Franz Joseph Haydn and the Farewell Symphony

Haydn was often called “Papa Joe” or “Papa Haydn” by his students and fellow musicians, because he was so kind and like a father to them.

In 1759, when Haydn was 27, he became the music director of 16 musicians for Count Karl Joseph Franz Morzin’s orchestra in Vienna. It was the first time in his life that he earned a decent salary. This also included all of his meals, housing, travel expenses, and uniforms. Haydn had several jobs like this including the one featured in this post.

If you missed the lesson Franz Joseph Haydn’s Early Years, go there first.

Haydn and Prince Nicholas in Esterhazy

In 1761, Haydn began working for Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, one of Hungary’s most wealthy, powerful noblemen.

Nicholas Esterhazy

By March 1762, Prince Paul had died and his younger brother Nicholas became Prince and was now in charge. Fortunately for Haydn, he loved music even more than his brother.

In the winter, Prince Nicholas lived in Eisenstadt, Austria. This is where the musicians (who were employees of the prince) lived with their families.

In the summer, the prince lived in his summer palace in the Hungarian countryside called Esterhazy. When he moved to Esterhazy, he took his 22 musicians and the royal music director, Joseph Haydn. This was usually fine with the musicians, because it was only for a short time.

By this time (early 1772), Haydn was an excellent composer and famous throughout Europe.

Haydn’s job for Prince Nicholas included:

  • writing music for Prince Nicholas
  • making sure that all of the musicians practiced a lot and stayed out of trouble
  • repairing broken instruments
  • keeping the Prince and his many guests entertained.

This wasn’t very easy. Prince Nicholas could never have enough musical entertainment.

Story Behind the Farewell Symphony


Towards the end of July, the musicians were getting homesick and missing their families. So, Haydn cautiously told the prince that the musicians wanted him to talk to the prince, because they were missing their families. He asked if they could possibly invite their family to come for a while. The prince was furious. He reminded Haydn that the palace ONLY had 126 rooms and with all of his important guests… there wouldn’t be enough room for each servant’s family. He continued by saying that if the musicians wanted to keep their jobs,  they would learn to live without their families for a while.

A sad Haydn returned to the musicians who were anxiously waiting to hear when they could send for their families. He had to tell them that the prince would not allow it. The musicians were very angry and ready to go tell the prince what they thought of his decision.

What do you think might happen if they did go tell the prince how they felt?

Like Haydn told them… Going to Prince Nicholas will only make matters worse. He told them that the prince had already threatened to fire them if they complained again. Haydn said that the end of summer is only a few weeks away and they would surely be home soon.

By Fall, the prince was not making any plans to return home. 

By the time it was November, the musicians couldn’t take it anymore and they went to talk to Papa Haydn again about going home. Haydn remembered how the prince responded the first time, so he had to be clever about this. 

He told Luigi Tomasini (concertmaster and a lead violinist under Haydn) to go tell the rest of the musicians to be patient and continue doing their duties. Haydn was determined to think of a way to solve this.

Haydn was frustrated because he couldn’t think of anything. He began working on a new piece of music on his harpsichord to take his mind off of the problem.

All of a sudden, he got the perfect plan! He quickly started a new symphony.

In less than two weeks, he gave the finished symphony to his musicians. He told them to study their parts carefully, because they must give their best performance for it to work.

First Performance of the Farewell Symphony

On the night of the performance, the orchestra was already on stage when Prince Nicholas and his guests entered the theater lit by candlelight. This was unusual, because the musicians would normally go out on the stage after the prince had been seated. So, the prince already had an idea that something was strange.

Papa Haydn announced that he had a new and unusual symphony for the prince named Symphony in F-sharp minor. The prince, knowing a great deal about music, asked, “Is that not a rather unusual key?” Haydn answered, “Why, yes it is.” The emotions you are about to hear in this symphony are inspired by the emotions of my fellow musicians. We hope you find the performance enlightening.

A confused look came over Prince Nicholas’ face as he tried to figure out what was going on.

The first movement started with a bursting of music. Explosive chords merging with swirling melodies as well as quick, repetitive notes all combining into a tense piece of music. 

Prince Nicholas was grasping his chair as he discovered that this was angry music. He began to see the frustration of the musicians.

Listen to and watch the first movement being performed by some young musicians in the video below.

The second movement started differently. An extremely sad tune came from the stage and passed from one instrument to the next. Prince Nicholas found this movement to be beautiful, yet really sad. This showed the prince how much sorrow the musicians felt about being away from their families for so long.

Check out the video below of the second movement.

Prince Nicholas smiled when the third movement began. He could instantly hear that it was based on a dance called a minuet. He thought that it was nice and graceful, but then the cellos and horns went, “BLAAAAP!”

The prince thought that the “stupid” musicians had made a mistake. When the orchestra repeated that part and it happened again, the prince frowned. He loved dancing and was sure that they were making fun of him because he was a terrible dancer.

Listen to the third movement below.

By the end of the third movement, the prince was thinking that he had just about enough of this new symphony! When the fourth movement began, however, he thought it was wonderful.

Prince Nicholas was enjoying himself and then the orchestra stopped suddenly. After a brief pause, the musicians began playing a slow, sad tune. This kind of thing just wasn’t done in symphonies during the Classical Era of classical music and the prince knew it. 

The prince was still trying to figure out what was going on when two musicians unexpectedly stood up, closed their music, blew out their candles, and left the stage.

Prince Nicholas was totally shocked! He was thinking, “What in the world is happening?” When he was just about to say something, another musician stood, closed his music, blew out his candle, and walked off the stage.

A few bars of music later, another musician left… followed shortly after by another musician. This continued to happen as one by one they left the stage. Finally, there was only Papa Haydn and Tomasini. They were playing a slow duet. Then like all of the others, they stood, closed their music, blew out their candles, and left the dark stage.

Let’s listen to the fourth movement. Feel free to skip to the specific spots mentioned below.

  • 0:00  The beginning 
  • 3:00  The pause
  • 4:15  Musicians start leaving. I love the way they acted this out (even though it isn’t totally authentic). I would watch this in its entirety. 
  • 6:55  This is where Haydn and Tomasini were the only ones left on stage. (Haydn conducted from his seat while playing the violin.)
  • 7:30  When Haydn and Tomasini left. Watch until the end.

It was extremely awkward as the audience just sat there and the musicians were waiting anxiously backstage. It was possible that this would not turn out the way they wanted.

Prince Nicholas stared at the empty stage and thought about the music he had just heard.

He then began to clap. “Bravo Haydn! You have made your point.” He realized how he had kept the musicians away from their families far too long. He said, “…pack your bags. Tomorrow we head for home. Farewell, musicians. Farewell, Haydn. Farewell, Esterhaza!”

The next lesson in this series is Surprise Symphony and Haydn’s Later Years.


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