(Franz) Joseph Haydn


Joseph Haydn, the most celebrated composer of his time, excelled in every genre and, along with Mozart and Beethoven, represents the high point of Viennese Classicism. His long career began amid the patronage of the late Baroque and concluded as the early flowerings of Romanticism began to sweep across Europe.

Born on 31 March 1732, the son of a master wheelwright and brother to two fellow professional musicians, Haydn's musical talents were recognised early. In 1739/40 he became a choirboy at the Stephansdom in Vienna and was given a musical education.

But for his father's refusal of consent, Haydn might have been made a castrato. In the event, his voice matured and in his 18th year he was compelled to leave. For eight tough years, Haydn was a freelance musician and teacher, composing in the evenings and learning as much as possible from Porpora and Metastasio.

In 1757, he gained his first regular appointment, as director of music for Count Morzin, and began to write his first symphonies. He also married, wedding Maria Keller on 26 November 1760 in an unhappy relationship that resulted in infidelities on both sides.

In 1761, Haydn was recruited as Vice-Kappellmeister to the Esterházy family and worked steadily to enlarge the orchestra. His treatment was generous, especially after Paul Anton was succeeded by Nicolaus Esterházy, and his status was more that of a professional employee than servant.

Haydn's compositional output for the court was largely instrumental in the 1760s and, apart from symphonies and concertos, included baryton trios for the Prince to play. On 3 March 1766, however, Kappellmeister Gregor Joseph Werner died and Haydn now inherited responsibilities for church music as well.

The summers were now spent at Nicolaus's new castle Esterháza, where a steadily increasing number of operas were staged. By 1778 the court was spending ten months of the year there and a regular opera season had been established. Between 1777 and 1783, Haydn wrote almost one new opera each year in addition to revising and altering new operas acquired from Vienna.

After 1783, Haydn wrote no new operas, devoting himself instead to the composition of instrumental music for publication. A new contract in 1779 had removed a clause of exclusivity, enabling Haydn's works to be heard outside the court. His first works appeared in print in Vienna in 1780 and Haydn also began to market his music in other countries.

Prestigious foreign commissions, such as those for the Paris Symphonies and Seven Last Words, were spreading Haydn's fame. In addition, he was no longer isolated at Esterháza, spending much of his time in Vienna where he had many friends and patrons. The strength of Haydn's friendship with Mozart remains uncertain, though the mutual admiration of each other's abilities is clear.

When Nicolaus Esterházy was succeeded by his son, Anton, the musical establishment was dissolved, allowing Haydn, on reduced salary, to move to Vienna. He immediately received invitation to travel to London, where he composed twelve symphonies for the promoter Salomon over the course of two trips in 1791-2 and 1794-5.

The London visits were the highpoint of Haydn's career and were particularly lucrative financially. When Anton was succeeded by Nicolaus II, Haydn was reappointed as Kappellmeister and returned to Vienna. His duties were primarily concerned with sacred vocal music and he wrote a number of masses and oratorios, including The Creation and The Seasons.

Haydn had suffered a serious illness in 1800-1 and, after completing his last major work in 1802, underwent a period of physical decline marked by a steady stream of honours, including an honorary citizenship of Vienna. The French bombardment of Vienna on 11-12 May 1809 hastened his end, though Napoleon stationed a guard of honour outside his house, and he died on 31 May.   

Haydn is colloquially known as the 'Father of the Symphony' and of his 100 or so examples, around thirty are regularly performed. He also practically invented the String Quartet as a genre for serious compositional thought and composed a huge amount of important vocal music.

Related Composers: Mozart, BoccheriniBeethoven

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