Franz Joseph Haydn Biography

Franz Joseph Haydn Biography

Franz Joseph Haydn (he never used the Franz) (March 31, 1732 - May 31, 1809) was a leading composer of the high classical period, second only to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 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, running the orchestra, opera company, etc. of the wealthy Esterhazy family on their remote estate, for which he had to compose most of the music. Being isolated from other composers and currents of music, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original". Unlike Mozart, he had a quiet and uneventful life.

Haydn is traditionally considered the father of the symphony and string quartet, and he did write the first well-known works in those genres. His early work is almost Baroque in style, then develops into early classicism. His works of the late 1760s and early 1770s are particularly interesting: they are in a style called "Sturm und Drang" (storm and stress), full of jagged chords, abrupt transitions, and weird minor-key harmonies. Most of the symphonies numbered between 35 and about 55 are of this kind. Abruptly -- some guess his employer objected -- he abandoned this style and became very placid and conventional for a while, gradually developing the civilized, urbane wit for which he would become famous in his last years.

Besides the symphony and string quartet, Haydn also pioneered the development of sonata form, and was innovative in his writing of keyboard sonatas, which are perhaps the first piano sonatas, though some may have been written for harpsichord or fortepiano.

He also wrote many concertos for solo instrument(s) and orchestra, with the most famous being the Trumpet Concerto.

In the 1790s, having become famous for his works distributed throughout Europe, he was invited by J.P. Salomon, an impresario, to visit London. He went twice for periods of over a year each, writing the 12 "London Symphonies", including the "Surprise Symphony" (No. 94), which contains a sudden loud chord in the quiet slow movement.

His best-known vocal work is a very late oratorio, The Creation. He also wrote a series of important masses, generally for soloists, chorus and orchestra. Perhaps the best known of these is the Nelson Mass. Haydn was a friend of Mozart, and the two admired each other's work greatly. He taught Beethoven briefly, but they didn't get along.

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.

The following text is from an old 1911 encyclopaedia

HAYDN, FRANZ JOSEPH (1732-1809), Austrian composer, was born on the 31st of March 1732 at Rohrau (Trstnik), a village on the borders of Lower Austria and Hungary. There is sufficient evidence that his family was of Croatian background: a fact which throws light upon the distinctively Slavonic character of much of his music. He received the first rudiments of education from his father, a wheelwright with twelve children, and at an early age evinced a decided musical talent. This attracted the attention of a distant relative named Johann Mathias Frankh, who was schoolmaster in the neighbouring town of Hamburg, and who, in 1738, took the child and for the next two years trained him as a chorister. In 1740, on the recommendation of the Dean of Hamburg, Haydn obtained a place in the cathedral choir of St Stephen?s, Vienna, where he took the solo-part in the services and received, at the choir school, some further instruction on the violin and the harpsichord. In 1749 his voice broke, and the director, Georg von Reutter, took the occasion of a boyish escapade to turn him into the streets. A few friends lent him money and found him pupils, and in this way he was enabled to enter upon a rigorous course of study (he is said to have worked for sixteen hours a day), partly devoted to Fux?s treatise on counterpoint, partly to the "Friedrich" and "Wurttemberg" sonatas of C. P. E. Bach, from which he gained his earliest acquaintance with the principles of musical structure. The first fruits of his work were a comic opera, Der neue knumme Teufel, and a Mass in F major (both written in 1751), the former of which was produced with success. About the same time he made the, acquaintance of Metastasio, who was lodging in the same house, and who introduced him to one ortwo patrons; among others Seņor Martinez, to whose daughter he gave lessons, and Porpora, who, in 1753, took him for the summer to Mannersdorf, and there gave him instruction in singing and in the Italian language.

The turning-point of his career came in 1755, when he accepted an invitation to the country-house of Freiherr von Furnberg, an accomplished amateur who was in the habit of collecting parties of musicians for the performance of chamber-works. Here Haydn wrote, in rapid succession, eighteen divertimenti which include his first symphony and his first quartet; the twa earliest examples of the forms with which his name is most closely associated. Thenceforward his prospacts improved. On his return to Vienna in 1756 he became famous as teacher and composer, in 1759 he was appointed conductor to the private band of Count Morzin, for whom he wrote several orchestral works (including a symphony in D major erroneously called his first), and in 1760 he -was promoted to the sub-directorship of Prince Paul Esterhazy?s Kapelle, at that time the best it Austria. During the tenure of Ins appointment with Couni Morzin he married the daughter of a Viennese hairdresser namec Keller, who had befriended him in his days of poverty, but this marriage turned out ill and he was shortly afterwards separated from his wife, though he continued to support her until her death in 1800. From 1760 to 1790 he remained with the Esterhazys, principally at their country-seats of Esterhāz and Eisenstadt, with occasional visits to Vienna in the winter. In 1762 Prince Paul Esterhazy died and was succeeded by his brother Nicholas, surnamed the Magnificent, who increased Haydn?s salary, showed him every mark of favour, and, on the death of Werner in 1766, appointed him Oberkapelimeister. With the encouragement of a discriminating patron, a small but excellent orchestra and a free hand, Haydn made the most of his opportunity and produced a continuous stream of compositions in every known musical form. To this period belong five Masses, a dozen operas, over thirty clavier-sonatas, over forty quartets, over a hundred orchestral symphonies and overtures, a Stabat Mater, a set of interludes for the service of the Seven Words, an Oratorio Tobias written for the Tonkunstler-Societdt of Vienna, and a vast number of concertos, divertimenti and smaller pieces, among which were no less than 175 for Prince Nicholas? favourite instrument, the baryton.

Meanwhile his reputation was spreading throughout Europe. A Viennese notice of his appointment as Oberkapeilmeister spoke of him as "the darling of our nation," his works were reprinted or performed in every capital from Madrid to St Petersburg. He received commissions from the cathedral of Cadiz, from the grand duke Paul, from the king of Prussia, from the directors of the Concert Spirituel at Paris; beside his transactions with Breitkopf and Hartel, and with La Chevardičre, he sold to one English firm the copyright of no less than 129 compositions. But the most important fact of biography during these thirty years was his friendship with Mozart, whose acquaintance he made at Vienna in the winter of 1781?1782. There can have been little personal intercourse between them, for Haydn was rarely in the capital, and Mozart seems never to have visited Eisenstadt; but the cordiality of their relations and the mutual influence which they exercised upon one another are of the highest moment in the history of 18th-century music. "It was from Haydn that I first learned to write a quartet," said Mozart; it was from Mozart that Haydn learned the richer sryle and the fuller mastery of orchestral effect by which his later symphonies are distinguished.

In 1790 Prince Nicholas Esterhazy died and the Kapelle was disbanded. Haydn, thus released from his official duties, forthwith accepted a commission from Salomon, the London concertdirector, to write and conduct six symphonies for the concerts in the Hanover Square Rooms. He arrived in England at the beginning of 1791 and was welcomed with the greatest enthusiasm, receiving among other honours the degree of D Mus. from the university of Oxford. In June 1792 he returned home, and, breaking his journey at Bonn, was presented with a Cantata by Beethoven, then aged two-and-twenty, whom he invited to come to Vienna as his pupil. The lessons, which were not very successful, lasted for about a year, and were then interrupted by Haydn?s second visit to England (January 1794 to July 1795), where he produced the last six of his "Salomon" symphonies. From 1795 onward he resided in the Mariahilf suburb of Vienna, and there wrote his last eight Masses, the last and finest of his chamber works, the Austrian national anthem (1797), the Creation (1799) and the Seasons (1801). His last choral composition which car be dated with any certainty was the Mass in C minor, writter in 1802 for the name-day of Princess Esterhazy. Thenceforward his health declined, and his closing years, surroundec by the love of friends and the esteem of all musicians, were speni almost wholly in retirement. On the 27th of March i8o8 hi was able to attend a performance of the Creation, given in hh honour, but it was his last effort, and on the 31st of May i8o he flied, aged seventy-seven. Among the mourners who followec him to the grave were many French officers from Napoleon's army, which was then occupying Vienna.

Haydn's place in musical history is best determined by his instrumental compositions. His operas, for all their daintiness and melody, no longer hold the stage; the Masses in which he "praised God with a cheerful heart" have been condemned by the severer decorum of our own day; of his oratorios the Creation alone survives. In all these his work belongs mainly to the style and idiom of a bygone generation: they are monuments, not landmarks, and their beauty and invention seem rather to close an epoch than to inaugurate its successor. Even the naïf pictorial suggestion, of which free use is made in the Creation and in the Seasons, is closer to the manner of Handel than to that of the 19th century: it is less the precursor of romance than the descendant of an earlier realism. But as the first great master of the quartet and the symphony his claim is incontestable. He began, half-consciously, by applying through the fuller medium the lessons of design which he had learned from C. P. E. Bach?s sonatas; then the medium itself began to suggest wider horizons and new possibilities of treatment; his position at Eisenstadt enabled him to experiment without reserve; his genius, essentially symphonic in character, found its true outlet in the opportunities of pure musical structure. The quartets in? particular exhibit a wider range and variety of structural invention than those of any other composer except Beethoven. Again it is here that we can most readily trace the important changes- which he wrought in melodic idiom. Before his time instrumental music was chiefly written for the Paradiesensaal, and its melody often sacrificed vitality of idea to a ceremonial courtliness of phrase. Haydn broke through this convention by frankly introducing his native folk-music, and by writing many of his own tunes in the same direct, vigorous and simple style. The innovation was at first received with some disfavour; critics accustomed to polite formalism censured it as extravagant and undignified; but the freshness and beauty of its melody soon silenced all opposition, and did more than anything else throughout the 18th century to establish the principle of nationalism in musical art. The actual employment of Croatian folk-tunes may be illustrated from the string quartets Op. 17, No. I; Op. 33. No. 3; Op. 50, No. I; Op. 77, No. I, and the Salomon Symphonies in D and E1, while there is hardly an instrumental composition of Haydn?s in which his own melodies do not show some traces of the same influence. His natural idiom in short was that of a heightened and ennobled folk-song, and one evidence was the adaptation of his musical symmetry of style to the requirements of popular speech.

In the development of instrumental polyphony Haydn?s work was almost as important as that of Mozart. Having at his disposal a band of picked virtuosi he could produce effects as different from the tentative experiments of C. P. E. Bach as these were from the orchestral platitudes of Reutter or Hasse, His symphony Le Midi (written in 1761) already shows a remarkable freedom and independence in the handling of orchestral forces, and further stages of advance were reached in the oratoric of Tobias, in the Paris and Salomon symphonies, and above al in the Creation, which turns to good account some of the debt which he owed to his younger contemporary. The importanc of this lies not only in a greater richness of musical colour, bul in the effect which it produced on the actual substance anc texture of composition. The polyphony of Beethoven wa~ unquestionably influenced by it and, even in his latest sonatas and quartets, may be regarded as its logical outcome.

The compositions of Haydn include 104 symphonies, 16 overtures 76 quartets, 68 trios, 54 sonatas, 31 Concertos and a large number 6 divertimentos, cassations and other instrumental pieces; 24 operas am dramatic pieces, 16 Masses, a Stabat Mater, interludes for the "Sever Words," 3 oratorios, 2 Te Deums and many smaller pieces for the church, over 40 songs, over 50 canons and arrangements of Scottish and Welsh national melodies.

Thank you for visiting our Haydn Biography, or composer biography of Haydn, and we hope that you have enjoyed reading the biography of the famous classical composer Haydn!

We would like to hear what you have to say about our composer biographies, and in particular this biography of Haydn. It is important that this composer biography is well written. If you would like to send feedback or add something to this composer biography, then send an email to

You are currently here: PianoParadise Home>> Composers >> Biography: Haydn

<<Previous Biography: Handel Next Biography: Joplin>>