The other day, while I was looking at some documents for another essay, I was reminded that nearly all of the letters I have to or from Haydn, those which concern anything but business, are addressed to women! This year alone, there are four women, all of them major players at this stage of Haydn's life.
[Biographische Nachrichten von Joseph Haydn –
A.C. Dies – Visit 23, 18 June, 1806]
Because I found Haydn in such a good humor for speaking of women, I threw out in jest some searching questions. He frankly admitted that he had welcomed the sight of pretty women, but he could not understand how it came about that he was loved in his life by so many a pretty woman. "My good looks," he added, "cannot have led them into it".
Unsurprisingly, there are actually more than four ladies on Haydn's agenda in his second year in London, but let's have a look at these, for now.
Even though she is scarcely ever mentioned except in the most derogatory way, perhaps unjustified at that, no survey of the current state of Haydn's love life can begin without a look, however brief, at Anna, waiting at home, perhaps less than eagerly, for the return of her man from London. In this time period, we have no surviving letters, but instead there are just a few mentions, especially in speaking with La Polzelli.
[To LUIGIA POLZELLI, VIENNA. Italian} "Tu" form]
London, 4th August 1791.
I hope that you will have received my last letter through Count Fries and also the hundred florins [Gulden] which I transferred to you. I would like to do more, but at present I cannot. As far as your husband is concerned, I tell you that Providence has done well to liberate you from this heavy yoke, and for him, too, it is better to be in another world than to remain useless in this one. The poor man has suffered enough. Dear Polzelli, perhaps, perhaps the time will come, which we both so often dreamt of, when four eyes shall be closed. Two are closed, but the other two… enough of all this, it shall be as God wills.
[14 January, 1792 Postscript of a letter to Luigia Polzelli]
Dear Polzelli, Signor Hauder, who is Prince Esterhazy's Master of the Horse, and a rascal, wrote to me that you had sold his harpsichord. I cannot recall that you ever had any other harpsichord than mine. See how they torment me on your account ! My wife, that infernal beast, wrote me so many things that I was forced to answer her that I would never go home the rest of my life; and from that moment she was much more sensible. Take good care of this letter.
We know Haydn and Anna corresponded, since, as here, he mentions it in letters to others, but we aren't blessed with the original documents which might give us more insight into their actual relationship than what we get from letters to his mistress. I must say, those are quite dire! Modern biographers seem to take all this at face value and say that the Catholic ban on divorce is what kept them together. Which may actually be true, but just as one often sees in Mozart's letters to his father, where his ulterior motives make him write things with a strong slant towards fantasy, so it could well be that Haydn's mentions of Anna in letters to Polzelli could well have their own bias.
Maria Anna Theresia Keller (1730 – 1800), NOT Maria Anna Aloysia Apollonia Keller (1729 – 1730) as was falsely reported by Pohl and accepted by others for a century at least, very likely doesn't deserve the scorn heaped upon her. Small hints of discontent on Haydn's part have been expanded to the point where she must have a '666' branded on her forehead! It is difficult to not see an analog to history's treatment of Constanze Mozart, yet another 'undeserving' wife of a genius. Well, from Haydn's own writing, and there is little else to go by, all that can be said about her are she was no fan of music, didn't understand it or care for it, and her worst fault was giving more money to the Church than they could afford to give. I would be very interested in reading a factual, unbiased view of her life, but the lack of evidence will likely never allow one to come into being. So she will probably go on forever bearing the weight of being the 'infernal beast'!
Luigia Polzelli (1760 – 1830). We have already seen a fair amount about Polzelli. She filled a need Haydn had for amenable female company at a time in his life when he surely needed the diversion from both the Prince's business and his own. Haydn didn't take her to London with him, it would have been impossible with all the things going on when he left Vienna, but he did keep in regular contact with her for a few years longer. She left Vienna for Italy within months of his departure, taking a singing job in Piacenza. As we shall see, he did take in her elder son, Pietro, to live with him, to teach him music and generally educate him. Her second son, Antonio, born in 1783, has always been considered to be Haydn's natural son, although he never admitted it in writing. Eventually, Antonio, too, returned to Vienna and became a violinist in the Esterházy orchestra. We shall one day hear more of Luigia, although, other than a few letters, we shall never meet her in person, as there is no record of them ever meeting again face to face. Given what I feel I have learned about Haydn over the years, I can't be cynical enough to doubt his sincerity in this (almost) farewell letter of 1792;
[To LUIGIA POLZELLI, PIACENZA. Italian, "Tu" form]
London, 14th January 1792.
My dearest Polzelli !
[snip] I am quite well, but am almost always in an "English humour", that is, depressed, and perhaps I shall never again regain the good humour that I used to have when I was with you. Oh! my dear Polzelli: you are always in my heart, and I shall never, never forget you. I shall do my very best to see you, if not this year, then certainly the next, along with your son. I hope that you won't forget me, and that you will write me if you get married again, for I would like to know the name of him who is fortunate enough to have you. [snip]
Marianne Genzinger (1754 – 1793). Haydn had a knack for meeting the right persons at the perfect time in his life. His fortune in this regard has been amply demonstrated since his cousin took him to Hainburg in 1737! In 1789, on the verge of the momentous changes about to occur in Haydn's life, he met Marianne. Speculation on the nature of their relationship has gone on for nearly two centuries; were they or weren't they? Of course, I don't know either, so no revelations forthcoming, but beyond that, I don't think it necessary to know or expect that it matters. The real value of their relationship to Haydn was more inspirational than physical. With Marianne, he was offered a view of a slice of life which he previously had no access to, the loving, upper middle-class family in the city. Marianne was not particularly well-educated, since women weren't at the time, but she was intelligent, perceptive and talented and loved music, especially Haydn's.
Their relationship, and the communication lines it established, also offer something for us. What we have seen in the last two years of Haydn's personal history would be nothing but a large blank sheet if it hadn't been for Genzinger. Needless to say, I love her too! The letters we looked at in early 1790 contain some overt moments of longing on Haydn's part, but it is interesting afterwards, how any hint of anything but a nearly brother/sister relationship is ever put on paper. The many letters from London are nearly all quite businesslike, with never an opening left for prying eyes to misinterpret an injudicious phrase. So what does this all add up to? Are the tongue-waggers and speculators of the last two centuries correct about a sub rosa relationship? My own guess is that Haydn did indeed love Marianne, but he was also well-enough aware of social norms to know what sorts of opprobrium would attach to discovery. And as for Marianne, she was too old to be a groupie, but certainly not too old to be a best friend where one was needed, to a famous and talented man who was already one of her favorite composers.
Rebecca Schroeter (1751 - 1826), though, had no such reservations about a fall from social grace. Been there, done that.
[NOTE to HAYDN – MRS. REBECCA SCHROETER – in English]
Mrs. Schroeter presents her compliments to Mr. Haydn, and informs him, she is just returned to town, and will be very happy to see him whenever it is convenient for him to give her a lesson.
James St. - Buckingham Gate, Weds. June 29th, 1791
Rebecca had an interesting past, one which perhaps preordained her choices when it came to Haydn. She was born to a wealthy Scottish family living in London. Her father died when she was just twenty years old, and left her the not inconsiderable sum of £15,000, contingent upon her making a suitable marriage, said suitability to be judged by the executors of his will. Rebecca seems to have been a thoroughly modern young lady though, which consisted, in the time, of the realization that marrying was her choice and not her dead father's nor his living representatives.
In or around 1775, her family engaged the composer and pianist Johann Samuel Schroeter to be Rebecca's music teacher. As you would expect with people in their mid-20's, Johann and Rebecca soon fell in love, and sought to be married. You can imagine how, in that time, Class entered in the door, posthaste! Wealthy heiress seeks to marry low-life musician! The horror! The family offered £500 to Schroeter to go elsewhere, and threatened to deprive Rebecca of her inheritance (don't know if they managed it or not), but in the event, none of it worked and they got married, happily so, as far as anyone knows.
The biography in The New Grove for Johann Samuel Schroeter is clearly confused, speaking of his marriage to Rebecca and his 'elopement with a wealthy Scottish student' as though they were of two different people, but one thing which is generally agreed upon; he was a great keyboardist, he was the Queen's Own keyboardist for several years, and he wrote a fair amount of very good keyboard music, concertos, sonatas, and even this collection of Scottish Songs. As we will see very soon, Haydn, himself, was in the process of orchestrating a set of 100 Scottish Songs for William Napier, his first of many in this genre. Not to be presumptuous without evidence, but one wonders if Rebecca perhaps exerted any influence on his decision to go ahead with this project.
In any case, the marriage apparently produced no children. Schroeter continued his musical career but fell into poor health. He died either 1st or 2nd November 1788. Mrs. Schroeter continued to live in comfort at No. 6 James Street, Buckingham Gate, where she and her husband had moved in 1786. And three years later, Haydn entered her life!
We don't know precisely when Haydn availed himself of the invitation above. He spent most of that summer and autumn traveling the countryside, although he also spent a good deal of time in London, writing music, meeting people, and especially giving lessons to the children of wealthy locals for a guinea apiece.
Our knowledge of their relationship comes exclusively from one source: Haydn's Second London Notebook. Here, he copied down twenty-two of her letters to him. It has been surmised that this is because she asked him to return the originals after he had read them, although reasons why this should be so are not put forward. His letters to her, if indeed he wrote any, are nonexistent. Interestingly, he even wrote down a little legend for himself to help him with her abbreviations, thus:
Second London Notebook:
Abbreviations: "F." = Faithful; "M.D." = My Dear; "D." = Dear; "D"" = Dearest; "M.Dst" = My Dearest; "H" and "Hn" = Haydn; "D.H." = Dear Haydn; &c.
There is a considerable gap between the introductory note quoted above, and this first in the series, from 1792:
Wednesday Feb: 8th '793.[recte: '792]
M :D : Inclos'd I have sent you the words of the Song you desired. I wish much to know, HOW YOU DO today, I am very sorry to lose the pleasure of seeing you this morning, but I hope you will have time to come tomorrow. I beg my D : you will take great care of your health, and do not fatigue yourself with to[o] much application to business. My thoughts and best wishes are always with you, and I ever am with the utmost Sincerity M:D your F: et[c].
If I was one to venture any sort of opinion, I would say first, that it seems to me as though there must have been some contact between them during that communications black hole, wouldn't you agree? Perhaps this next in the series will convince you:
March 7th '792.
My D : I was extremely sorry to part with you so suddenly last Night, our conversation was particularly interesting and I had [a] thousand affectionate things to say to you, my heart WAS and is full of TENDERNESS for you, but no language can express HALF the LOVE and AFFECTION I feel for you, you are DEARER to me EVERY DAY of my life. I am very sorry I was so dull and stupid yesterday, indeed my DEAREST it was nothing but my being indisposed with a cold [which] occasion'd my Stupidity. I thank you a thousand times for your concern for me, I am truly sensible of your goodness, and I assure you my D. if anything had happened to trouble me, I would have opened my heart, & told you with the most perfect confidence. Oh, how earnes[t]ly [I] wish to see you, I hope you will come to me tomorrow. I shall be happy to see you both in the Morning and the Evening. God Bless you my love, my thoughts and best wishes ever accompany you, and I always am with the most sincere and invariable Regard my D : your truly affectio[nate]
My Dearest I cannot be happy till I see you, if you know, do tell me when you will come.
The many protestations that 'we don't know…' which accompany descriptions of the Haydn/Schroeter relationship, so similar to those about Marianne Genzinger, simply don't hold water in this case, once one reads this entire series of notes. I understand the video no longer exists, and that seems to be the last remaining convincer these days, but there is a certain tone adopted between lovers, and these letters have it! In addition, Rebecca's 'damn the torpedoes' attitude during her developing relationship with Schroeter would surely tell us enough about her personality to be able to venture the idea that she would act as the spirit moved her in this case.
The most likely reason for all the short notes will be due to proximity. Cartainly, neither of them had mastered the text message yet, but Rebecca could easily hand a little note to a servant girl and tell her to run it over to Haydn. The actual distance we would see on the map at top is .8 miles, only slightly over a kilometer. Easy walking distance for Haydn. When Haydn returns to London in early 1794, we don't have these communications any longer, although his new address at Bury/St. James is actually an iota more distant. No reason to doubt the affaire continued though, right up to the end of his sojourn there. We will also see how she helped do some business for him, long after he had returned to Vienna for good.
Dies found the letters from Schroeter in Notebook #2, and asked Haydn what they were all about. His reply is actually the preamble to the same interview with which this essay began:
[Biographische Nachrichten von Joseph Haydn –
A.C. Dies – Visit 23, 18 June, 1806]
I opened up [one of the London notebooks] and found a couple of dozen letters in the English language. Haydn smiled and said: "Letters from an English widow in London, who loved me; but she was, though already 60 years old, still a beautiful and charming woman and I would have married her very easily if I had been free at the time."
Dies, as so often, got it a bit wrong; it was Haydn who was 60, Schroeter was 40. And Haydn, for his part, was a bit reticent. I have no doubt he was very much in love with Rebecca, too. One can far more easily visualize their union than one can see him with Polzelli. Or even with Anna, the Infernal Beast, who (we are told) never appreciated his music and talent. In any case, it is nice to know that as much as the cards were stacked against him in London, he had a warm heart to come home to, even if it didn't truly belong to him.
Thanks for reading!