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Last Years
Failing Strength--Last Works--A Scottish Admirer--Song Accompaniments--
Correspondence with George Thomson--Mrs Jordan-- A Hitch--A "Previous" Letter of
Condolence--Eventide--Last Public Appearance--The End--Funeral Honours--
Desecration of Remains.
Failing Strength
Little is left to be told of the years which followed the production of "The Seasons."
Haydn never really recovered from the strain which that last great effort of his genius had
entailed. From his letters and the reminiscences of his friends we can read only too
plainly the story of his growing infirmity. Even in 1799 he spoke of the diminution of his
mental powers, and exclaimed: "Oh, God! how much yet remains to be done in this
splendid art, even by a man like myself!" In 1802 he wrote of himself as "a gradually
decaying veteran," enjoying only the feeble health which is "the inseparable companion
of a gray-haired man of seventy." In December 1803 he made his last public exertion by
conducting the "Seven Words" for the hospital fund at the Redoutensaal, and shortly
afterwards wrote sadly of his "very great weakness." In 1804 he was asked to direct a
performance of "The Creation," but declined on the score of failing strength. Gradually
he withdrew himself almost entirely from the outside world, his general languor broken
only by the visits of friends and by moods of passing cheerfulness. Cherubini, the Abbe
Vogler, Pleyel, the Weber family, Hummel, Reichardt, and many others came to see him.
Visits from members of the Esterhazy family gave him much pleasure. Mozart's widow
also brought her son Wolfgang, to beg his blessing on the occasion of his first public
concert in April 1805, for which he had composed a cantata in honour of Haydn's
seventy-third birthday. But the homage of friends and admirers could not strengthen the
weak hands or confirm the feeble knees. In 1806 Dies notes that his once-gleaming eye
has become dull and heavy and his complexion sallow, while he suffers from "headache,
deafness, forgetfulness and other pains." His old gaiety has completely gone, and even
his friends have become a bore to him. "My remaining days," he said to Dies, "must all
be spent in this lonely fashion.... I have many visitors, but it confuses me so much to talk
to them that at last I scarcely know what I am saying and only long to be left in peace."
The condition of a man of naturally genial and optimistic temperament can easily be
imagined from all this--perhaps even more from the fact of his having a card printed to
hand to inquirers who called, bearing the words:
Hin ist alle meine Kraft;
Alt and schwach bin ich.
[Fled for ever is my strength;
Old and weak am I.]
Last Works