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Franz Joseph Haydn

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Haydn in 1791

Franz Joseph Haydn was an Austrian composer. He was born on 31 March 1732, and died on 31 May 1809. He composed during the Classical era of music (about 1760 to about 1820). He developed the sonata form as well as the string quartet and symphony.

Haydn lived and worked on the princely estate of the Esterhazy family. This estate was miles from Vienna, Austria, the center of German music. Haydn became the most famous composer in Europe despite his remoteness and isolation.

In the last years of his life, he wrote two great oratorios (The Creation and The Seasons), six masses, and the twelve "London" symphonies as well as many string quartets. He also wrote the national anthem of Austria and Germany.

Life[edit | edit source]

Early years[edit | edit source]

Haydn's birth house is now a museum in Rohrau, Austria

Haydn was born in the small Austrian village of Rohrau in 1732. He had a beautiful singing voice as a child. He left his village to join the choir of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna in 1740.

When his voice changed as a teenager in 1749, he left the choir and made his living playing the violin, teaching, and composing. He gained an education in musical composition during these years from Nicholas Porpora.

In 1760, Haydn married Maria Anna Theresia Keller[1]. The marriage was an unhappy one. They had no children.

Middle years[edit | edit source]

Palace of the Esterhazy family in rural Hungary

In 1761, Haydn was hired by Prince Paul Anton, head of the immensely wealthy Esterhazy family. Haydn passed most of his adult life in a palace in what is now Hungary. Here he composed music for his employers, the Esterhazy princes. Haydn worked for four princes over the course of his long life.

In 1779, Haydn was allowed to sell his compositions to his choice of publishers. This permitted him to gain an international reputation as the finest composer in Europe. At this time, he focused his musical talents on string quartets and symphonies.

Haydn went to London in 1791 and 1795 to conduct his symphonies with a large orchestra. Haydn became financially secure with these concerts. He met and taught Ludwig van Beethoven between these concert series. The two did not have a good relationship.

Last years[edit | edit source]

Haydn's manuscript for his hymn, "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser", the national anthem of Austria and Germany

During his last years, Haydn wrote six masses for the Esterhazy family. He began to spend more time in Vienna where he had a large house. He composed his two great oratorios The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801) in these last years.

About 1802, Haydn's health declined. He was unable to compose or perform. He became house-bound. He sat at the piano playing "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser", which he had composed in 1797. This melody later became the Austrian and German national anthems.

In 1808, a performance of The Creation was held in his honor. He was carried into the concert hall in an armchair to the flourish of trumpets and drums. Many must have felt that this would be Haydn's last public appearance. He became exhausted at the concert, and had to be carried home at the intermission.

Death[edit | edit source]

Haydn died, aged 77, at the end of May 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 cannon shot fell in the neighborhood: "My children, have no fear, for where Haydn is, no harm can fall." Mozart's Requiem was performed at Haydn's memorial service on 15 June 1809 in the Schottenkirche.

Works[edit | edit source]

Haydn's works include the oratorios The Seasons and The Creation, the sets of symphonies known as the "Paris" symphonies and the "London" (or "Salomon") symphonies, several masses including the Mass in the Time of War, a trumpet concerto, and a cello concerto.

Many of Haydn's symphonies have been given nicknames like the "Bear" and the "Hen". This is because there is something in each symphony that suggests these animals. Other symphonies with nicknames include the "Surprise" and the "Miracle" symphonies.

In the "Surprise" Symphony, a loud chord bursts out suddenly during the quiet and slow second movement. Haydn said he did this to keep his listeners awake.

The "Miracle" symphony was named following an accident at the first performance. Members of the audience had rushed to the stage to congratulate Haydn when a chandelier fell at the back of the hall, just missing many people.

Video selections[edit | edit source]

Notes and references[edit | edit source]

  1. Joseph Haydn's Real Wife, by Michael Lorenz. For 140 years, another Keller daughter was said to be Haydn's wife; this recent biographical research uncovers the mistake and identifies Haydn's wife as Maria Anna Theresia Keller.
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