So there he sat. Our Mr Haydn. Over 200 years ago. Tinkling away on his keyboard, testing some ideas, and then putting a few notes down on paper.
And there you are. Looking at the exact same instrument. Standing in the exact same room where one of the world’s greatest-ever composers slept and composed.
Such connections to the past mean you don’t have to be a fan of classical music to enjoy the Haydn House in Vienna.
- Joseph Haydn’s residence for the last 12 years of his life
- Lovely little exhibition inside on this period and his works
- Adults pay €5 to get in (or free once with the Vienna Pass)
- Also has a room dedicated to Brahms
- See also: Haydn location guide
In 1793, aged around 61, the Haydns bought a house in Gumpendorf, a leafy and quiet village outside Vienna (back then at least).
It would be four years until Haydn moved in (among other things, he filled the intervening time with a long trip to London), but the house became his residence until his death there in 1809. Haydn’s occupancy coincides with perhaps his period of greatest celebrity.
Fortunately for us, the house has survived intact. The fine folk at the Wien Museum turned it into a small, permanent Haydn exhibition and restored the house with delicate historical accuracy.
Inside the Haydn House
Rather incongruously, a virtual parrot greets you when you enter the courtyard through the big wooden doors (Haydn bought a parrot in London).
Beyond lies a peaceful garden, built in the style of the early 1800s, with a mix of fruit-bearing and ornamental plants. In summer, you can sit in the shade of the giant chestnut tree and contemplate the opening bars to your next symphony (or sit and wait for the bars to open).
The house features few fittings and furnishings, since most of the originals were sold off after Haydn’s death. Instead, the exhibition on the ground floor (where the servants worked), has small sections dedicated to:
- The Vienna and Gumpendorf of the time (early 1800s)
- Haydn’s period of residency
- Haydn’s London trips
- Those selfsame servants
I’ll never tire of seeing pictures of rural idylls like late 18th-century Gumpendorf, and always smile at the contrast to the very same streets outside in modern Vienna.
The exhibition is not huge but gives you enough flavour to understand the context of Haydn’s later life. Plus you already begin to see that he was no ordinary man. For example, he left his servants more in his will than he gave to all but one of his actual family members.
The exhibition upstairs allows musical acolytes to feast on the genius of “Papa Haydn”.
When you get to the top of the curving stone steps, start on your left. Hadyn slept in this small room and spent his mornings pottering about on a clavichord. Not just any instrument, but the very one standing innocuously next to you.
The rest of this area includes the reception room, salon and the room where the master displayed the many gifts he received throughout his career. The items are few, but, again, enough to give you a flavour of the man and his work.
Highlights for me:
- Little tidbits on the work that went into The Creation and The Seasons, both composed in this house (including a first edition score of the latter, for example).
A reader’s letter to the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung paper after the premiere of The Seasons describes the reaction to Haydn’s work so (my translation):
The audience switched between silent reverence, wonder, and pure enthusiasm.
And every word of the poem behind the libretto was…
…filled with life and emotion in the hands of this musical Prometheus.
- A pianoforte Haydn also used (eek!)
- A list of visitors to this home, including the likes of Beethoven.
- Insight into Haydn’s slow decline with age; how the spirit was still willing and creative but the body and memory weak. Most poignantly, perhaps, his visiting card simply states (alongside some bars of music):
All my strength has gone, old and weak am I
The displays also provide a little more detail on Haydn’s death during Napoleon’s second invasion of Vienna. If you thought celebrity worship was a modern invention, the information here will put you right. The parrot, for example, sold for a fortune.
Despite the relatively spartan displays, you get an excellent feel for Haydn’s character, his work processes, and the context in which he lived. Strange to say, I came away thinking I’d probably quite like him, not least because of his considerable charity work.
All-in-all, it made for a thoroughly enjoyable time spent learning about one of the world’s most important composers.
Incidentally, the museum dedicates the last room upstairs to Brahms (whose Viennese apartment is – alas – no more). You’ll find furniture, a biographical timeline, portraits, etc.
I found the paintings of Brahms’ piano room and desk curiously fascinating, showing a big bust of Beethoven over his piano and what looks like the model of a lobster on his desk. Each to his own, I suppose.
Tickets & visitor tips
Adult entrance tickets cost €5, with various concessions (kids are free, for example). The Vienna Pass (see a review) gets you in once for nothing.
- We took our time and were still finished in under an hour, so it doesn’t require a big time commitment
- All information is in German AND English
- There’s an audioguide available if you want a more detailed visit. We didn’t use it and still got plenty out of the trip
- The house is close to Mariahilfer Strasse, which is Vienna’s main shopping street
- The ticket office has a very small shop, mainly selling a few Haydn books and CDs
How to get to the Haydn House
Although relatively central, the house sits in a little hole as far as public transport is concerned. So you’ll need to walk for a few minutes to get there.
The 57A bus runs along Gumpendorfer Straße below Haydngasse (get out at Brückengasse or Hirschengasse). But your best bet is probably to take the U3 subway to Zieglergasse and walk down (see the map below).
The Haydn House is not too far from Westbahnhof, either, one of Vienna’s major rail stations and reached by the U3 and U6 subways, as well as trams 5, 9, 18, 49, 52 and 60. If you come out of the Westbahnhof subway station, look for the “Innere Mariahilfer Straße” exit.
Address: Haydngasse 19, 1060 Vienna | Website