Joseph Haydn

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Performers and composers

Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1792
Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1792

Franz Joseph Haydn ( March 31, 1732 – May 31, 1809) was one of the most prominent composers of the Classical period, and is called by some the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet".

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. Isolated from other composers and trends in music until the later part of his long life, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original".

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



Map showing locations where Haydn lived or visited. For discussion, see Joseph Haydn: geographic key
Map showing locations where Haydn lived or visited. For discussion, see Joseph Haydn: geographic key

Joseph Haydn was born in the Austrian village of Rohrau, near the Hungarian border. His father was Mathias Haydn, a wheelwright who also served as "Marktrichter", an office akin to village mayor. Haydn's mother, the former Maria Koller, had previously worked as a cook in the palace of Count Harrach, the presiding aristocrat of Rohrau. Neither parent could read music. However, Matthias was an enthusiastic folk musician, who during the journeyman period of his career had taught himself to play the harp. According to Haydn's later reminiscences, his childhood family was extremely musical, and frequently sang together and with their neighbors.

Haydn's parents were perceptive enough to notice that their son was musically talented and knew that in Rohrau he would have no chance to obtain any serious musical training. It was for this reason that they accepted a proposal from their relative Johann Matthias Franck, the schoolmaster and choirmaster in Hainburg, that Haydn be apprenticed to Franck in his home to train as a musician. Haydn therefore went off with Franck to Hainburg (ten miles away) and never again lived with his parents. At the time he was not quite six.

Life in the Franck household was not easy for Haydn, who later remembered being frequently hungry as well as constantly humiliated by the filthy state of his clothing. However, he did begin his musical training there, and soon was able to play both harpsichord and violin. The people of Hainburg were soon hearing him sing treble parts in the church choir.

St. Stephen's Cathedral
St. Stephen's Cathedral

There is reason to think that Haydn's singing impressed those who heard him, because two years later (in 1740) he was brought to the attention of Georg von Reutter, the director of music in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, who was touring the provinces looking for talented choirboys. Haydn passed his audition with Reutter, and soon moved off to Vienna, where he worked for the next nine years as a chorister, the last four in the company of his younger brother Michael.

Like Franck before him, Reutter did not always bother to make sure Haydn was properly fed. The young Haydn greatly looked forward to performances before aristocratic audiences, where the singers sometimes had the opportunity to satisfy their hunger by devouring the refreshments. Reutter also did little to further his choristers' musical education. However, St. Stephen's was at the time one of the leading musical centers in Europe, with many performances of new music by leading composers. Haydn was able to learn a great deal by osmosis, simply by serving as a professional musician there.

Struggles as a freelancer

By 1749, Haydn had finally 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 was sent into the streets with no home to go to but had the good fortune to be taken in by a friend, Johann Michael Spangler, who for a few months shared with Haydn his family's crowded garret room. Haydn was able to begin immediately his pursuit of a career as a freelance musician.

During this arduous time, Haydn worked at many different jobs: as a music teacher, as a street serenader, and eventually as valet–accompanist for the Italian composer Nicola Porpora, from whom he later said he learned "the true fundamentals of composition".

When he was a chorister, Haydn had not received serious training in music theory and composition, which he perceived as a serious gap. To fill it, he worked his way through the counterpoint exercises in the text Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Joseph Fux, and carefully studied the work of Carl Philip Emanuel Bach, whom he later acknowledged as an important influence.

As his skills increased, Haydn began to acquire a public reputation, first as the composer of an opera, Der krumme Teufel "The Limping Devil", written for the comic actor Johann Joseph Felix Kurz, whose stage name was "Bernardon". The work was premiered successfully in 1753, but was soon closed down by the censors. Haydn also noticed, apparently without annoyance, that works he had simply given away were being published and sold in local music shops.

With the increase in his reputation, Haydn eventually was able to obtain aristocratic patronage, crucial for the career of a composer in his day. A Countess Thun, having seen one of Haydn's compositions, summoned him and engaged him as her singing and keyboard teacher. The Countess in turn recommended Haydn to Baron Carl Josef Fürnberg, for whom the composer wrote his first string quartets, premiered at the baron's country estate; and it was Fürnberg who recommended Haydn to Count Morzin, who in 1759 became his first full time employer.

The years as Kapellmeister

Portrait by Ludwig Guttenbrunn, ca. 1770
Portrait by Ludwig Guttenbrunn, ca. 1770

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

View of Eszterháza
View of Eszterháza

As a "house officer" in the Eszterházy establishment, Haydn wore livery and followed the family as they moved among their three main residences: the ancestral palace in Eisenstadt, their winter lodgings 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 this workload, the job was in artistic terms a superb opportunity for Haydn. The Eszterházy princes (first Paul Anton, then most importantly Nikolaus I) were musical connoisseurs who appreciated his work and gave him daily access to his own small orchestra.

In 1760, with the security of a Kapellmeister position, Haydn married. His wife was the former Maria Anna Aloysia Apollonia Keller (1729-1800), the sister of Therese (b. 1733), with whom Haydn had previously been in love. Haydn and his wife 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 at the Eszterházy court, he produced a flood of compositions, and his musical style continued to develop. 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 (1785–1786) and the original orchestral version of The Seven Last Words of Christ (1786), were commissions from abroad.

Friendship with Mozart

Around 1784 Haydn established a friendship with Mozart, whose work he had already been influencing by example for many years. According to later testimony by Stephen Storace, the two composers occasionally played in string quartets together. Haydn was hugely impressed with Mozart's work, and in various ways tried to help the younger composer.

Friendship with Maria Anna von Genzinger

In 1789, Haydn developed a friendship with Maria Anna von Genzinger (1750–93), the wife of Prince Nicolaus's personal physician in Vienna. Their relationship, documented in Haydn's letters, was evidently intense but platonic. The letters express Haydn's sense of loneliness and melancholy at his long isolation at Eszterháza; later on, Haydn wrote to her frequently from London. Genzinger's premature death in 1793 was a blow to Haydn, and his F minor variations for piano, Hob. XVII:6, may have been written in response to her death.

London journeys

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

The visit (1791-1792), along with a repeat visit (1794-1795), was a huge success. Audiences flocked to Haydn's concerts, and he quickly achieved wealth and fame: one review called him "incomparable." 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.

The only misstep in the venture was an opera, Orfeo ed Euridice, also called L'Anima del Filosofo, which Haydn was contracted to compose, but whose performance was blocked by intrigues.

Between visits Haydn was for a time the teacher of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven found Haydn unsatisfactory as a teacher and sought help from others; the relationship between the two was sometimes rather tense. For discussion of their relationship, see Beethoven and his contemporaries

Final years in Vienna

Haydn returned to Vienna in 1795, 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 Fifths, Emperor, and Sunrise quartets.

In 1802, Haydn found that an illness from which he had been suffering for some time had increased in severity to the point that he became physically unable to compose. This was doubtless very difficult for him 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 honours during his last years, but they could not 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 died at the end of May in 1809, shortly after an attack on Vienna by the French army under Napoleon. Among his last words was his attempt to calm and reassure his servants when a cannon shot fell in the neighbourhood.

Character and appearance

Haydn was known among his contemporaries for his kindly, optimistic, and congenial personality. He had a robust sense of humour, 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; see Papa Haydn.

Haydn was a devout Catholic who often turned to his rosary when he had trouble composing, a practice that he usually found to be effective. He normally began the manuscript of each composition with "in nomine Domini" ("in the name of the Lord") and ended with "Laus Deo" ("praise be to God"). 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.

About a dozen portraits of Haydn exist, although they are so different from each other that, apart from what is noted above, we would have little idea of his appearance were it not also for the existence of a lifelike wax bust and a death mask. Both are in the Haydnhaus in Vienna, a museum dedicated to the composer.

Portion of an original manuscript by Haydn, in the British Museum, from a biography of Haydn available from Project Gutenberg
Portion of an original manuscript by Haydn, in the British Museum, from a biography of Haydn available from Project Gutenberg


Writing in the New Grove, James Webster summarizes Haydn's role in the history of classical music as follows: "He excelled in every musical genre ... He is familiarly known as the 'father of the symphony' and could with greater justice be thus regarded for the string quartet; no other composer approaches his combination of productivity, quality and historical importance in these genres."

The development of sonata form into a subtle and flexible mode of musical expression – one that became the dominant force in Classical musical thought – owed most to Haydn and those who followed his ideas. His sense of formal inventiveness also led him to integrate the fugue into the classical style and to enrich the rondo form with more cohesive tonal logic (see sonata rondo form). Haydn was also the principal exponent of the double variation form – variations on two alternating themes, which are often major- and minor-mode versions of each other.

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 motifs, usually devised from standard accompanying figures. The music is often quite formally concentrated, and the important musical events of a movement can unfold rather quickly. Haydn's musical practice formed the basis of much that was to follow in the development of tonality and musical form. He took genres such as the symphony, which were at the time shorter and subsidiary to more important vocal music, and slowly expanded their length, weight and complexity.

Haydn's work became central to what was later described as sonata form, and his work was central to taking the binary schematic of what was then called a "melodie". It was a form divided into sections, joined by important moments in the harmony which signalled the change. One of Haydn's important innovations (adopted by Mozart and Beethoven) was to make the moment of transition the focus of tremendous creativity. Instead of using stock devices to make the transition, Haydn would often find inventive ways to make the move between two expected keys.

Later musical theorists would codify the formal organization in the following way:

  • Introduction: If present in an extended form, a slower section in the tonic, often with material not directly related to the main themes, which would then rapidly transition to the
  • Exposition: Presentation of thematic material, including a progression of tonality away from the home key. Unlike Mozart and Beethoven, Haydn often wrote expositions where the music that establishes the new key is similar or identical to the opening theme: this is called monothematic sonata form.
  • Development: The thematic material is led through a rapidly shifting sequence of keys, transformed, fragmented, or combined with new material. If such a development is not present, the work is termed a "sonatina". Haydn's developments tend to be longer and more elaborate than those of Mozart, for example.
  • Recapitulation: Return to the home key, where the material of the exposition is re-presented. Haydn, unlike Mozart and Beethoven, often rearranges the order of themes compared to the exposition: he also frequently omits passages that appeared in the exposition (particularly in the monothematic case) and adds codas.
  • Coda: After the close of the recapitulation on the tonic, there may be an additional section which works through more of the possibilities of the thematic material.

During this period the written music was structured by tonality, and the sections of a work of the Classical era were marked by tonal cadences. The most important transitions between sections were from the exposition to the development and from the development to the recapitulation. Haydn focused on creating witty and often dramatic ways to effect these transitions, by delaying them, or by making them so subtle that it takes some time before it is established that the transition has occurred. Perhaps paradoxically, one of the ways in which Haydn achieved this was by reducing the range of devices used in harmonic transitions, so that he could explore and develop the possibilities of those he regarded as most interesting.

Perhaps this is why, more than any other composer's, Haydn's music is known for its humour. The most famous example is the sudden loud chord in the slow movement of his Surprise symphony, No. 94; Haydn's many other musical jokes include the false endings in the quartets Op. 33 No. 2 and Op. 50 No. 3, and the remarkable rhythmic illusion placed in the trio section of the third movement of Op. 50 No. 1.

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, joining the musical structure to tight small motifs, often by gradually reshaping both the work and the motifs so that they worked effectively together.

The emotional content of Haydn's music cannot accurately be summarised 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 rule. Haydn's fast movements tend to be rhythmically propulsive and often impart a great sense of energy, especially 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 early slow movements 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, symphony No. 102, and piano trio Hob XV: 23. The minuets tend to have a strong downbeat and a clearly popular character. As early as Op. 33 (1781) Haydn turned some of his minuets into "scherzi" which are much faster, at one beat to the bar. Later composers, notably Beethoven, used the scherzo almost exclusively, but Haydn mostly continued to write true minuets, though far more complex and interesting than those of his predecessors, or perhaps anyone else. [[As an example, check the minuet of op. 76 no. 6, whose trio consists of nothing but scales - but to magic effect.)

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) 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.

Tracing Haydn's work over the five decades in which it was produced (roughly, 1749 to 1802), one finds a gradual but steady increase in 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 in minor keys. Some of the most famous compositions of this period are the "Farewell" Symphony No. 45, the piano sonata in C minor (Hob. XVI/20, L. 33), and the six string quartets of Op. 20 (the "Sun" quartets), all dating from 1772. It was also 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 were Haydn's own work (see List of operas by Joseph Haydn); these are seldom performed today. Haydn sometimes recycled his opera music in symphonic works, 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 having great popular appeal but retaining 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.


Some of Haydn's works (particularly, the string quartets) are referred to by opus numbers, but the "Hob." numbers of the Hoboken catalogue are also frequently used.

A posthumous portrait of Haydn from the 19th century. Similar fictionalized portraits of Mozart and Beethoven date from this era.
A posthumous portrait of Haydn from the 19th century. Similar fictionalized portraits of Mozart and Beethoven date from this era.

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