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Joseph Haydn


Franz Joseph Haydn was a classical composer, who was born in Rohrau, Austria on the 31st March 1732. Known now colloquially as 'The Father of the String Quintet’ and ‘The Father of the Symphony’, he was key to developing what became known as chamber music.

His father, Mathias, was interested in folk music and taught himself to play the harp, although he could not read music. As a family, they often sang songs with their neighbours. Haydn was musically gifted from an early age, so his mother and father decided to accept a suggestion from relative Johann Matthias Frankh, who was a school and choir master in Hainburg, that Haydn go and be a music apprentice at Frankh’s home. He went off to live with Frankh when aged only 6 and never went back to live with his parents again.

Sadly, he did not have the happiest of times living with Frankh and was often neglected, being left dirty and hungry. However, he soon began to play the violin and harpsichord well. He also sang in the church choir, wowing those who heard him. He was so good that in 1739, he passed an audition with Georg von Reutter (the musical director of St Stephen’s Church in Vienna) who was visiting the area. He moved to Vienna in 1740 and for the next 9 years, worked as a chorister.

Franz Haydn lived with Reutter next to the cathedral. He learnt composition and music theory, not by being taught by Reutter, but by working as a musician in St Stephen’s, immersing himself in one of the most important music centres in Europe at that time. He continued to be undernourished, as Reutter too, did not feed him properly. This became a motivation for him to sing well so he was invited to perform at functions, where they served food and drink!

In 1749, Haydn was dismissed by Reutter after an unfortunate incident with one of the other choristers and went to live with his friend for several months. It was at this point that he decided to pursue life as a freelance musician, although he found it hard and had to undertake many different jobs to make ends meet. Success came in 1752, when he was hired as an accompanist for Nicola Porpora, an Italian composer, who he learnt a great deal from.

He worked hard practising his music theory by using self-study exercises in books and began to become noticed in public as his abilities increased. An early composition was Der Krumme Teufel that he composed for an actor, which was premiered in 1753. A year later, he began to work freelance for the Viennese court, being paid for playing at balls and carnivals.

His good reputation continued to grow and he was engaged by aristocrat Countess Thun as her keyboard and singing instructor. Baron Carl Josef Fürnberg employed him in 1756 at his estate in the country. Here he composed the first of his string quartets, which were received with great enthusiasm. This became a turning point in his career as it spurred him on to write more and he became in increasing demand as an instructor and performer. His first full-time employment followed in 1757, when he was hired by Count Morzin as a music director (Kapellmeister) and earnt 200 florins per year, a decent salary for the time, with free accommodation thrown in.

He led the court’s orchestra and wrote the first of his symphonies for this small ensemble. 1760 saw Haydn marry Maria Keller. Unfortunately, the union was not a happy one, nor were any children born of it. She took no interest in her husband’s work or in music in general. In 1761, wealthy Prince Paul Anton from the Esterházy family, offered him the position of vice-musical director, which he had to take owing to his previous employer’s dire financial situation, meaning Haydn could not be kept on. 5 years later, he was made musical director when his predecessor died. He went on trips with the family to various places. His duties were heavy, ranging from running the orchestra, composing, playing chamber music for audiences and also creating operatic productions. He was highly appreciated by the family and worked at their court for nearly 30 years!

In 1779 he was allowed to spread his wings and was able to write for other people and also sell his work to publishers in addition to his commitments to the Esterházy family. By 1790, he was one of the most high-profile composers in Europe. Notable compositions are his many string quartets and the Paris Symphonies between 1785 and 1786 and a Spanish commission The Seven Last Words of Christ in 1786.

Franz Haydn began to feel isolated from his friends back in Vienna. One of his closest friends was Maria Genzinger, wife of Prince Nikolaus’s physician, whom he had become very close. He wrote to her many times, expressing his feelings of loneliness, even while he was in London. He was saddened by her death in 1793. Another friend from Vienna was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who he had met in c1784. They occasionally had played together in string quartets and he was in awe of Mozart. The feeling must have been mutual as Mozart dedicated the Haydn Quartets to him.

1790 saw German violinist Saloman, invite Haydn to conduct symphonies in England. Haydn was already popular in England, so he readily accepted and they left in December of that year, arriving on the 1st January 1791. This first visit lasted a year and was very favourable. He returned to England in 1794, staying another year. He became very famous and made much money and also met new love Rebecca Schroeter. While in England, he composed some notable pieces including the London symphony and the Gypsy Rondo piano trio. The University of Oxford presented him with an honorary doctorate. 1790 also saw him meet 22 year old Ludwig van Beethoven in Bonn. Beethoven went to Vienna and Haydn became his tutor.

In 1795, he returned to Vienna to the employment of the Esterházy family again, where he composed 6 masses for them. He was a familiar figure around Vienna at this time and lived in a generously sized house in Windmühle, a suburb of Vienna. He appeared frequently in public, leading performances, while still composing prolifically, including in 1796 at the age of 64, Trumpet Concerto which is thought to be one of the most popular compositions of its type. A pious Catholic, he usually wrote "in nomine Domini" (in the name of the Lord) at the beginning of each composition and "Laus Deo" (praise be to God) at the end.

His last significant work came in 1802 in the form of mass Harmoniemesse which was for the Esterházys. His health had started to fail at this time. Unfortunately, by 1803, it had deteriorated so much, that he could not compose any more. Haydn continued on with the Esterházy family for practically the rest of his life. He died on the 31st May 1809 at the age of 77. He leaves behind an abundance of works: 107 symphonies, 26 operas, 45 piano trios, 83 string quartets, 14 masses and many other scores.