Composers Datebook®

Haydn's imperial anthem

Composers Datebook - Feb. 12, 2024


Just to show that political spin and manipulation are nothing new, consider this tune by Franz Joseph Haydn, first heard on today’s date in 1797, which happened to be the birthday of Franz II, the Hapsburg Emperor.

And so an Austrian poet was commissioned to write some verses that would inspire patriotic support for the emperor, since Austria was at war with Napoleon Bonaparte at the time. Haydn was asked to set the verses into music.

The new song premiered in the emperor’s presence at Vienna’s Burgtheater, between a comic opera and a tragic ballet. But contemporary spinmeisters saw to it that copies had been sent to all playhouses, opera houses and concerts halls in the Hapsburg Monarchy, so that it could be heard during any performances occurring on Feb. 12. After the defeat of Napoleon, Haydn’s little tune became the Austrian national anthem.

Long before that happened, Haydn recycled his hit tune into one of his string quartets — a work now called the Emperor Quartet. And long after that happened — 40 years after Haydn's death, in fact — a German nationalist poet wrote new verses for the tune, which began “Deutschland, Deutschland, ueber alles.”

But that’s another story entirely.

Music Played in Today's Program

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809): Emperor Quartet; Emerson Quartet DG 427 657

On This Day


  • 1567 - Baptism of English composer and poet Thomas Campion, in London;

  • 1760 - Bohemian composer and keyboard virtuoso Jan Ladislav (Johann Ladislaus/ Ludwig) Dussek (Dusik), in Cáslav;

  • 1898 - American composer Roy Harris, in Chandler, Oklahoma;

  • 1923 - American composer Mel Powell, in New York City;


  • 1799 - Czech composer and pianist František Xaver Dušek (Duschek, Duscheck or Dussek), age 67. in Prague; He was a friend and colleague of Mozart;

  • 1896 - French composer Amboise Thomas, age 84, in Paris;

  • 1906 - Russian composer Anton Arensky (Gregorian date: Feb. 25);

  • 1915 - French composer, conductor and pianist Emile Waldteufel, age 77, in Paris;

  • 1959 - American composer George Antheil, age 58, in New York;

  • 1972 - English composer Benjamin Frankel, age 67, in London;


  • 1760 - Rameau: comedy-ballet "Les Paladins," in Paris;

  • 1797 - Haydn: "A National Song," in Vienna, in honor of the birthday of the Austrian Emperor Franz II (who reigned from 1792-1835); This melody was later used as a theme in Haydn's "Emperor" String Quartet, Op. 76, no. 3, and eventually became the Austrian national anthem;

  • 1894 - Rachmaninoff: “Trio élégiaque” (Elegiac Trio) No. 2 in d minor, for violin, cello, and piano, in Moscow, with Yuly Konyus (Julius Conus) (violin), Anatoly Brandukov (cello), and the composer at the piano (Julian date: Jan. 31);

  • 1905 - Koussevitzky: Double-Bass Concerto (Gregorian date: Feb. 25);

  • 1909 - Paderewski: Symphony in b ("Polonia"), by the Boston Symphony, Max Fiedler conducting;

  • 1924 - Gershwin: "Rhapsody in Blue," at Aeolian Hall in New York, with Paul Whiteman conducting and the composer as soloist;

  • 1936 - David Diamond: Three "Vocalises" for soprano and viola, at the third "Composer's Forum Laboratory" in New York City (sponsored by the WPA Federal Music Project), by soprano Louise Taylor and violist John Howell;

  • 1964 - Cowell: "Quartet Euphometric," at Philharmonic Hall in New York City, by the Galimir String Quartet; This music was composed between 1916-1919;


  • 1785 - Likely date of the premiere performances of three of Mozart's "Haydn" Quartets (K.458, 464, and 465), at Mozart's apartment in Vienna, with Haydn present and a quartet made up of Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart with the Barons Anton and Bartholmaus Tinti.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®