It is strange to think of the year 1809, and Haydn’s last days in Vienna, when the city was being overrun by Napoleon’s army, as having a link with our present Coronavirus invasion.
Yet the parallels are there. Today we are living in a time of self-isolation, as Haydn was then.
In his case, confinement was dominated by two factors, and both resonate with us today as being more complex than simple restraint (or curfew).
Firstly, there was the personal element of an effective house arrest dictated by his own old age. Haydn had less than a month to live at the end of a long life and he had what today’s media refer to, pointedly, as ‘underlying health issues’. The second was imposed by the Emperor himself – who posted two sentries outside the composer’s house in Gumpendorf to protect Haydn from contact with the turbulent world outside.
Like us, he was a prisoner in his own house and almost devoid of social contact. He softened his own loneliness by comforting his live-in servants with the words, ‘Children, don’t be frightened; where Haydn is, nothing can happen to you’. So it is perhaps not too fanciful to see this story as history repeating itself in our own turbulent times. Haydn was truly a man for all seasons.