Haydn conducting a string quartet [Britannica.com]
Name: Franz Joseph Haydn
Born:March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria (About 46 km South East of Vienna)
Died: May 31, 1809, Vienna, Austria
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) was an Austrian composer,
one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the Classical period. Haydn wrote 107 symphonies in total, as well as 83 string quartets, 45 piano trios, 62 piano sonatas, 14 masses and 26 operas, amongst countless other scores.
Franz Joseph Hayden was the second son of a wheelwright father and cook mother. His musicianship was recognized when he was a young boy. At six he was sent away to a school run by his cousin where he sang in the choir, learned music theory and took lessons on several instruments. In 1740, when Hayden was just 8 he moved to Vienna at the invitation of the music director of St. Stephen’s Cathedral to serve as a choirister.
He stayed at the choir school for nine years, acquiring an enormous
practical knowledge of music by constant performances but, to his disappointment, receiving little instruction in music theory. He had to work hard to fulfill his
obligations as a chorister, and when his voice changed, he was expelled from both the cathedral choir and the choir school. [Britannica.com]
Thus at 17 he was left to fend for himself, working odd musical jobs and teaching himself musical theory. He began to build his reputation as an accompanist and composer. In 1758 he was put in charge of a 16 piece ensemble as music director and chamber composer for Count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin. There he wrote his first symphonic work.
His next appointment was as assistant conductor to the court of Prince Esterhazy in 1761. As assistant he “conducted the orchestra and coached the singers in almost daily rehearsals, composed most of the music required, and served as chief of the musical personnel. ” [ibid] He became the musical director in 1766. The Esterhazy family were well known musical patrons and Haydn remained happily employed with them for over 30 years. Most of his enormous catalog of music (340 hours of it by some accounts) was written during that period.
Hayden and Mozart were both extremely popular in Vienna at the same time and they shared a good natured competition. Both men were inspired by the other’s work and they were friends. Mozart claimed that he learned how to write quartets from Hayden and dedicated a set of six quartets to the older composer. Haydn — already a master of the ‘surprise’ — admired Mozart’s innovations and creativity and the younger composer’s influence made its way into Haydn’s compositions.
He took two extended trips to England, one in 1791 and one in 1794. Hayden’s musical genius was celebrated on both trips and he was much inspired by the change from Vienna to London. Over the course of his two trips he wrote 12 symphonies including The Surprise Symphony, the Military Symphony [Finale], the London Symphony and the Symphony No. 102 in B flat Major. King George the Third personally entreated him to stay in London, but the composer returned Vienna and the Esterhazys.
It was on his way back from the first trip in 1792 that he met his most famous student, Beethoven. (Hayden also had a strong influence on the works of Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms. )
By Ludwig Guttenbrunn – Photo Nevilley at en.wikipedia. Public Domain
Back in Vienna he put the finishing touches on a new piece, an oratorio, The Creation. It was so popular that Haydn went to work on another, The Seasons [Spring] based on a poem by James Thomson. Originally written in English and then translated into German it could be performed in either language. He wrote six masses, and more string quartets.
In 1797 he wrote a composition that is perhaps his most performed piece today,“Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser” (“God Save Emperor Francis”). It became the national anthem for Austria then was recycled into “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (“Germany, Germany Above All Else”) which is Germany’s national anthem.
As Napoleon took Vienna in 1809 Haydn refused to leave his house. ” Napoleon placed a guard of honour outside Haydn’s house, and the enfeebled composer was much touched by the visit of a French hussars’ officer who sang an aria from The Creation. On May 31 Haydn died peacefully, and he was buried two days later.” [Britannica.com]
By one estimate, Haydn produced some 340 hours of music, more than Bach or Handel, Mozart or Beethoven. Few of them lack some unexpected detail or clever solution to a formal problem. [AllMusic.com]
Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy, painted in 1791
- 108 Symphonies
- 20 opera
- 14 masses
- 6 oratorios
- 68 String Quartets
- 2 cello concerti [Cello Concerto in C-Adagio]
- 32 divertimenti for small orchestra
- 126 trios for baryton, viola and cello
- 47 piano sonatas
Haydn began his career composing under a Baroque influence. From there he “adopted the light, gay, and elegant musical style that was popular at the time in Austria”[Britannica.com] Then the darker, more emotional style of north German composers began showing up in his music. When he came into his own maturity as a composer he was able to marry all three styles.
Here is Piano TV’s review of Haydn’s music including The Piano Sonata in E-flat major; Piano trio in G Major in Gypsy trio; 11th Keyboard Concerto in D Major; String Quartet No. 65 Op. 76 No. in E Major; London Symphony; The Creation Oratorio “In Splendor Bright”
And if you are really sparked to listen to much more Haydn… go to Classicfm.com’s article that ranks his symphonies “in order of greatness“. The poor guy who got assigned the task to listen to each symphony and do the ranking does a great job of explaining why each one works (or doesn’t) in his opinion. And there is lots of lovely audio.
For a YouTube biography you can go HERE. She does a good job of giving all the facts in a light, quick way. So if you don’t want to read all of my bio, this is a good alternative.