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Franz Joseph Haydn
1732 - 1809

"Sonata in D Major"

Haydn grew up in a musical family who lived in Rohrau, Austria, where he was born on March 31, 1732. His parents often invited neighbors to their home, where they gave impromptu concerts. When he was 5 years old, Haydn was sent to live with a relative for comprehensive music instruction. When he was 8 years old, Haydn became a chorister at St. Stephen's Cathedral, where he stayed until his voice broke at age 17.

After leaving St. Stephen's, Haydn was forced to fend for himself in Vienna, where he taught music and played the violin. In 1752, Haydn met Nicola Porposa, a singing teacher and composer, who gave him singing instruction in return for Haydn serving as his house servant and accompanist. Through this arrangement, Haydn met some of Vienna's most prominent composers. In 1759, Haydn went to work for Count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin, as Kapellmeister, where he created his first symphony. In 1761, he became second Kapellmeister for Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy. Later, he assumed the post of first Kapellmeister, a position he retained for 25 years.

Haydn composed a vast number of operas, masses, symphonies, quartets, concertos, and sonatas. In 1781, Haydn met Mozart, and familiarity with his music brought a new technique and style to Haydn's compositions.

In 1790, Haydn left his position upon the death of Prince Esterhazy, and went to live in Vienna. He traveled to London in 1790 and again in 1794 to direct concerts that featured his compositions. The 12 London Symphonies are described as the crowning achievement of his vast symphonic output. In 1797, Haydn was commissioned to write a patriotic hymn, and he produced Gott, erhalte Franz, den Kaiser. Since then the hymn has become the Austrian national anthem. Haydn conducted his last concert in 1803 before his health began to deteriorate. He died on May 31, 1809.


Austrian composer. The son of a wheelwright, he was trained as a choirboy and taken into the choir at St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, where he sang from c1740 to c1750. He then worked as a freelance musician, playing the violin and keyboard instruments, accompanying for singing lessons given by the composer Porpora, who helped and encouraged him. At this time he wrote some sacred works, music for theatre comedies and chamber music. In c1759 he was appointed music director to Count Morzin; but he soon moved, into service as Vice-Kapellmeister with one of the leading Hungarian families, the Esterházys, becoming full Kapellmeister on Werner's death in 1766. He was director of an ensemble of generally some 15-20 musicians, with responsibility for the music and the instruments, and was required to compose as his employer - from 1762, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy - might command. At first he lived at Eisenstadt, c30 miles south-east of Vienna; by 1767 the family's chief residence, and Haydn's chief place of work, was at the new palace at Eszterháza. In his early years Haydn chiefly wrote instrumental music, including symphonies and other pieces for the twice-weekly concerts and the prince's Tafelmusik, and works for the instrument played by the prince, the baryton (a kind of viol), for which he composed c125 trios in ten years. There were also cantatas and a little church music. After Werner's death church music became more central, and so, after the opening of a new opera house at Eszterháza in 1768, did opera. Some of the symphonies from c1770 show Haydn expanding his musical horizons from occasional, entertainment music towards larger and more original pieces, for example nos.26, 39, 49, 44 and 52 (many of them in minor keys, and serious in mood, in line with trends in the contemporary symphony in Germany and Austria). Also from 1768-72 come three sets of string quartets, probably not written for the Esterházy establishment but for another patron or perhaps for publication (Haydn was allowed to write other than for the Esterházys only with permission); op.20 clearly shows the beginnings of a more adventurous and integrated quartet style.

Among the operas from this period are Lo speziale (for the opening of the new house), L'infedeltŕ delusa (1773) and Il mondo della luna (1777). Operatic activity became increasingly central from the mid-1770s as regular performances came to be given at the new house. It was part of Haydn's job to prepare the music, adapting or arranging it for the voices of the resident singers. In 1779 the opera house burnt down; Haydn composed La fedeltŕ premiata for its reopening in1781. Until then his operas had largely been in a comic genre; his last two for Eszterháza, Orlando paladino (1782) and Armida (1783), are in mixed or serious genres. Although his operas never attained wider exposure, Haydn's reputation had now grown and was international. Much of his music had been published in all the main European centres; under a revised contract with the Esterháza his employers no longer had exclusive rights to his music.

His works of the 1780s that carried his name further afield include piano sonatas, piano trios, symphonies (nos.76-81 were published in 1784-5, and nos.82-7 were written on commission for a concert organization in Paris in 1785-6) and string quartets. His influential op.33 quartets, issued in 1782, were said to be ‘in a quite new, special manner’: this is sometimes thought to refer to the use of instruments or the style of thematic development, but could refer to the introduction of scherzos or might simply be an advertising device. More quartets appeared at the end of the decade, op.50 (dedicated to the King of Prussia and often said to be influenced by the quartets Mozart had dedicated to Haydn) and two sets (opp. 54-5 and 64) written for a former Esterházy violinist who became a Viennese businessman. All these show an increasing enterprise, originality and freedom of style as well as melodic fluency, command of form, and humour. Other works that carried Haydn's reputation beyond central Europe include concertos and notturnos for a type of hurdy-gurdy, written on commission for the King of Naples, and The Seven Last Words, commissioned for Holy Week from Cadíz Cathedral and existing not only in its original orchestral form but also for string quartet, for piano and (later) for chorus and orchestra.

In 1790, Nikolaus Esterházy died; Haydn (unlike most of his musicians) was retained by his son but was free to live in Vienna (which he had many times visited) and to travel. He was invited by the impresario and violinist J P. Salomon to go to London to write an opera, symphonies and other works. In the event he went to London twice, in 1791-2 and 1794-5. He composed his last 12 symphonies for performance there, where they enjoyed great success; he also wrote a symphonie concertante, choral pieces, piano trios, piano sonatas and songs (some to English words) as well as arranging British folksongs for publishers in London and Edinburgh. But because of intrigues his opera, L'anima del filosofo, on the Orpheus story, remained unperformed. He was honoured (with an Oxford DMus) and fęted generously, and played, sang and conducted before the royal family. He also heard performances of Handel's music by large choirs in Westminster Abbey.

Back in Vienna, he resumed work for Nikolaus Esterházy's grandson (whose father had now died); his main duty was to produce masses for the princess's nameday. He wrote six works, firmly in the Austrian mass tradition but strengthened and invigorated by his command of symphonic technique. Other works of these late years include further string quartets (opp. 71 and 74 between the London visits, op.76 and the op.77 pair after them), showing great diversity of style and seriousness of content yet retaining his vitality and fluency of utterance; some have a more public manner, acknowledging the new use of string quartets at concerts as well as in the home. The most important work, however, is his oratorio The Creation in which his essentially simple-hearted joy in Man, Beast and Nature, and his gratitude to God for his creation of these things to our benefit, are made a part of universal experience by his treatment of them in an oratorio modelled on Handle's, with massive choral writing of a kind he had not essayed before. He followed this with The Seasons, in a similar vein but more a series of attractive episodes than a whole.

Haydn died in 1809, after twice dictating his recollections and preparing a catalogue of his works. He was widely revered, even though by then his music was old-fashioned compared with Beethoven's. He was immensely prolific: some of his music remains unpublished and little known. His operas have never succeeded in holding the stage. But he is regarded, with some justice, as father of the symphony and the string quartet: he saw both genres from their beginnings to a high level of sophistication and artistic expression, even if he did not originate them. He brought to them new intellectual weight, and his closely argued style of development laid the foundations for the larger structures of Beethoven and later composers.


The Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) in his instrumental music, especially the symphonies and string quartets, essentially founded and brought to first mature realization the formal and structural principles of the classical style.

Joseph Haydn virtually created the classical formal structures of the string quartet and symphony, which were developed later by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. He participated in the development of other forms of 18th-century instrumental music, in addition to composing prolifically in the fields of sacred music, opera, and song. Throughout a lifetime of experimentation he developed in the quartet and symphony a fully mature classical tonal idiom, characterized externally by the four-movement structure (allegro, slow movement, minuet and trio, and finale) of the majority of these works and internally by emphasis on thematic and motivic development within a balanced tonal framework. Haydn evolved a tonal language that exhibited a gradual growth toward contrapuntal complexity and a vast range of expression in comparison to the technical simplicity and expressive triviality of much mid-18th-century instrumental music of the style galant.

Haydn was born in Rohrau, Lower Austria, on March 31, 1732. At the age of 8 he became a choirboy at the Cathedral of St. Stephen's in Vienna, remaining there until his dismissal in 1749. By his own account his early years were largely given to self-instruction in music: he developed some facility as a violinist and keyboard player (but he was never a virtuoso performer); he studied briefly with the Italian opera composer and singing master Niccolň Porpora; and he became thoroughly acquainted with Viennese musical life of the period 1740-1760 and knew its leading figures.

Haydn made his first attempts at composition; as he later described them, "I wrote industriously but not quite correctly." His early works included a Singspiel entitled Der krumme Teufel (1752), a few keyboard sonatas and trios, and his first string quartet, written during the 1750s. This first period of his development concluded with 2 years (1758-1760) in private service in Bohemia, during which he evidently composed his first symphony (generally dated 1759).

In Service of Esterházy Family

In 1761 Haydn entered the private service of the noble Hungarian Esterházy family, serving under Prince Paul Esterházy and then, on his death in 1762, under Prince Nicholas. Haydn embarked on the longest and most productive period of private service at a single court enjoyed by any major composer of the 18th century and perhaps of the entire epoch of court patronage of musicians. He remained in the Esterházy service until 1790. At first he held the post of vice kapellmeister, or conductor. In 1766 Prince Nicholas opened a new estate at Esterházy (the previous one had been at Eisenstadt), and that year, on the death of Gregor Werner, Haydn was promoted to kapellmeister.

Haydn was in charge of the musical forces of the court, which included an orchestra of 12 musicians and a group of singers. His duties were to provide two operas and two concerts a week plus a Sunday Mass and whatever additional music might be wanted. Under these conditions his productivity and originality were equally remarkable. As he described it in a famous statement: "As head of an orchestra I could experiment, observe what heightened the effect and what weakened it, and so could improve, expand, cut, take risks; I was cut off from the world, there was no one near me to torment me or make me doubt myself, and so I had to become original."

During the 3 decades of his Esterházy service Haydn's output was prodigious. By 1770 he had produced some 40 symphonies, the quartets up to the six of Opus 9 (1769), much chamber music for baryton (an instrument of the viol family, played by Prince Nicholas), several concertos, operas, keyboard music, and his first Masses. During the period 1771-1780 (called by some biographers his "romantic" period) his music deepened in seriousness and elaborative richness, and he struck out in new paths; as one biographer, E.L. Gerber, put it in 1812: "Haydn's finest symphonic period begins with the year 1770 and from then on gains each year in magnificence." From 1771 and 1772 come the 12 quartets of Opus 17 and Opus 20, with special importance attaching to the latter group, several of which have fugal finales; about 30 more symphonies, including the Mourning Symphony, No. 44, and the Farewell, No. 45 (1772); and about 18 keyboard sonatas, 6 operas and other dramatic music, and two Masses.

Friendship with Mozart

During his last decade in private service, a most important influence on Haydn's music arose from his contact with Mozart. This relationship dates from the time Mozart took up residence in Vienna in 1781; in the next years Haydn came to know him during his trips to Vienna, and they admired each other's music beyond that of any other contemporary. Haydn commented often on Mozart's remarkable gifts and complained bitterly over the lack of recognition and the absence of any permanent post for Mozart comparable to the one Haydn enjoyed. When an official of Prague asked him for an opera in 1787, 2 months after the premiere of Mozart's Don Giovanni there, Haydn declined, saying in part: "It is hardly possible for anyone to stand beside the great Mozart. For if I could impress Mozart's inimitable works as deeply, and with that musical understanding and keen feeling with which I myself grasp and feel them, upon the soul of every music lover … the nations would compete for the possession of such a jewel within their borders."

Haydn's major works of this period seemed to his younger contemporaries to show a considerable influence of Mozart's mature style, and the relationship was openly reciprocal. In this decade Haydn produced about 20 symphonies, including the 6 Paris Symphonies, Nos. 82-87 (1786), and the Oxford Symphony, No. 92 (1788). He also produced the 25 quartets constituting Opus 33 (1781), "written in a new and special manner"; Opus 42 (1785); Opus 50 (1787); Opus 54 and Opus 55 (1789); and Opus 64 (1790). His reputation had by now spread throughout Europe, despite his isolation, owing in part to his being regularly published by a leading Viennese music publisher, Artaria.

Last Years

In 1791 the death of Prince Nicholas freed Haydn from private service, and he embarked on the last and most international phase of his career. He made his first visit to England, at the invitation of the impresario J. P. Salomon, to give concerts of his own works. This visit was a triumph in every respect: Haydn was awarded a degree by Oxford University, met and was honored by members of English society, and gave a highly successful series of concerts. In 1792 he returned to the Continent, passing through Bonn, where he met the young Beethoven, who became his pupil in Vienna. In 1794 he returned to London for another successful tour, then in 1795 settled in Vienna for good. In these years of his travels to England, Haydn, already in his sixties, produced many of his finest late works: his 12 last and greatest symphonies, Nos. 93-104, called the London Symphonies, and the last of his piano trios and piano sonatas.

In 1795-1800, on his return to the Continent, Haydn not only continued his extraordinary productivity but turned once again in a new and progressive direction as a composer. The quartets of Opus 71 belong to 1793; the six of Opus 76 (including the Emperor and Sunrise Quartets) were composed as late as 1797-1798; and the final quartets of Opus 77, Nos. 1 and 2, and the unfinished Opus 103 come from 1799 and 1803. In 1797 Haydn wrote the "Kaiser-Hymn" as a deliberately patriotic gesture in time of war, and it became, as he intended that it should, the Austrian national anthem. In 1796-1798 he set to work on the first of his two final major works - the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons.

The Oratorios

The Creation was based on a German translation by Baron Gottfried van Swieten of an anonymous English oratorio libretto that had been prepared for George Frederick Handel and was based on John Milton's Paradise Lost. With this work Haydn produced a work deliberately planned on the grand scale, based on a religious subject but freely developed in content, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. The work as a whole set him at once in the great tradition of oratorio that he had come to know in Handel's works during his visits to England. Although the strain of writing The Creation virtually exhausted him, Haydn in 1800 set to work on another oratorio of similar magnitude: The Seasons, again with libretto by Van Swieten based on James Thomson's poem.

In these oratorios Haydn came as close as he was ever to come to matching Mozart's sense of dramatic action articulated through music. Neither oratorio is truly a stage work, but both have strong elements of the dramatic and the pictorial, and at times have musicodramatic moments of the highest order. Among these is the entire first part of The Creation, beginning with a representation of "Chaos" as orchestral introduction, and then narrating the creation of the world. After the first recitative the chorus enters sotto voce with the words "And the spirit of God moved upon the waters; and God said, 'Let there be light."' The arrival of the chorus at a fortissimo climax on the word "light" electrified the audiences of Haydn's time, and at his last appearance in public before his death in Vienna on May 31, 1809, at a performance of The Creation in 1808 given as a tribute to him, he rose at this point and attributed, in effect, all his creative ability to divine power.

Enormous Output

Haydn's output was so large that at the end of his life he himself could not be absolutely sure how many works he had written. The problems of compiling an accurate catalog of his works, sorting out spurious compositions, and producing an accurate and complete edition have still not been solved. For example, the six string quartets of Opus 3 have been attributed on good grounds to a minor contemporary named Hoffstetter, whose name appeared on the title page of the original edition but was effaced and replaced with that of Haydn.

But the essential mass of Haydn's output remains unshakable in its attribution to him, and it is of formidable proportions: 104 symphonies; 78 string quartets (omitting Opus 3 and counting as separate items the seven movements of The Seven Last Words of Christ as arranged for quartet); numerous concertos for keyboard, violin, and violoncello; over 125 baryton trios; numerous divertimenti for winds and for mixed ensembles; 52 keyboard sonatas; over 30 piano trios; 12 Masses and a number of other sacred works; approximately 13 operas; and arias and songs.











This web page was last updated on: 10 December, 2008