orchestra victoria | on music and friendship

Sir Malcolm Arnold, the eminent English composer, said that “music is the social act of communication among people; a gesture of friendship, the strongest there is”, and the letters between two of the best-loved Classical composers – Mozart and Haydn – are testament to this message.

It is, perhaps, the human spirit that makes classical music so enduringly relatable. Friendship, and its power to inspire and drive, clarify and comfort, gives and has given artists throughout time the impetus to create some of history’s most powerful works. Historians and audience members alike have taken interest in the impact that artists have on one another, from J.R.R Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, but in the musical world, no pair is so greatly admired and looked to as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn.

Mozart and Haydn - both giants of the Classical era in their own right - were also firm friends; championing each other’s work, consoling when projects fell through or writers’ block took over and being, above all, great listeners through the ups and downs of personal successes and failures. In the Italian dedication of his six string quartets, Mozart wrote;

“To my dear friend Haydn. A father, having resolved to send his sons
into the great world, finds it advisable to entrust them to the protection and
guidance of a highly celebrated man, the more so since this man, by a
stroke of luck, is his best friend. Here, then, celebrated man and my
dearest friend, are my six sons.”

The two artists inspired each other to keep pushing their own individual boundaries; encouraging one another to explore new ideas and musical concepts. Haydn when asked about his younger counterpart remarked; “He alone has the spirit of making me smile and touching me to the bottom of my soul.”

When they met in 1781, Mozart was a sprightly 25 years old as Haydn turned 49, but the considerable age difference made no difference to their close friendship. Built on an ungrudging mutual respect, the pair’s relationship began when Haydn had already developed a reputation as a famous composer and Mozart’s career was just beginning to flourish across Europe.

A constant source of inspiration for the younger composer, Haydn’s work and support made a profound impact on the development of Mozart’s writing, and the warmth between the two men endured until Mozart’s death; Haydn often speaking with great gravity on the encouragement his friend had given him. Well into his seventies, Haydn insisted that there was no work of Mozart’s that he had heard without learning something. And so, when listening to either great composer’s work, think of course about the technique and talent that has enabled its creation, but perhaps dwell a little on the human nature of the pieces, and the great friendships that built them.

Written for Orchestra Victoria.