Johann Straus II - Vergnügungszug (Pleasure Train), op. 281

Johann Strauss II , known for his waltzes and lively compositions, had a unique approach to his creative process. He consistently sought contemporary and relevant themes to serve as the driving force behind his new musical compositions. This approach ensured that his work remained fresh and connected with the audiences of his time.  One notable instance of this creative approach was the composition of this polka, composed in 1864. This piece of music was specifically crafted for a summer concert held in the picturesque Russian town of Pavlovsk. It's fascinating to note that Strauss drew inspiration for this composition from the world around him. In this case, he found it in the emerging technology of the time, namely, the steam locomotive. The composition itself is a testament to Strauss's ability to capture the essence and energy of the subject matter. The rhythm of this dance piece mirrors the rhythmic chugging and movements of the old-fashioned steam trains that were prevale

Joseph Haydn - a self-made genius

Despite all the desolation and poverty that marked his childhood, Haydn struggled and became the greatest and most productive composer of his generation.

Franz Joseph Haydn or "Little Joseph", as he was known, was born on March 31, 1732 in the small Austrian village of Rohrau, near the border with Hungary. 

The future of little Josepf appeared uncertain. His father, Mathias, a poor wheelwright unable to afford to educate his son, watched with sadness his obvious musical talent go to waste.

Fortunately, a relative of theirs, Johann Matthias Frankh, the schoolmaster and choirmaster in Hainburg, offered to take over little Joseph, and in 1738 the six-year-old boy abandoned his family for good. He was taught the principles of music and learned to sing in the choir. 

This good fortune, of course, he paid for with the misery of his childhood which was marked with "more beating than eating", as he later remembered.

A happy getaway

Haydn's misery came to an end when in 1739 he was brought to the attention of Georg von Reutter, the director of music in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, who happened to be visiting Hainburg and was looking for new choirboys.

His parents accepted with great relief his proposal to take over the child, since this would ensure a secure future for their gifted son. Indeed, the boy was assured for the next ten years, that is, as long as he maintained his wonderful child soprano voice.

View of Haydn's house where he was born,
in the so far-out village of Rohraou,
inAustro-Hungarian border.
But when he was seventeen years old, his voice grew, the music director, with the excuse that he was punishing him for some prank, expelled him from the choir school.

Haydn found himself on the street with three tattered shirts, an old coat and an uncertain future. He begged for a corner in the dark attic of an equally poor musician and lived by delivering poorly paid lessons and playing the organ at Sunday masses.

Apprenticeship in composition

Although Haydn wanted to compose, he had not been taught musical theory in the difficult years of his apprenticeship at the choir school, so he began to study on his own. He had no guidance until he met the Italian composer Nicola Porpora, who offered to correct his compositional attempts.

After hard work, Haydn managed to secure the necessary acquaintances and began to give lessons to various aristocratic families for which he wrote the first of his 83 string quartets.

Career start

Haydn's job title under Count Morzin was Kapellmeister, that is, music director. He led the count's small 16-member orchestra in Unterlukawitz and wrote his first symphonies for this ensemble (he composed his first symphony in 1759, at the age of 26). He then caught the attention of Esterházy family, Austria's richest music-loving aristocrats.

View of Haydn's house
in Eisenstadt.
The head of the family, Prince Paul Anton, hired young Haydn as an assistant to Gregor Joseph Werner music director on May 1, 1761, at the family's mansion in Eisenstadt, 30 miles outside Vienna.

His duties included conducting the orchestra, teaching the choir, composing music when needed, as well as maintaining the instruments and the music library. 

The enthusiasm and energy with which Haydn faced this enormous work, gave him in 1766 when Werner died, the position of music director, which he maintained for the next 30 years.

Disastrous marriage

Unfortunately, the successful musical career did not end with personal happiness. In 1756 Haydn fell in love with Therese Keller but she preferred to become a nun. Her father convinced him to marry her older sister, Anna Maria. The unlucky marriage took place in 1760, when the composer was 28 years old and she was 31.

Prince Nikolaus Esterházy,
Haydn's most important patron.
Anna Maria was ugly, crusty and fanatically religious. She spent her days entertaining the clergy at the expense of her family obligations. Moreover, her appreciation for music was such that she used Haydn's manuscripts to curl her hair and rap the sweets with them.

Although Haydn was not handsome - he had a hooked nose and a blogged face - he possessed a special sense of humor and was not repulsive to women. He found solace in various women and devoted himself to his work, sometimes producing up to five symphonies in a year. 

He was a methodical worker and his vast musical output surcharges even that of Mozart's, whom he met on a visit to Vienna in 1782.

The bygone child prodigy was then a twenty-year-old young man, 24 years younger than Haydn. But the admiration, personal and musical, was mutual and united them with a friendship that lasted until Mozart's death in 1791.

Invitation to England

Haydn's fame began to spread throughout Europe. He was invited to visit the court of the King of Naples, while at the same time was invited to England to compose and direct six symphonies and 20 smaller works. 

Haydn, calculating, as always, his financial security, accepted this offer.

Haydn traveling to theEngland.
He visited the country twice and
was loved from the music lovers.

It was the first time he had travelled outside of Austria and his enthusiasm was great when he arrived in England on New Year's Day 1791. He spent eighteen glorious months there, receiving special honours at every concerto and distinctions from famous universities, such as that of Oxford.

While traveling Haydn had met the young Ludwig van Beethoven in his native city of Bonn. On Haydn's return, Beethoven came to Vienna and was Haydn's pupil up until the second London journey, which was decisive for Beethoven's later development. 

The last years

Towards the end of his life, Haydn retired to the serene surroundings of his home in Vienna until Napoleon's troops advanced into the city in 1809. Such was his reputation that the French general put an honorary guard in his house to protect him. 

Haydn died peacefully in his own home on May 31 at the age of 77.

Because of the war, he was buried the next day in the local cemetery, in a ceremony much simpler than his patrons would have wished.