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Monday, 15 June 2015

Joseph Haydn


Franz Joseph Haydn was born on March 31, 1732, in Rohrau, Austria.

His father was Mathias Haydn, a wheelwright who also served as "Marktrichter", an office akin to village mayor

When he was 7 Joseph entered the choir school of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. He had no formal musical training until his late teens, when he worked with the Italian Niccolo Porpora.

The Serenade were 18th century compositions for small groups of wind or string instruments, which were frequently used in Vienna for serenading beneath windows. There are several stories about Haydn taking part in serenade parties in his youth.


In 1761 Haydn was engaged as Vice-Kapellmeister (music director) by the aristocratic Esterhazy family. He was promoted to Kapellmeister in 1766. Though living virtually as a slave to the family, Haydn had at his disposal an impressive orchestra.

As chief musician for the Esterhazy family, Haydn wrote a phenomenal quantity of music at their castle. Like other nobles who were notable as patrons of the arts, the Esterhazys constantly demanded new works from their musical employees, who provided concerts for guests of the family.

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Haydn's fame spread throughout Europe, and his works were published, but he tired of the confinement. In 1790 Prince Miklos Jozsef Esterhazy died and Prince Miklos's successor cared nothing for music, so Haydn was suddenly free.

The impresario Johann Peter Salomon offered Haydn a contract for twelve new pieces to be performed in London. Haydn was lionized in the English city, and he stayed for eighteen months, returning again in 1794.

On the evening of February 2, 1795, the audience at the King's Theatre, London awaited with keen anticipation the first performance of Joseph Haydn's new work. his 102nd Symphony.  As the concert advertised that Haydn would direct the new piece himself "from the Pianofort"', the audience pressed forward out of their seats to get a closer look. Moments later, a chandelier crashed to the floor where the seats had emptied, killing no one and giving this piece the name “The Miracle”.

An engraving showing a concert in Hanover Square Rooms with its chandeliers clearly seen

It was long believed that this "Miracle" event took place at the premiere of Haydn's Symphony No. 96, giving this work the name “The Miracle”. More recent research revealed that this event actually took place during the premiere of his Symphony No. 102. However, the German composer's Symphony No. 96 has retained its epithet.

Europe was in political turmoil and financial meltdown when Haydn wrote his Missa in Angustiis (Mass for Troubled Times) in 1798, In fact, the times were so troubled that there wasn't enough money to pay for a wind section, yet Haydn produced one of his greatest works.

On September 15, 1798 the day of its very first performance), the big news was that Napoleon had been dealt a stunning defeat in the Battle of the Nile by British forces led by Admiral Horatio Nelson. Because of this, the mass gradually acquired the nickname the Lord Nelson Mass.

He returned to Vienna in 1795, and his late oratorio The Creation, first performed on April 29, 1798 in a concert for the Viennese aristocrats was one of Haydn's most popular works with the Vienna public. The oratorio depicts and celebrates the creation of the world as described in the Book of Genesis and Paradise Lost.

The old Burgtheater, site of the public premiere

The classical age of chamber music began with the string quartets of Haydn. His first quartets of 1771 have virtuoso first-violin parts that are unmistakably for a soloist accompanied by the other instruments. During Haydn's  30-year service to the Esterhazy family, he completed 68 string quartets, which made unusual demands on players and audiences alike.

Haydn is often called the "Father of the Symphony". Perhaps the best known of  his 106 symphonies are the 'London' and the 'Surprise'.


He was the brother of Michael Haydn – himself a highly regarded composer – and Johann Evangelist Haydn, a tenor.

Haydn was married to Maria Anna Theresia Keller (1730–1800), the sister of Therese (b. 1733), with whom Haydn had previously been in love. Haydn and his wife had a completely unhappy marriage,from which the laws of the time permitted them no escape. They produced no children and both took lovers.

Beethoven had music lessons in his youth from Haydn from whom he learned composition and harmony, but who failed to recognize young Ludwig’s genius. Beethoven later claimed "he had never learned anything from Haydn."

Portrait of Joseph Haydn by Thomas Hardy (1791)

Haydn attended the same Masonic Lodge as his fellow Austrian composer and friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Haydn had a pet parrot called Jaco, which used to greet guests at the composer's home near Vienna.


He wrote the music for "Deutschland uber Alles" during the Napoleonic wars as an anthem for the birthday of the Austrian Emperor Francis II. As "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser"(God Save Franz the Emperor), it was first performed on the Emperor's birthday, February 12, 1797 and the song subsequently became Austria's national anthem.

Haydn was particularly fond of "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser". In his frail old age, the composer often would struggle to the piano to play this song, as a form of consolation, and according to his servant Johann Elssler, it was the last music Haydn ever played.

Haydn died peacefully at his Vienna home on May 31, 1809 aged 77. A memorial service was held in the Schottenkirche on June 15th at which Mozart's Requiem was performed. Haydn's remains were interred in the local Hundsturm cemetery until 1820, when they were moved to Eisenstadt by Prince Nikolaus.

There are two skulls in Haydn’s tomb. His head was stolen by phrenologists and a replacement skull was put in his tomb. In 1954, the real skull was restored but the substitute was not removed.

His enormous output included about 106 symphonies, 16 operas, 84 string quartets, 58 piano sonatas, and 13 masses, among numerous other works.

Sources, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc

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