Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) spent the last twelve years of his life in Gumpendorf, at that time an outlying village of Vienna. Having bought his house between two periods of stay in England, he extended it by one floor, moving in aged 65 in 1797. Here he died on May 31, 1809. To mark the 200th anniversary of his death, the permanent exhibition in the Haydnhaus has been completely redesigned. The focus is on the last years of the composer’s life, linking them to the political and social setting of his time. The garden has been reconstructed according to historical models and is now accessible to visitors for the first time ever – a green oasis in the built-up area of Mariahilferstrasse.
Visitors then and now
At the centre of the exhibition is Joseph Haydn’s music, his lifestyle and his growing old. Haydn’s popularity and reputation had reached its zenith at this time. Celebrated internationally, he was admired by his fellow-composers, and courted by music publishers. Numerous visitors from both home and abroad paid their respects to Haydn. Their records and memoirs have been used by curator Werner Hanak-Lettner to help structure the exhibition: “Haydn was the most famous composer in all of Europe in the final years of his life. What I found fascinating was to see who and how many people paid their respects to him. Their records give us many clues to life in the house, as well as to the struggles Haydn went through in his final works, and in his efforts to ward off the effects of old age.”
As an introduction to the exhibition, the ground floor has been adapted to display city portraits of London and Vienna around 1800. With guests from those days lining the walls of the stairway in the form of portraits and comments on the host, the visitor enters Haydn’s flat up at the first floor. Thanks to careful restoration, the rooms are now divided up in the exact same way as in Haydn’s day.
Where “The Creation” and
“The Seasons” were created
The most important works of the composer’s old age were created in this last residence, including the two oratorios “The Creation” (1796–1798) and “The Seasons” (1799–1801). Here Haydn experienced one of the most creatively fruitful periods of his life: “My imagination plays on me as if I were a piano.” At the same time Haydn’s last years were marked by a loss of vitality.
On his last visiting card the composer had one of his melodies printed, with this lament: “All my strength is gone, weak am I”. Artefacts on show include some copies of compositions that Haydn had framed and hung up in his bedroom. That room was set aside for the display of “objects of honour”, i.e. medals, certificates and presents which Haydn had received from the rich and powerful of his day, and which he showed to his guests with great pride. Besides Haydn’s fortepiano, there is also his clavichord, later acquired by Johannes Brahms. This is one of the central pieces of the exhibition, which was extended through numerous new exhibits.
The Artist’s Garden
One jewel of the Haydnhaus is the small garden, which was redesigned in cooperation with Vienna City Gardens Department. It represents a recreation of the bourgeois garden around 1800. The so-called “Franziszeischer Kataster” (c. 1820), the first complete land register map (its name deriving from Emperor Franz I), shows a symmetrical garden. Guests report that Haydn owned fruit trees in his garden.
A House of Commemoration
This building became a place of commemoration soon after Haydn’s death. The “Haydn” Orchestra Club rented part of the house, and also laid the founding stone for a Haydn Museum, subsequently opened in 1899.
Since 1904 the commemorative location has been owned by the City of Vienna, making it the oldest musician’s apartment of the Wien Museum. Johannes Brahms, an ardent admirer of Haydn, took great pains to keep the memory of his great idol alive. A special room is dedicated to Brahms in the Haydnhaus.
The newly conceived Haydn presentation opens up new facets of the important composer and the period he lived in. The main concern of curators Werner Hanak-Lettner and Alexandra Hönigmann-Tempelmayr was to document the stage of his life spent in this house. In this way, the composer is presented in a new light, one that reflects both his epoch and his contemporaries.