On 1st February 1795, I was invited by the Prince of Wales to attend a musical soirée at the Duke of York's, which the King, the Queen, her whole family, the Duke of Orange &c. attended. Nothing else except my own compositions was played; I sat at the pianoforte; finally I had to sing, too. The King, who hitherto could or would only hear Handel's music, was attentive; he chatted with me, and introduced me to the Queen, who said many complimentary things to me. I sang my German song, "Ich bin der verliebteste". On 3rd Feb., I was invited to the Prince of Wales'; on 15th, 17th and 19th Apr. 1795, I was there again, and on the 21st at the Queen's in Buckingham Palace. (London Notebook #4)
During the rather erratically scheduled concert season of 1795, there were any number of other interesting events occurring. In addition to, and greatly influenced by, the ongoing war with France, politics had taken over the consciousness of all of the intelligentsia of London and the hinterlands.
I have been jokingly saying since 1790 that there was a plot to capture Haydn and remove him permanently to London. While this has just been a personal amusement for me, taking circumstantial evidence and connecting it up, it doesn't negate the fact that there really was a group of music lovers in London who would have been delighted to be able to manipulate events in a way which would produce this desired end. Ranging up from musicians like Salomon, Clementi and Dussek, to publishers like Bland, connoisseurs including Burney and nobles like Abingdon, even Royals like the Prince of Wales, each of whom played a part in moving the entire sub rosa affair to its conclusion. But who might have been the ringleader in all of this? Might it have been George III himself?!
Nearly two centuries after his death, a rather mixed picture has emerged of King George. Naturally, America still sees him as the great oppressor who levied taxes and eventually took a sound thrashing at the hands of George Washington. In England, too, there have been enough stories of mixed veracity as to make a real picture difficult to pull out of the fog.
It is quite a handful to summarize the events of the longest-reigning British monarch before Queen Victoria, not least because his 59 years on the throne were among the most eventful in modern history. But it is interesting to see a few highlights, some of which, of course, were the basis of his reputation today.
George III was born on 4 June 1738 in London, son of Frederick, Prince of Wales and Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. He became heir to the throne when his father died in 1751, and succeeded his grandfather, George II, in 1760. He was the first Hanoverian monarch for whom English was his primary language. A year after his coronation, George was married to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the daughter of a German duke. It was a political union—the two met for the first time on their wedding day—but a fruitful one, producing 15 children.
From the time he took over, politics drove everything he did, perhaps even more than is usual, due to circumstance. He worked for a quick end to the Seven Years' War (1756-63), which forced his influential war minister William Pitt the Elder (who wanted to broaden the conflict) to resign in 1761. The next year George appointed Lord Bute (who had been his guardian in his teen years) as his prime minister, the first in a quick series of five ineffective ministers. Then, in 1764, another of his Prime Ministers, George Grenville, introduced the Stamp Act as a way of raising revenue in British America. The act was fervently opposed in America, especially by the pamphleteers whose paper would be taxed. Parliament would repeal the act two years later, but mistrust persisted in the colonies. It should be clear here that although this was strictly an act of Parliament, it was George, as the front man, took all the heat for it.
Once England was actually in a shooting conflict in the colonies, though, George fought the war tenaciously, refusing to surrender even when the outcome was clear, on the very cogent grounds that one didn't want to create a precedent for other colonials. But when Cornwallis was forced to surrender at Yorktown, George had to accept that Parliament was going to negotiate a peace. He offered his resignation, which was refused. But a good indication of his character was shown in this 1785 statement to John Adams when he was formally presented as the first American Ambassador to England:
Response of King George III to John Adams
"I wish you Sir, to believe, and [also] that it may be understood in America, that I have done nothing in the late Contest, but what I thought myself indispensably bound to do, by the Duty which I owed to my People. I will be very frank with you. I was the last to consent to the Separation, but the Separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the Friendship of the United States as an independent Power. . . [and] let the Circumstances of Language; Religion and Blood have their natural and full Effect."
One can hardly argue with that, and its spirit has formed the basis for the 'special relationship' ever since.
As to the 'Madness of King George', there was considerable alarm in his lifetime when he began, in 1778, to have sustained bouts of what were clearly irrational behaviors. This took the form, among other things, of him speechifying non-stop for hours, to the point where he foamed at the mouth and finally had to be restrained with a straitjacket. Just at the point where some sort of action would have needed to be taken, he would recover fully and for years before relapsing. Since the causes of mental disease were unknown at the time (as still today in some cases), the fear was that it was heritable. By 1810, George was no longer able to recover from his affliction, and had to spend his last 10 years in private confinement. For many years it was thought that he suffered from a genetic illness called porphyria, but now it is nearly certain that he was being slowly poisoned by arsenic, which was a freely used component of medicines and cosmetics in those days. There are many musicians who are believed or known to have died similarly from the indiscriminate use of such elements as lead and mercury, like Beethoven, Schubert and Paganini inter alios, but here we see how ignorance could afflict kings as well.
In the 1790's, during Haydn's visits, we have seen the great turmoil generated by the French Revolution. While I can't say all the reasons for England's early entrance into a war with France at the time, I believe geographical proximity and historical enmity are much in the fore. The current face of Europe probably has much to thank George for here, since he was among the very first to recognize the danger presented by France, and was able to eventually facilitate the defeat of Napoleon, in no small part because he was at war with France even before Napoleon came along. The state of war which Haydn saw during his entire time in England was actually just the beginning. But not everyone was delighted with the anti-Revolutionary stance adopted by the government.
Third London Notebook
In the month of Sept. 1794, there was an attempt to assassinate the King. The principal murderers were very young, one was a clockmaker, the other a chemist. They constructed a kind of blow-pipe from which a little poisoned arrow was to kill the King in the Theatre. The understanding was to start a brawl right under the King's box, during the course of which each of the gang was to raise his stick in the air and threaten to beat the other, whilst the principal rogue was to shoot his arrow at the King. They have discovered another two participants, one of them a bookseller. The clockmaker's name is La Maître, presumably a Frenchman; the chemist, Higgins. The bookseller is named Joh[n] Smith, the 4th man, Upton. The clock-maker invented the murder weapon.
Last year we took a brief look at 'corresponding societies'. Despite the satire of Gillray's cartoon, they were justifiably feared by the aristocracy. A man who went on to make a great name for himself in medicine was both a member of a London Corresponding Society, and of the conspiracy which Haydn talks about above.
In September, 1794, five members of the society, including Parkinson, were implicated in the plot to use an air-gun to shoot a poisoned dart at King George III at a theatre. As an assassination plan, it doesn't appear to have been a very well-thought out; so many things could have gone wrong. However, they never got a chance to find out if it would have worked. They were arrested before the attempt could be carried out. All of them were taken in for questioning by the Privy Council and spent some time in jail. However, there wasn't a lot of direct evidence of their plan and the charges against Parkinson and the others were eventually dropped.
I'm sure this was the sort of thing which would fascinate Haydn, thus it was noted in his pocket-book. Perhaps even more fascinating would have been George's behavior afterwards; i.e. – he acted as though it had never happened and continued his daily habit of public appearances. Not the sort of reaction Haydn would have been used to in Vienna, as we will see in just a few short months.
As we saw above, in February 1795, the King and Queen, through the Prince of Wales, suddenly took a great interest in Haydn. It isn't as though he was just arrived, but not only was he suddenly presented at Court, but he became quite the focus of attention. At the beginning we saw the small amount which Haydn chose to relate in his Notebook, but more of this story is filled out by the oboist, John Parke, who was also present. To define terms a bit, being 'invited to attend a musical soirée' really meant 'come 'round and play a concert for us'. Parke tells us quite a bit more than the modest Haydn ever would;
Memoirs by John Parke
… Salomon led the band, amongst whom [were] Cervetto (?), the elder Parke, Shield, myself, Dance, Blake and Haydn, who presided at the pianoforte. Jarnovicki (Giornovichi) was to have played [snip; long story… but he saw Salomon (whom he hated) when he came in and immediately departed].
At the end of the first part, Haydn had the distinguished honor of being introduced to His Majesty by the Prince of Wales. I was stationed so near I could not help but hear the whole of their conversation. Amongst other observations, His Majesty said (in English) 'Doctor Haydn, you have written a great deal'. To which Haydn modestly replied 'Yes, Sire, a great deal more than is good.' To which the King neatly rejoined 'Oh no, the world contradicts that'.
After his introduction, Haydn, by desire of the Queen, sat down at the pianoforte and, surrounded by Her Majesty and her royal and accomplished daughters, sung, and accompanied himself admirably in several of his Canzonets. The gracious reception Haydn experienced from the King was not only gratifying to his feelings, but flattering to the science he professed…
Despite his modesty, in later years Haydn did finally open up to Griesinger about some further details of his time with the Royal couple.
From Biographical News about Joseph Haydn (trans. by Vernon Gotwals)
He had to play for the Queen several times, and she gave him the manuscript of a German oratorio by Handel, the Erlöser am Kreuz, the only one he had written in that language [NB - it is the so-called Brockes Passion, today Haydn's copy is in the Vienna National Library]. One evening, after Haydn had played on the pianoforte for a long time to the Queen, the King, who always spoke German [sic – Griesinger is mistaken here], said that he knew Haydn once was a good singer and he would like to hear him sing a few German songs. Haydn pointed to the joint of his little finger and said 'Your Majesty, my voice is only this big now', The King laughed, and then Haydn sang his own song, 'Ich bin der verliebteste'. [NB – this is a German translation of one of the canzonets from the second (still unpublished) set, Transport of Pleasure, which Haydn was clearly working on already]
The King and Queen wanted to keep him in England.
'I will give you rooms in Windsor for the summer,' said the Queen, and then she added slyly, squinting at the King, 'and then sometimes we'll make music tête-à-tête'.
'Oh, I'm not jealous of Haydn,' said the King, 'he's a good, honest German man'.
'To keep that reputation,' answered Haydn, 'is my greatest pride'.
Upon repeatedly being pressed to stay in England, Haydn gave excuses that he was bound to the House of his Prince through gratitude, and that he couldn't forever be separated from his Fatherland or his wife [!!]. The King offered to have her sent over. 'She won't even cross the Danube, let alone the ocean', Haydn replied. And he remained steadfast in his refusal. He thought this was why the King never gave him anything. Of the Royal Family, only the Duchess of York came to his benefit concert, but she sent him 50 guineas. He was, on several occasions, received by her in a very friendly way, for she knew how much her father, the King of Prussia, thought of Haydn. At the Prince of Wales', he conducted twenty-six concerts, and the orchestra often had to wait for several hours until the Prince rose from table.
Refusing an offer of permanent residency from the King of a country which Haydn had come to truly love and feel a part of must have been one of the most difficult decisions of his life. It makes one wonder what could have given him the impetus to say no. Since there was no context for it last June, I temporarily skipped over this letter which Haydn received from Naples, where the current Prince, Nicholas II, was traveling at the time. Maybe it clarifies Haydn's situation a bit for us;
Biographical Accounts of Joseph Haydn by A.C. Dies (trans. by Vernon Gotwals)
…a letter arrived for Haydn in the name of the reigning prince, Nicholas (II) Esterházy, from Naples, which contained the news: 'The Prince has named Haydn as his Kapellmeister, and wishes to restore the whole band again'. Haydn received the news with the greatest pleasure. He had entertained for a long time the warmest sympathy for the Princes Esterházy; they had offered him his daily bread and (what was more important) given him the opportunity of developing his musical talents. Haydn saw, of course, that his income in England was large, and that it by far exceeded that in his fatherland. Moreover, it would have been easy for him to secure any kind of well-paid position there. Since the death of Prince Anton, he was a completely free man; nothing bound him to the Princely House except for love and gratitude. It was those things, however, that silenced every opposition and persuaded him to accept the offer of Prince Nicholas with joy and, as soon as his commitments in London were fulfilled, to return to his native country.
I think that puts a different slant on things. If there was anything at all which Haydn didn't like about England, it was the constant hustle and bustle and the outrageous noise levels. One thing he wouldn't have to deal with in Eisenstadt or even Vienna was that! One can only take statements like Dies' above at face value; if these weren't Haydn's real feelings, then where would the fortitude to refuse the blandishments of a King and Queen have come from?
Next time, we will look at a Royal wedding and the culture of Benefit Concerts as our last year in London continues.
Thanks for reading!
A little grin for those into more modern history. When I read the Prince's letter to Haydn about getting the band back together, how could I not think of this?