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Joseph Haydn
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Joseph Haydn

Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1792

(Franz) Joseph Haydn (in German, Josef; he never used the Franz) (March 31, 1732 - May 31, 1809) was a leading composer of the classical period. He was the brother of Michael Haydn, a composer, and Johann Evangelist Haydn, a tenor singer.

A life-long resident of Austria, Haydn spent most of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Eszterházy family, on their remote estate. Being isolated from other composers and trends in music, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original".

Table of contents
1 Life
2 Character and appearance
3 Works
4 Books about Haydn
5 Catalogs
6 See also
7 External links



Haydn was born in 1732, the son of a wheelwright living in the village of Rohrau near the border with Hungary. His musical ability was recognized when he was a small child, and at age six he was sent to live with relatives in nearby Hainburg, where he could be trained as a choral singer. In 1740, Haydn was noticed by Georg von Reutter, the director of music in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, who was touring the provinces looking for talented choirboys. Reutter took Haydn with him to Vienna, where Haydn worked for nine years as a chorister, the last four in the company of his younger brother Michael. Reutter often let his choristers go hungry and neglected their musical education, but Haydn certainly learned a great deal from being a professional musician at an early age in an important musical location.

Struggles as a freelancer

In 1749, Haydn had matured physically to the point that he was no longer able to sing high choral parts. On a weak pretext, he was summarily dismissed from his job. He evidently spent one night homeless on a park bench, but was taken in by friends and began to pursue a career as a freelance musician. During this arduous period, which lasted ten years, Haydn worked many different jobs, including valet/accompanist for the Italian composer Nicola Porpora, from whom he later said he learned "the true fundamentals of composition". He labored to fill the gaps in his training, and eventually came to write his first string quartets and his first opera. During this time Haydn's professional reputation gradually increased.

The years as Kapellmeister

1759, Haydn received his first important position, that of Kapellmeister (music director) for Count Karl von Morzin. In this capacity, he directed the count's small orchestra, and for this ensemble wrote his first symphonies.  Count Morzin soon suffered financial reverses that forced him to dismiss his musical establishment, but Haydn was quickly offered a similar job (1761) as assistant Kapellmeister to the Eszterházy family, one of the wealthiest and most important in the Austrian Empire. When the old Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, finally died in 1766, Haydn was elevated to full Kapellmeister.

As a liveried servant of the Eszterházys, Haydn followed them as they moved among their three main residences: the family seat in Eisenstadt, their winter palace in Vienna, and Eszterháza, a grand new palace built in rural Hungary in the 1760s. Haydn had a huge range of responsibilities, including composition, running the orchestra, playing chamber music for and with his patrons, and eventually the mounting of operatic productions. Despite the backbreaking workload, Haydn considered himself fortunate to have his job. The Eszterházy princes (first Paul Anton, then most importantly Nikolaus I) were musical connoisseurs who appreciated his work and gave him the conditions needed for his artistic development, including daily access to his own small orchestra.

In 1760, with the security of a Kapellmeister position, Haydn married. He and his wife, the former Maria Anna Keller, did not get along, and they produced no children. Haydn may have had one or more children with Luigia Polzelli, a singer in the Eszterházy establishment with whom he carried on a long-term love affair.

During the nearly thirty years that Haydn worked in the Eszterházy household, he produced a flood of compositions, and his musical style became ever more developed. His popularity in the outside world also increased. Gradually, Haydn came to write as much for publication as for his employer, and several important works of this period, such as the Paris symphonies (1785-6) and the original orchestral version of The Seven Last Words of Christ (1786), were commissions from abroad.

Around 1781 Haydn established a close friendship with Mozart, whose work he had already been influencing by example for many years. The two composers enjoyed playing in string quartets together. Haydn was hugely impressed with Mozart's work; it is probably significant that around this time, Haydn largely ceased to compose operas and concertos – two of the genres where Mozart was at his strongest. Mozart, in contrast, worked hard to produce six string quartets that would live up to the standard of Haydn's recently completed Opus 33 series, and when they were completed, Mozart dedicated the quartets to his friend.

The London journeys

In 1790, Prince Nikolaus died and was succeeded by a thoroughly unmusical successor who dismissed the entire musical establishment and put Haydn on a pension. Thus freed of his obligations, Haydn was able to accept a lucrative offer from Johann Peter Salomon, a German impresario, to visit England and conduct his new symphonies with a large orchestra.

The visit (1791-2, with a repeat visit in 1794-5) was a huge success. Audiences flocked to Haydn's concerts, and he quickly achieved wealth and fame. Musically, the visits to England generated some of Haydn's best-known work, including the "Surprise", "Military", "Drumroll", and "London" symphonies, the "Rider" quartet, and the "Gypsy Rondo" piano trio.

Final years in Vienna

Haydn actually considered becoming an English citizen and settling permanently, but eventually took a different course. He returned to Vienna, had a large house built for himself, and turned to the composition of large religious works for chorus and orchestra. These include his two great oratorios The Creation and The Seasons and six masses for the Eszterházy family, which by this time was once again headed by a musically-inclined prince. Haydn also composed the last nine in his long series of string quartets, including the "Emperor", "Sunrise", and "Fifths" quartets. Despite his increasing age, Haydn looked to the future, exclaiming once in a letter, "how much remains to be done in this glorious art!"

In 1802, Haydn found that an illness from which he had been suffering for some time had increased greatly in severity, to the point that he became physically unable to compose. This was doubtless very difficult for Haydn, because, as he acknowledged, the flow of fresh musical ideas waiting to be worked out as compositions did not cease. Haydn was well cared for by his servants, and he received many visitors and public honors during his last years, but they cannot have been very happy years for him. During his illness, Haydn often found solace by sitting at the piano and playing Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, which he had composed himself as a patriotic gesture in 1797. This melody later became used for the Austrian and German national anthems.

Haydn's died in 1809, following an attack on Vienna by the French army under Napoleon. Among his last words were his attempt to calm and reassure his servants as cannon shot fell on the neighborhood.

Character and appearance

Haydn was known among his contemporaries for his kindly, optimistic, and congenial personality. He had a robust sense of humor, evident in his love of practical jokes and often apparent in his music. He was particularly respected by the Eszterházy court musicians whom he supervised, as he maintained a cordial working atmosphere and effectively represented the musicians' interests with their employer.

Haydn was a devout Catholic, who often turned to his rosary when he got stuck in composing, a practice that he usually found to be effective. When he finished a composition, he would write "Laus deo" ("praise be to God") or some similar expression at the end of the manuscript. His favorite hobbies were hunting and fishing.

Haydn was short in stature, perhaps as a result of having been underfed throughout most of his youth. Like many in his day, he was a survivor of smallpox, and his face was pitted with the scars of this disease. He was not handsome, and was quite surprised when women flocked to him during his London visits. The various portraitists who drew or painted Haydn during his lifetime each took a different path in attempting to portray the attractive personality instead of the ugly face; hence no two surviving portraits of Haydn are alike.


Haydn is credited as the "father" of the classical symphony and string quartet, and also wrote many piano sonatas, piano trios, divertimentos and masses, which became the foundation for the Classical style in these compositional types. He also wrote other types of chamber music and operas and concertos, although such compositions are now less known. Although other composers were prominent in the earlier Classical period, notably C.P.E. Bach in the field of the keyboard sonata (the harpsichord and clavichord were equally popular with the piano in this era) and J.C. Bach and Leopold Mozart in the symphony, Haydn was undoubtedly the strongest overall influence on musical style in this era.

The development of sonata form from a rigid schema into a subtle and flexible mode of musical expression, which became the dominant force in Classical musical thought, was due almost entirely to Haydn. He did not stop there, also inventing sonata rondo form, double variation form (variations on two alternating themes), and being the first to integrate fugue and other contrapuntal or "learned" modes of writing into Classical form.

Structure and character of the music

A central characteristic of Haydn's music is the development of larger structures out of very short, simple musical motifss. The music is often quite formally concentrated, and the important musical events of a movement can unfold rather quickly.

The organizational principle for much of Haydn's work is sonata form (see the article under that title), consisting of

Haydn's compositional practice influenced both Mozart and Beethoven. Beethoven began his career writing rather discursive, loosely organized sonata expositions; but with the onset of his "middle period", he revived and intensified Haydn's practice, developing very highly organized musical structures from extremely simple basic motifs.

The emotional content of Haydn's music cannot accurately be summarized in words, but one may attempt an approximate description. Much of the music was written to please and delight a prince, and its emotional tone is correspondingly upbeat; this tone also reflects, perhaps, Haydn's fundamentally healthy and well-balanced personality. Occasional minor-key works, often deadly serious in character, form striking exceptions to the general case. Haydn's fast movements tend to be rhythmically propulsive, and often impart a great sense of energy, especially so in the finales. Some characteristic examples of Haydn's "rollicking" finale type are found in the "London" symphony no. 104, the string quartet op. 50 no. 1, and the piano trio Hob XV: 27. Haydn's slow movements, early in his career, are usually not too slow in tempo, relaxed, and reflective. Later on, the emotional range of the slow movements increases, notably in the deeply felt slow movements of the quartets Op. 76 nos. 3 and 5, the Symphony No. 102, and the piano trio Hob XV: 23. The minuets tend to have a strong downbeat (and upbeat!) and a clearly popular character. Late in his career, perhaps inspired by the young Beethoven (who was briefly his student) Haydn began to write scherzi instead of minuets, with a much faster tempo, felt as one beat to the measure.

Perhaps more than any other composer, Haydn is known for the jokes that he put into his music. The most famous example is the sudden loud chord in his "Surprise Symphony", No. 94, but others are perhaps funnier: the fake endings in the quartets Op. 33 No. 2 and Op. 50 No. 3, or the remarkable rhythmic illusion placed in the trio of Op. 50 No. 1.

Evolution of Haydn's Style

Haydn's early work dates from a period in which the compositional style of the High Baroque (seen in Bach and Handel's music) had gone out of fashion. This was a period of exploration and uncertainty, and Haydn (born 18 years before the death of Bach) was himself one of the musical explorers of this time. An older contemporary whose work Haydn acknowledged as an important influence was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the third son of Johann Sebastian.

Tracing Haydn's work over the five decades it was produced (roughly, 1749 to 1802), one finds a gradual but ever increasing complexity and musical sophistication, which developed as Haydn learned from his own experience and that of his colleagues. Several important landmarks have been observed in the evolution of Haydn's musical style.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s Haydn entered a stylistic period known as "Sturm und Drang" (storm and stress). This term is taken from a literary movement of about the same time, though some scholars believe that Haydn was unaware of this literary development and that the change in his compositional style was entirely of his own making. The musical language of this period is similar to what went before, but it is deployed in work that is more intensely expressive, especially in the works written in minor keys. Some of the most famous compositions of this period are the "Farewell" Symphony #45, the Piano Sonata #20 in C minor, and the six string quartets of Op. 20 (the "Sun" quartets), all dating from 1772. It also was around this time that Haydn became interested in writing fugues in the Baroque style, and three of the Op. 20 quartets end with such fugues.

Following the climax of the "Sturm und Drang," Haydn returned to a lighter, more overtly entertaining style. There are no quartets from this period, and the symphonies take on new features: the first movements now sometimes contain slow introductions, and the scoring often includes trumpets and timpani. These changes are often related to a major shift in Haydn's professional duties, which moved him away from "pure" music and toward the production of comic operas. Several of the operas, such as Il Mondo della luna (The World of the Moon), were Haydn's own work; these are seldom performed today. Haydn sometimes recycled their overtures as symphony movements, which helped him continue his career as a symphonist during this hectic decade.

In 1779, an important change in Haydn's contract permitted him to publish his compositions without prior authorization from his employer. This may have encouraged Haydn to rekindle his career as a composer of "pure" music. The change made itself felt most dramatically in 1781, when Haydn published the six string quartets of Opus 33, announcing (in a letter to potential purchasers) that they were written in "a completely new and special way". Charles Rosen has argued that this assertion on Haydn's part was not just sales talk, but meant quite seriously; and he points out a number of important advances in Haydn's compositional technique that appear in these quartets, advances that mark the advent of the Classical style in full flower. These include a fluid form of phrasing, in which each motif emerges from the previous one without interruption, the practice of letting accompanying material evolve into melodic material, and a kind of "classical counterpoint" in which each instrumental part maintains its own integrity. These traits continue in the many quartets that Haydn wrote after Opus 33.

In the 1790s, stimulated by his England journeys, Haydn developed what Rosen calls his "popular style," a way of composition that, with unprecedented success, created music which both held great popular appeal and retained a learned and rigorous musical structure. An important element of the popular style was the frequent use of folk or folk-like material, as discussed in the article Haydn and folk music. Haydn took care to deploy this material in appropriate locations, such as the endings of sonata expositions or the opening themes of finales. In such locations, the folk material serves as an element of stability, helping to anchor the larger structure. Haydn's popular style can be heard in virtually all of his later work, including the twelve London symphonies, the late quartets and piano trios, and the two late oratorios.

The return to Vienna in 1795 marked the last turning point in Haydn's career. Although his musical style evolved little, his intentions as a composer changed. While he had been a servant, and later a busy entrepreneur, Haydn wrote his works quickly and in profusion, with frequent deadlines. As a rich man, Haydn now felt he had the privilege of taking his time and writing for posterity. This is reflected in the subject matter of The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801), which address such weighty topics as the meaning of life and the purpose of humankind, and represent an attempt to render the sublime in music. Haydn's new intentions also meant that he was willing to spend much time on a single work; both oratorios took him over a year to complete. Haydn once remarked that he had worked on The Creation so long because he wanted it to last.

The change in Haydn's approach was important in the history of music, as other composers soon were following his lead. Notably, Beethoven adopted the practice of taking his time and aiming high. As composers were gradually liberated from dependence on the aristocracy, Haydn's late mode of work became the norm in classical composition.

Books about Haydn


Criticism and analysis:


Some of Haydn's works are referred to by opus numbers, but Hob or Hoboken numbers, after Anthony van Hoboken's 1957 classification, are also frequently used.

See also

Lists of works

Articles on works by Joseph Haydn


Vocal works

Other topics

External links