces to be written at noon and expected them to be ready to perform later that evening. As you can see, he was a tough and unforgiving master who expected perfection and would settle for nothing less. After all, he was the greatest prince in the land who could have whatever he wanted.

However, one embarrassing day in Spring the prince went too far ….for once. Together with Haydn, he had an entire symphony orchestra housed at ‘Eszterhauser’, ready and raring to play at any given hour on any given day. Unfortunately, although, his palace was enormous -as you’d expect- with a total of 176 rooms, there just was not enough space to accommodate all of the orchestra’s loving family. Hence, and most conveniently for the Prince, said family were kept at a safe distance miles away in ‘Eisenstadt’.

The Spring of 1772, saw the Prince in an unforgiving, tiresome mood and he forbade the orchestra to take their usual Spring sojourn to visit their families. In an age that proceeded, ‘Workers unions’ and ’employee’s rights’ the orchestra had no power and no choice but to stay and play music for the increasingly tyrannical, ‘Prince Nickolaus’.

However, all was not lost, for the hero of this tale, the fearless Haydn was on their side and realised the weight that Music and Art could have in an otherwise impossible situation. Using his genius, he started to write his fourty-fifth, aptly named ‘Farewell’ symphony, ready to play at the Prince’s pleasure during the period of the orchestra’s enforced entrapment at ‘Eszterhauser’.

One evening, the Prince called to hear this new symphony that Haydn had been working on. The Prince settled himself into his throne-like chair in the resplendent ambiance of his concert hall at ‘Eszterhauser’. In the centre of the front-row, amongst his friends and social equals, he listened closely and pleasantly to the first three movements, tapping his foot solemnly along with the pulsating rhythm. At last the fourth movement, ‘Presto’ arrived, driving his foot into a mad tapping frenzy, his mind slipped off into its own world of thoughts.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, the pace changed from the anticipated ‘Presto’ to the mournful ‘Adagio’ causing the Prince’s attention to shift back to the sounds of the orchestra. A few bars into the Adagio section, outrage of all outrage!!…. one of the violinists stopped playing, snuffed out his glowing candle that had lit his music, threw his violin over his shoulder and quietly walked out of the door behind the orchestra staring transfixedly ahead, as if it was perfectly normal to do such a thing in the middle of a concert for one of the greatest Prince’s that lived. The Prince gasped audibly unable to believe what his senses had just witnessed. The obstinacy of it was unheard of, how dare he, does he not know his place, it could be perceived as nothing less than a personal insult. 

But the Prince was to be further appalled, for it was no later than eight bars when the horn player and oboist carried out the same unspeakable ritual; out went the candle, instrument cast aside, discarded and then the final flourish of a stoic march through the back door without a backward glance. Intermittently, this was repeated again and again by each member of the orchestra, until there was just two muted violins left, one being played by Haydn himself and the other by the concertmaster ‘Alosi Luigi Tomasini’.

Remarkably, as each member of the Orchestra had left the music of the final movement had continued being taken up and carried by the remaining instruments until it fell upon the last two violins. In other words, Haydn had purposefully written it that way, it was part of his musical imagination to instruct the musicians in the orchestra to leave at specific indicated moments without the point and musical direction of the piece being lost.

Finally, Haydn and Tomasini rose slowly, playing the final notes of the symphony as they turned and followed the rest of the orchestra out of the double doors behind them. We can only imagine the shocked silence that followed as stuffy courtiers hid secret smiles and knowing looks, as Prince Nickolaus’ most public of humiliations was staged before their very eyes. It was musical defiance at its best and it worked. Prince Nickolaus uttered that ‘he could take a hint’ and immediately granted that all of his musicians could return to ‘Eisenstadt’ for the usual Spring break.

It goes to show Music and Art have the potential to utterly change perception, events, people, decisions and beliefs. It is a good story to have ready in reply for any ‘academic’ sorts (mainly those of a scientific or mathematical disposition, I realise this is a sweeping genrealisation) that scoff Music and Art are not really subjects at all, Music and Art peeeuf what good have they ever done, what a useless way to pass time etc. To me they are two of the most important things humans have, they transcend language, race, culture and their beauty can be universally appreciated in a way that nothing else can.

So embrace your creativity, it makes you human and a unique human being at that and one day in a big or small way it could change the way things are. Haydn didn’t know that 238 years later (yes I did use a calculator to work that out but then again I’m not a maths sort!) his act of creative defiance would transcend time and inspire me and make me smile that he got ‘one up’ on his social superiors.

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