How Not to Make Crummy Choices

All was not quiet at the palace.

It was November 1772. Prince Nikolaus was at Esterháza, his summer palace in remote Fertőd, Hungary. And he was having a terrific time there. In fact, he’d been having a terrific time there for several weeks. And he wanted to have a terrific time there for several more weeks.

I’m extending my stay, the Prince announced to the palace.

This is when things got noisy.

Over in the orchestra’s quarters, the Prince’s musicians were not having a terrific time. Esterháza was their summer gig. Their wives and children were many miles away. And summer was many weeks past. The musicians were ready to bid farewell to Esterháza.

So, the homesick violinists and oboists and cellists appealed to their conductor, Franz Joseph Haydn.

Mr. Haydn was a good conductor, a good composer, and a good egg. He knew it was unkind to ask his overworked musicians to stay longer at Esterháza. He also knew it was impolitic to ask Prince Nikolaus not to stay longer at Esterháza.

Mr. Haydn had two crummy choices. And which did he take? Neither. The good conductor, good composer, and good egg was not a man to be fooled by false choices.

Instead, Mr. Haydn gave himself a third, not-so-crummy choice. He composed a symphony. A melancholy piece to be played by candlelight. And while this symphony began like most other symphonies, it did not end like most other symphonies.

Because Mr. Haydn’s symphony ended with each instrument, one by one, going silent. And each musician, one by one, snuffing out the candle on his music stand and leaving the stage.

Prince Nikolaus got the message loud and clear. “If they all leave,” he reportedly declared (perhaps from the now-dark theater), “we must leave, too.” And leave they all did.

So, Mr. Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony bypassed the crummy choices. Got his musicians home to their families.

And brought a little quiet back to the palace.

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