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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Friday, February 12

Haydn's imperial anthem

Synopsis

Just to show that political spin and manipulation is 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 Franz, 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 spin-meisters 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 February 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) String Quartet, Op. 76, no. 3 (Emperor) Emerson Quartet DG 427 657

Additional Information

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