The first period of Haydn’s life is marked by the two above dates—that of his entry into this world and that of his entry into the service of Prince Anton Esterhazy. He was born, then, in 1732, “between March 31 and April 1.” As there is no “between” possible, either the Haydn family had no clock or were averse to stating definitely that their son was born on All Fool’s Day. They need not have worried, for, however simple Haydn might be, he was only once in his whole life a fool, which is more than can be said for most men, great or small. But while he was about it, there was no lack of completeness in Haydn’s folly, and he felt the consequences of it all his days. The place of his birth was originally called Tristnik, translated into German, Rohrau, then (whatever it may be now) a sleepy old-world village on the banks of the Leitha, in the very heart of a Croatian settlement in Hungary. The Leitha at Rohrau divides Hungary from Austria. Haydn’s father, Mathias Haydn, said to have been a master-wheelwright, came from Hainburg, near to the Danube, and some little distance from Rohrau. More cannot be said of his ancestors than that for some generations they had been hard-working, honest folk of the peasant class, given to music, but by no means a family of musicians like the Bachs. His mother was born Maria Koller, and it has been suggested that the name is a variant or corruption of the Croatian Kolar, meaning a wheelwright. Perhaps she thought that, bearing such a name, she must marry Mathias, a wheelwright. The point is that this fact, if fact it be, is another indication or proof of Haydn’s Croatian descent. It seems, indeed, to be established that by blood he was pure Slav, the name being formerly spelt Hajdgn. It is just as well for our tongues that it was changed. Franz Joseph (he dropped the Franz) was the second of twelve children, the only other worth noting being Michael (in full, Johann Michael), who became a famous musician in his day, and a friend of the Mozarts in Salzburg. Maria, the mother, died in 1754, the father in 1763.
It has always seemed to me the great composers had fine luck in being born so long ago, before the towns had grown big and dirty, before the locomotive and motor-car had denied the beautiful earth, and stinking factories floundered over all the lands. Carlyle rightly grows eloquent on the value of the sweet country air and sights and sounds to young Teufelsdroeckh, and Haydn must have taken impressions of sunrises, sunsets, midday splendours, and the ever-plashing river flowing to the far-away sea, that afterwards went to the making of his most wonderful music. He had to go out early to fight his way in the world; only six years of peaceful village life, free from care and responsibility, were allowed him. Those first years, I take it, were happy enough. Mathias was only, it is true, a wheelwright, and in time there