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shared musical treasures—Haydn's Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser

Join The Muse Of Music in celebrating and exploring the shared musical treasure, Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser.


history and background

The music you are now hearing is a version of a piece originally composed for piano by the great Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn. It's a hymn or anthem titled Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (God Save Emperor Francis) that he penned in honor of his emperor, Franz I of Austria and head of the Holy Roman Empire. God Save Emperor Francis, also known as the Kaiser Lied (Kaiser Song) or Kaiserhymne (Emperor's Hymn), is one of the most familiar and universally played themes in music, one shared by and representing the monarchies of other nations. This is its story.

The story begins when Haydn visited London on several occasions in the 1790s. There he repeatedly heard a tune that perhaps dated back as far as the early seventeenth century. This tune later became the basis for the de facto English national anthem, and subsequently devolved into God Save the King, the British national anthem, as well as the anthem of many other nations.

At the time Haydn heard it, there was no counterpart for this anthem in the Austro-Hungarian Empire or anywhere else. The English tune that eventually became God Save the King is the first to be informally adopted as an anthem by any country anywhere in the world, including the empire of Austria.

  • For more about the history and provenance of the tune and its adoption by the United Kingdom see the History And Background section and the Provenance section at The Muse Of Music's feature titled God Save The Queen: click here.

The idea of national anthems had not yet been invented. The tune Haydn heard ultimately came to be formally designated a national (i.e., royal) anthem, but did not yet have formal status when Haydn heard it. Nevertheless, Haydn was greatly impressed by the melody and realized that music generally had the potential for representing great people, who in turn represented great nations. He envied the British nation for its God Save the King song, a song through which it could, at festive occasions, show in full measure its respect, love, and devotion to its ruler.

Franz Joseph I, emperor of Austria, and Franz Joseph Haydn, musician, had more in common than just their first two names: both were Austrians. Franz Joseph I, whom Haydn greatly respected and admired, was Franz Joseph Haydn's king.

When Haydn returned to his beloved Austria, he related his impressions to a friend, connoisseur, supporter, and encourager, Count Freiherr van Swieten, the Prefect of the imperial court library. Haydn conveyed to him his wish that Austria, too, could have a national anthem similar to God Save the King whereby it could display respect and love for its sovereign. Such a song could be used in a noble way to inflame the hearts of the Austrians to new heights of devotion to the princes and fatherland and to incite soldiers to combat.

Without delay, the prefect went to work at court.

About Haydn's work

The Count wanted a song that qualified as a genuine, full-fledged folk song, one that would call to life those beautiful thoughts and which delight connoisseurs and amateurs in Austria and abroad. He immediately ordered the prominent Austrian poet and author Lorenz Leopold Haschka to draft a poem for the the lyrics, and then requested Haydn to set it to music.

Some music investigators speculate that Haydn adapted the melody for his Kaiser song from an Austrian folksong he knew, or from one he had composed earlier, a version of which was sung by Austrian peasants. Others claim that the tune was borrowed from a Croatian folk song. But Haydn's inspiration could have been unique; it could have come from his soul; we just don't know. He certainly had a nominal kinship with the emperor and was stimulated by his admiration for him.

In 1797, Haydn, lovingly called Papa Haydn by his musicians and friends, and respectfully called the Father of Harmony by other musicians, set down on paper a hymn he called Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (God Save Emperor Francis), to formally honor and praise his beloved king, his nation's leader and the man who represented his nation. It underwent several drafts and revisions.

The hymn called Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser was first performed for the public in Vienna on the Emperor's birthday, February 12, 1797, with the Emperor present. It caught on at once and almost immediately came to serve unofficially as Austria's first national anthem.

No doubt, in praising the Kaiser, Haydn also had in mind the goal of pleasing his Viennese audience and advancing his career. This he didmightily. The piece was a huge success. In addition to its stunning musical virtues, it played to the vanities of the Austrian aristocracy by seeming to embody the stately grandeur and solemnity of the Empire as well as that of its leader.

So great was its appeal, it was later adopted as the anthem of the Austrian monarchy, where it endured for more than a century. So popular was it, the song endured as Austria's national anthem through geopolitical changes and social upheavals until 1918, when WWI ended and the Empire was dissolved.

The theme eventually became the symbol of other monarchies throughout Europe and around the world. As Germanic aristocratic blood became joined to that of other European monarchies by marriage and other means, Germanic and Austro-Hungarian aristocrats rose to become heads of state throughout Europe, and the melody followed them. As they migrated, it was adapted as suited local customs so it could became the anthem of these other monarchies, as well as that of Austria. Eventually, when minor Germanic principalities finally coalesced into a German state, it became the anthem of Prussia, Germany, and many other Western European nations.

Papa Haydn seems to have been particularly fond of his creation. During his frail and sickly old age he often would struggle to the piano to fondly play his song of reverence, and would play it with great feeling, as a kind of consolation for his declining condition. It was the last music he ever played, and he played it shortly before his death.

Below is the score for Haydn's music the way he wrote it for piano. On the score are the first few words of the original lyrics composed by Leopold Haschka. See Haschka's lyrics printed in full and learn more about them in the section that follows.


See a video showing Haydn's theme played on a piano the way he originally wrote it.

about Lorenz Leopold haschka's lyrics—the story unfolds

Many people who have heard the music from Haydn's hymn written on behalf of his Kaiser remember it forever thereafterit's that good. They recognize the music as soon as the first few bars are aired. In fact, Haydn's music—inspired by the tune for God Save the King he heard in London in 1784—has become one of the most recognized themes in all music, especially in the Western world.

The words Haschka wrote for the music and the music Haydn wrote for the words do each other credit. Regrettably, however, Haschka's lyrics have all but passed into oblivion. They were replaced by far less friendly words written by another individual in 1841, and other lyrics were added after that which spoiled Haydn's music for many others.

Considering Count Freiherr van Swieten's objectivea genuine, full-fledged folk song that would call to life those beautiful thoughts which delight connoisseurs and amateurs in Austria and abroadit's an odd, ironic twist of fate that Haydn's music became a detested symbol for many because of lyrics that were never intended for it, and not because of its music.

Haschka's lyrics are long gone. This too is an ironic outcome because his lyrics beautifully crystallized Haydn's positive, sensitive musical sentimentality.

The lyrics that cast Haydn's music into disrepute were not his. Haschka's words seem to have expressed well the sentiments Haydn wanted his music to convey:

Original German Lyrics

Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser,
Unsern guten Kaiser Franz!
Lange lebe Franz, der Kaiser,
In des Glückes hellstem Glanz!
Ihm erblühen Lorbeerreiser,
Wo er geht, zum Ehrenkranz!
Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser,
Unsern guten Kaiser Franz!

English Translation

God keep Francis the emperor,
Our good Emperor Francis!
Long live Francis the emperor,
In the brightest splendor of happiness!
May springs of laurel bloom for him
As a garland of honor, wherever he goes.
God keep Francis the emperor,
Our good Emperor Francis!

Laß von seiner Fahne Spitzen
Strahlen Sieg und Fruchtbarkeit!
Laß in seinem Rate Sitzen
Weisheit, Klugheit, Redlichkeit;
Und mit Seiner Hoheit Blitzen
Schalten nur Gerechtigkeit!
Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser,
Unsern guten Kaiser Franz!
From the tips of his flag
May victory and fruitfulness shine!
In his council
May knowledge, wisdom and honesty sit!
And with his Highness's lightning
May justice but prevail!
God keep Francis the emperor,
Our good Emperor Francis!
Ströme deiner Gaben Fülle
Über ihn, sein Haus und Reich!
Brich der Bosheit Macht, enthülle
Jeden Schelm- und Bubenstreich!
Dein Gesetz sei stets sein Wille,
Dieser uns Gesetzen gleich.
Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser,
Unsern guten Kaiser Franz!
May the abundance of Thy gifts
Pour over him, his house and Empire!
Break the power of wickedness, and reveal
Every trick of rogues and knaves!
May Thy Law always be his Will,
And may this be like laws to us.
God keep Francis the emperor,
Our good Emperor Francis!
Froh erleb' er seiner Lande,
Seiner Völker höchsten Flor!
Seh' sie, Eins durch Bruderbande,
Ragen allen andern vor!
Und vernehm' noch an dem Rande
Später Gruft der Enkel Chor.
Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser,
Unsern guten Kaiser Franz!
May he gladly experience the highest bloom
Of his land and of his peoples!
May he see them, united by the bonds of brothers,
Loom over all others!
And may he hear at the edge
Of his late tomb his grandchildren's chorus.
God keep Francis the emperor,
Our good Emperor Francis!

Want to hear what Haydn's melody and Haschka's lyrics sounded like when sung and played together. Play a video that depicts Haschka's three-stanza version of the lyrics for the Kaiser song while watching displays of icons and images symbolizing its Authentic Austrian patriotic spirit. It's performed with the original Haydn piano score, solo voice, and accompanying chorus, as it might have been staged at the time it was created.

Haydn's theme & the rise of Germanic patriotism—Evolution and birth of the german national anthem

Haydn's music has taken several steps along the road from its inception in 1797 to its present-day form as the national anthem of Germany, a journey that's lasted 125 years. In that period Germanic peoples went through a series of cultural, political, and patriotic upheavals that transformed them from a population scattered through central Europe into a full-fledged German state.

from Fallersleben through post WWI germany

Haydn's music and Haschka's lyrics were originally written in praise of Kaiser Francis. The lyrics had to be revised before they could apply to Germanic commoners and to the nation as a whole.

In 1848, long after Haydn's death, the theme from Haydn's hymn was refashioned into a patriotic song called, Unity and Rights and Freedom. The original verses on which the song was based, titled Hail to Thee in Victor's Garlands, were written in 1841 by the nationalist poet and university professor August Heinrich Hoffman, alias Hoffmann von Fallersleben.

von Fallersleben intended his lyrics to express and stir up the Germanic fervor that was fomenting at the time. He wanted them sung to the tune originally composed by Haydn, which was perfect for achieving his purpose.

Fallersleben's three new verses for Haydn's Kaiserlied go like this:

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
über alles in der Welt,
Wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
brüderlich zusammen hält,
Von der Maas bis an die Memel,
von der Etsch bis an den [Little] Belt,
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
über alles in der Welt!
Germany, Germany above all,
above all else in the world,
When it steadfastly holds together,
offensively and defensively,
with brotherhood.
From the Maas to the Memel,
from the Etsch to the [Little] Belt,
Germany, Germany above all,
above all else in the world.
Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue,
Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang
Sollen in der Welt behalten
Ihren alten schönen Klang,
Uns zu edler Tat begeistern
Unser ganzes Leben lang.
Deutsche Frauen, deutsche Treue,
Deutscher Wein und deutscher Sang! 
German women, German loyalty,
German wine and German songs
Shall retain in the world
Their old beautiful Chime
And inspire us to noble deeds
During all of our life.
German women, German loyalty,
German wine and German song! 
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben
Brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Sind des Glückes Unterpfand;
Blüh' im Glanze dieses Glückes,
Blühe, deutsches Vaterland. 
Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland!
For these let us all strive
Brotherly with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the pledge of fortune;
Flourish in this fortune's blessing,
Flourish, German fatherland.

You may recognize these verses; they're still being sung by staunch German patriots, even though they're no longer Germany's official lyrics for its anthem.

Follow Fallersleben's three-stanza lyric while they're being sung by a chorus to a version of Haydn's hymn adapted for marching band.

Some national anthems begin life as drinking songs—The Star Spangled Banner and God Save the Queen, for instance—and this one certainly could fill such a role. But despite the references to German wine, women, and song, which are straight out of a rathskeller, as you listen try to resist the temptation to perceive Fallersleben's version of a pre-Germanic national anthem as a march based on a drinking song.

Despite his avid patriotism, Fallersleben didn't intend his words to accompany a drinking song; nor did he intend them to become a German national anthem—Germany didn't exist at that time he wrote them. Neither was he calling for a fascist takeover of Europe; fascism was still a glint in Mussolini's eye, well over a hundred years away.

Rather, Fallersleben's lyrics were a way of asserting his wish to see German culture become a unifying force among what, at the time, were a group of separate minor Germanic principalities. His praises for women were a cry for sexual equality. His call was a call for nationhood.

As a national anthem based on a marching band version of Haydn's theme, Fallersleben's lyrics were a natural for a national anthem—one can almost hear them in one's head; but they weren't quite there yet. German culture and politics had to mature a bit further.

Fallersleben didn't mean his lyrics to accompany a dinking song, and they didn't; neither did he mean his lyrics to become the basis for a Germany national anthem, but they did.

On Aug. 11, 1922, after WWI, the new Weimar Republic legally adopted the original Fallersleben version of the song, including all its verses, as the their German national anthem. The song was called Deutschland, Deutschland über alles (Germany, Germany above all else). The flag pictured in the above video was the flag at the time of the Weimar Republic and is the same as the flag of the German Republic today.

Notice how far the character and purpose of Haydn's music had strayed from his original purpose. It had wandered from its inception as a hymn, to an inspirational piano theme and variation, to a quartet movement, to a patriotic song, to a boisterous and turbulent national anthem—which, by the way, could be and actually was sung in rathskellers and bier stubes all over town.

After the loss of WWI, the dissolution of a monarchy, an economic depression, and a cultural upheaval, a resentful German Weimar Republic was sticking its nose in the world's face with Fallersleben's lyrics and Haydn's music. Neither Haydn nor Fallersleben had intended this to happen.

(The Haydn piano variations and quartet are discussed below.)

Nazi germany

The Weimar Republic's resentful gesture was clear enough, but the full potential of Fallersleben's lyrics hadn't yet been unleashed.

Adolf Hitler and his Nazi cohorts saw the full potential of Deutschland, Deutschland über alles and what more it could do for them than it had done for the previous administration. After coming to power and wrenching control from the Weimer Republic, they did the Weimar Republic one better: they added their own Nazi Party anthem to it.

The Nazis adopted the two songs—the Horst Wessel Song (aka The SA Song), which was the official anthem of the Nazi party, and Deutschland, Deutschland über alles, which had been the nation's anthem under Weimar rule—as the national anthems for The Third Reich. The Nazis kept the Fallersleben lyrics but added the lyrics of the Horst Wessel Song to it.

For your comparison, the Nazi version of the stanza that the Nazis added to the Fallersleben lyrics to create their four-stanza anthem went like this:

Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,

Über alles in der Welt,
Wenn es stets zu Schutz und Trutze
Brüderlich zusammenhält.
Von der Maas bis an die Memel,
Von der Etsch bis an den Belt.
Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,
Über alles in der Welt.
Die Fahne hoch! Die Reihen fest geschlossen!
SA marschiert mit ruhig festem Schritt.
Kameraden, die Rotfront und Reaktion erschossen,
Marschieren im Geist in unseren Reihen mit.
Germany, Germany above everything,
Above everything in the world,
When it always for protection and defense,
Brotherly sticks together.
From the Meuse to the Neman,
From the Adige to the Belt.
Germany, Germany above everything,
Above everything in the world.
The flag high! the ranks tightly closed!
SA marches with a calm, firm pace.
Comrades whom Red Front and Reaction shot dead,
March in spirit within our ranks.

SA, which is mentioned in the Nazi lyrics, is the German abbreviation for the term assault detachment, a group of Nazi thugs also called storm troopers. The SA was a paramilitary group that played a key role in Hitler's rise to power.

According to Hitler, the Reich was to last a thousand years. But the two songs were the joint national songs of Germany only from 1922 until 1945, when Nazi Germany was defeated.

No wonder that during the Nazi era Haydn's music and Fallersleben's modified lyrics took on connotations neither had intended. Fallersleben originally meant his lyrics to be a call to fellow Germans to place the concept of a unified German nation that was above regional differences—with geographic borders marking the extent to which culturally German settlers had spread. Instead, it became reinterpreted by the Nazis as a justification for German expansionism and was misinterpreted by their enemies as a claim by Germany to world hegemony. For these reasons, Deutschland, Deutschland über alles cast a pall over Germany's image and was dropped after WW II.

Poor, poor Haydn; poor Haschka. They never meant things to turn out this way.

Germany today

Many people around the world believe that today Germany national anthem is still Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles. Actually, the Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles anthem was dropped in 1950 in favor of the Song of Germany, which retains only the third stanza of von Fallersleben's lyrics but keeps Haydn's music.

This mistaken idea that the current German anthem is Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles is partly due to the earlier anthem's prominence under the Nazis, and partly to the fact that both Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles and the present German national anthem are based on Haydn's melody. Also contributing this misconception is the fact that Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles is still being played and sung in some circles. Haydn's melody may be the same, but the lyrics for the current anthem are different. And so are its sentiments.

Instead of remembering the German anthem for its stirring and noble dignity and its unsurpassed beauty, a few revised versions of the anthem since Haydn's time remind them of the worst horrors of Hitler's Germany. Many of those who react this way have been understandably conditioned to detest the evils that were perpetrated by the Nazis; it's only natural for them to react with unsuppressed rage. They're ignorant of or uninfluenced by the fact that Haydn's music originated as a hymn, a song praising the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and exhorting God's blessing on him. Instead, they feel loathing and repugnance; to them, the song is a dirge.

Perhaps in part because of the positive aspects of Fallersleben's original lyrics, in 1950, the old anthem, Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles, was restored by West Germany, except that Fallersleben's still-offensive first verse (and irrelevant) third verse were displaced by his third verse alone, which by itself was not seen in the same distasteful light. This situation is still the case. Only the third verse is currently employed in the Federal Republic of Germany's national anthem.

Below is Fallersleben's original third verse (same as above); it's the only verse now a part of the present German national anthem:

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben
Brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Sind des Glückes Unterpfand;
Blüh' im Glanze dieses Glückes,
Blühe, deutsches Vaterland. 
Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland!
For these let us all strive
Brotherly with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the pledge of fortune;
Flourish in this fortune's blessing,
Flourish, German fatherland.

With the third verse intact, the anthem endured as the national anthem of West Germany until 1990. Then, when East and West Germany merged, it became the national anthem of a unified Germany.

Today, under a new title, Deutschlandlied (Song of Germany) and consisting of the third verse of the old Fallersleben song, the German national anthem, still based on Haydn's theme, continues as the national anthem of Germany. In Germany, the melody is also sung to the text, Sei gesegnet ohne Ende (Be Blessed Forever).

  • Hear an example of Haydn's theme as it's played for the German national anthem today. It's performed by the Regimental Band of the Coldstream Guards, the famous English military band: click here.

Suggestion: You may want to sing or play along!

As you listen, note the sharp contrast between Haydn's hymn, Haydn's quartet version, and the German national anthem version. By virtue of instrumentation and tempo adjustments, what started with Hayden as a hymn has metamorphosed first into a delicate and enchanting secular work (the quartet), then into a patriotic song (Fallersleben's version), and finally into a musical powerhouse.


want a more complete history of the German National Anthem?

It's not The Muse's purpose to present a full history of the development of the German national anthem. Numerous versions appeared before and after WWI and WWII than those discussed here. If you want more information about the other versions, you may want to consult these other sources:

  • Explore further the history and evolution of the German national anthem at the Wikipedia web site page called Deutschlandlied: click here.

  • Explore the history of the anthems of Austrian emperors at the Wikipedia page called Austrian Emperor Anthems: click here.

An surprising sidelight

You may be surprised to learn that there was a time when the German national anthem was based on the music of the English anthem, God Save the King.

The recognized German national anthem between 1871 and 1918 was called Das Lied der Deutschen, aka Hail to Thee in Victor's Crown. During this period Haydn's hymn was abandoned in favor of the melody from the English anthem, which was accompanied by new lyrics titled Gott erhalte, Gott beschütze Unsern Kaiser, unser Land! (God Preserve, God Protect Our Emperor, Our country!).

In case you're not familiar with God Save the King, today it's most notable as the national anthem of England, but it's also the anthem of numerous other nations. It's closely associated with the famous British composer, Thomas Arne, who did not compose it himself, although he is widely thought to have done so.

Arne is no less important a British composer because he didn't compose God Save the King. Among his other achievements he is the composer of Rule Britannia, another very famous English patriotic song.

God Save the King is among the compositions designated Shared Musical Treasures by the Muse Of Music.

  • Explore God Save the King at The Muse Of Music's feature titled Shared Musical Treasures—God Save The Queen (Or Is It King?): click here.

The practice of playing the German national anthem to the melody for God Save the King prevailed throughout WWI, while England and Germany were at war, giving German nationals good reason to resent the English melody. Ironically, during the period in which both countries were at war, they struck up the same tune on both sides of the English Channel.

As already noted, it was not until 1922 that the Weimar Republic abandoned Das Lied der Deutschen and Germany returned to the Haydn melody accompanied by the Fallersleben lyrics.

Next, hear the German national anthem as it was sung before the end of WWI, when it was played to the tune of the British national anthem God Save the King. Watch this video.

The British melody and the German lyrics go well together, don't they? When orchestrated for band, they project the very martial sound that the German monarchy sought.

about variations on Haydn's Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser

As previously explained, Haydn originally wrote his Kaiserlied music to be played indoors on the piano, without voice accompaniment. You heard this version of Haydn's composition when you clicked on the video that portrays the spirit of Haydn's hymn the way Haydn and Haschka meant it to sound, above.

Haydn's original hymn music has been transcribed by other musicians many times since he created it. Versions of the hymn and Haschka's lyrics were made extant in several languages (Czech, Croatian, Slovene, Hungarian, Polish, and Italian. Composers and arrangers from Austria and other nations in Europe and around the world devised their own versions, orchestrations that were suited to their own specific purposes. They transcribed them for a variety of voices and other instruments. Some revised Haschka's lyrics to fit local situations. Music-only transcriptions were created for Austrian orchestras, or orchestras of other nations, classical orchestras, bands, and university hymns. Haydn's original anthem music has been modified to meet the specific political and social requirements and cultural sensitivities of national anthems in diverse countries.

Earlier you heard a version of the music that was orchestrated for a military marching band when this page opened, and when you clicked on the musical score of Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser played by the Coldstream Guards. This type of rendition is typical of versions played for national anthems by full orchestras and marching bands; it's the way most people are accustomed to hearing Haydn's hymnal music. This, despite the fact that a military march is certainly not what Haydn had in mind.

Papa Haydn was never one to argue with success, however. He had no problem with others copying his music and spreading it around the world in one form or another. In fact, he himself composed two different versions based on his Franz den Kaiser theme, one for solo piano and one for chamber orchestra.

Haydn's theme as adapted for pianoVariations for piano on Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser

Haydn did not fail to recognize his theme's inherent musical appeal, its significance for general audiences, and the benefits to his career that might result if he were to incorporate it in his musical creations

It wasn't long before he did a little transcribing of his own. Haydn composed a work for solo piano variations based on his Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser. The piece begins with a statement of the original Haydn hymn, and the variations follow.

Below is a video of Variations on Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser that presents the entire set of variations. The piece begins with a statement of the first theme, which of course is identical to the theme of the entire original hymn. The piece lasts over seven minutes.

Now, listen to another rendition of the same theme you heard above in the video showing Haydn's theme being played on a piano the way it was originally written. But this time the piano continues after the thematic introduction until the second theme is introduced and the entire set of variations are aired.

Here it is. It's over seven minutes of joy played on a modern piano modeled after an original 1792 pianoforte of the type Haydn himself might have used to play the variations!


Haydn's theme as he adapted it for Classical Piano—Andante with variations in F minor

In 1793 Haydn composed a set of variations for piano titled Andante With Variations in F minor, Hoboken 17/6, also popularly known as Un Piccolo Divertimento. Today it's one of his most popular piano works.

The variations featured in this piece consist of a pair of double (or alternate) variations; that is, two (not one) related themes are introduced at different points in the piece and then repeatedly varied. The first theme is in F minor and the second theme in F major.

Variations of each theme are played after each theme is introduced and an extended coda finishes. Both themes are based on Haydn's hymn, but are conceptually and musically distant from it—more complex, sophisticated, and subtle, more appropriate for a classical composition of this type. (It's hard to imagine any of these variations turned into a march).

Below is a video of the Andante and Variations that presents the entire set of variations. The piece begins with a statement of the original Haydn hymn, and the variations follow. The piece is performed by the brilliant and accomplished Clifford Curzon at the piano; it lasts over nine minutes.

Haydn's theme as he adapted it for chamber orchestra—haydn's Emperor quartet

Papa Haydn's hymnal theme was so compelling and so flexible, it successfully made the leap from a simple piece for piano to a piece of chamber music. Under his masterful hand, his hymn became a quite different kind of musical form. His brilliant rearrangement for chamber orchestra was a very different kind of music with very different purpose and style, and calling for a very different technique, but it was successful nonetheless.

The same year Haydn premiered his hymn for his Emperor (1797), it occurred to him to compose a slow movement for a quartet consisting of the Emperor's hymn as its theme, followed by four variations, each involving the same melody played by one member of the quartet. Haydn dispensed with lyrics and incorporated his musical idea as pure, abstract melody. The finished quartet, now often referred to as the Emperor Quartet, was published as the third of his Opus 76 quartets. It's perhaps Haydn's most famous work in this genre.

The music that follows is a sample of this transcription. Listen for a statement of the Franz den Kaiser theme you heard a little while ago, but this time followed by the first variation. The hymn, which is a reverent praise to a nation and its leader, has been transformed by Haydn into a thing of elegance, grace, and airy beauty. The way it's played by the Vienna String Quartet, it lives and breathes with a life of its own.

  • Here's a brief selection from Haydn's 1796/7 Emperor Quartet played by the magnificent Vienna String Quartet. Now hear Haydn's theme as used in the Haydn quartet: click here.

We think you will agree that with the Emperor Quartet Haydn's theme made a far-ranging but successful leap from hymn to chamber quartet; it became a different sort of music that's just as powerful and moving as the original hymn, but in a different way!

Haydn's music—revived, restored, revised, adopted, and vindicated

Throughout history, numerous countries have adopted Haydn's original theme as their national anthem; composers have been attracted to it and have used it in their own works; and several universities and colleges have seen it as so stately and grand they decided to employ it to express their ideals and goals for higher education. Because of its association with Nazi Germany, the theme has occasionally served as an ironic commentary in music critical of what happened there.

other countries

Countries under the hegemony of the Austro-Hungarian Empire had good political and economic reasons to adopt versions of Haydn's theme for their own national anthems. The tune stopped being used for official purposes in Austria when the monarchy was abolished by the Weimar Republic in 1918. Since then, countries that had adopted the Haydn theme have switched to other, more congenial melodies. Today, only Germany continues to use Haydn's theme as the basis for its national anthem.

Countries that had adopted the anthem at one time or another include:

  • Czechoslovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Hungary
  • Poland
  • Italy
  • Austria
  • Germany

other composers—Paganini

Notably, Nicolo Paganini incorporated Haydn's theme into his Maestosa Sonata Sentimentale, which contains a set of four lush, lyrical variations on Haydn's theme.

Paganini played his new composition for the first time in Vienna in 1828 in front of the then-seated Austrian emperor, Francis Joseph (also named Franz, but not Haydn's kaiser).

Not surprisingly, his work was greeted with enthusiasm. How could it be otherwise? Wasn't Paganini a brilliant violinist? Wasn't he a brilliant composer? Hadn't he chosen to base his composition on Haydn's Viennese theme?...Haydn wasn't the only shrewd musician who ever played Vienna.

Here is a brief excerpt from this fifteen-minute piece. It consists of a statement of the theme followed by two of the four variations Paganini wrote. Salvatore Accardo is one of the greatest Paganini interpreters; he plays the violin with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Dutoit, conducting.

  • Hear Haydn's theme as used in Paganini's Maestosa Sonata Sentimentale and as played by Salvatore Accardo: click here.

As you listen, compare the Maestosa to Haydn's loving, admiring hymn, his slow and stately quartet, and to the bold and pompous German national anthem. Each is majestic in its own way.

Note how Paganini left Haydn's theme unchanged but radically altered it's effect. He wrought his alterations chiefly by clever orchestration and through the means of intricatealmost convoluted—solo violin passages. A master violinist, Paganini was able to perform the complex, sensuous, weaving passages he had written; a master composer, he was able to radically transform both the Haydn hymn and the Haydn quartet into a work of his own, something sensuous, unique, and different from its origins, a vehicle for his virtuosity.

Maestoso is a musical term meaning with majesty; stately. Indeed, both Haydn's theme and Paganini's theme are majestic and stately. But Paganini's Maestosa Sonata smokes!

Other compositions and arrangements

Haydn's theme is popular and influential today, even outside Germany. It has been set to music by composers other than Paganini and has been adopted by a number of universities as an official anthem. Some examples:

  • Carl Czerny's variations for piano and string quartet, opus 73.
  • Henryk Wieniawski's variations on the tune for unaccompanied violin, from L'école Moderne, opus 10.
  • Tchaikovsky's 1876 orchestral arrangement.
  • Rossini's use of the theme in his opera, Il viaggio a Reims.
  • Columbia University.
  • The University of the South.
  • The University of Pittsburgh.
  • Illinois State University.
  • College of Charleston.


The Muse now invites you to hear Haydn's glorious music again, this time the way it's sung and played in modern Germany. Play Deutschlandlied (Song of Germany), the national anthem of the Federal Republic of Germany (aka the Berlin Republic).

—click the score to hear the marching band version of Germany's Republic again—

Suggestion: Sing along!

Legally, Germany's national anthem has only one verse, the first verse to Fallersleben's original lyrics. Here it is again:

Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Für das deutsche Vaterland!
Danach lasst uns alle streben
Brüderlich mit Herz und Hand!
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit
Sind des Glückes Unterpfand;
Blüh' im Glanze dieses Glückes,
Blühe, deutsches Vaterland. 
Unity and justice and freedom
For the German fatherland!
For these let us all strive
Brotherly with heart and hand!
Unity and justice and freedom
Are the pledge of fortune;
Flourish in this fortune's blessing,
Flourish, German fatherland.


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Haydn's Theme

Haydn's Theme In His Music

Hear The Tune Used In The German National Anthem Before 1922

Haydn's Theme In German Patriotic Music

Haydn's Theme & The German National Anthem

Compare Haydn's Theme With Arne's God Save The Queen

How Paganini Changed Haydn's Theme For His Maestosa Sonata Sentimentale

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