The 100 most Influential Musicians Of All Time – Joseph Haydn
(b. March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria—d. May 31, 1809, Vienna)
Austrian composer Joseph Haydn was one of the most important ﬁgures in the development of the Classical style in music during the 18th century. He helped establish the forms and styles for the string quartet and the symphony.
Haydn’s father was a wheelwright, his mother, before her marriage, a cook for the lords of the village. Haydn early revealed unusual musical gifts, and a cousin who was a school principal and choirmaster in the nearby city of Hainburg offered to take him into his home and train him.
Haydn, not yet six years old, left home, never to return to the parental cottage except for rare, brief visits. The young Haydn sang in the church choir, learned to play various instruments, and obtained a good basic knowledge of music. His life changed decisively when he was eight years old, when the musical director of St.
Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna invited him to serve as chorister at the Austrian capital’s most important church. Thus, in 1740 Haydn moved to Vienna. He stayed at the choir school for nine years, acquiring an enormous prac- tical knowledge of music by constant performances but receiving little instruction in music theory. When his voice changed, he was expelled from both the cathedral choir and the choir school.
With no money and few possessions, Haydn at 17 was left to his own devices. He eventually was introduced to the music-loving Austrian nobleman Karl Joseph von Fürnberg, in whose home he played chamber music and for whose instrumentalists he wrote his ﬁrst string quartets.
Through the recommendation of Fürnberg, Haydn was engaged in 1758 as musical director and chamber composer for the Bohemian count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin and was put in charge of an orchestra of about 16 musicians.
For this ensemble he wrote his ﬁrst symphony as well as numerous divertimenti for wind band or for wind instru- ments and strings.
Haydn stayed only brieﬂy with von Morzin, and soon he was invited to enter the service of Prince Pál Antal Esterházy. The Esterházys were one of the wealthiest and most inﬂuential families of the Austrian empire and boasted a distinguished record of supporting music.
Prince Pál Antal had an orchestra performing regularly in his castle at Eisenstadt, a small town some 30 miles (48 km) from Vienna, and he appointed the relatively unknown Haydn to be assistant conductor in 1761. While the music director oversaw church music, Haydn conducted the orchestra, coached the singers, composed most of the music, and served as chief of the musical personnel. Haydn worked well with the Esterházy family, and he remained in their service until his death.
In 1766 Haydn became musical director at the Esterházy court. He raised the quality and increased the size of the prince’s musical ensembles by appointing many choice instrumentalists and singers. His ambitious plans were supported by Prince Miklós, who had become head of the Esterházy family in 1762. In addition to com- posing operas for the court, Haydn composed symphonies, string quartets, and other chamber music. The prince was a passionate performer on the baryton, and Haydn provided more than 120 compositions featuring this now-obsolete cellolike instrument.
Haydn served Prince Miklós for nearly 30 years. He frequently visited Vienna in the prince’s retinue. On these visits he developed a close friendship with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The two composers were inspired by each other’s work.
The period from 1768 to about 1774 marks Haydn’s maturity as a composer. The music written then, from the Stabat Mater (1767) to the large-scale Missa Sancti Nicolai (1772), would be sufﬁcient to place him among the chief composers of the era. The many operas he wrote during these years did much to enhance his own reputation and that of the Esterházy court. Other important works from this period include the string quartets of Opus 20, the Piano Sonata in C Minor, and the turgid symphonies in minor keys, especially the so-called Trauersymphonie in E
Minor, No. 44 (“Mourning Symphony”) and the “Farewell” Symphony, No. 45. Haydn’s operatic output continued to be strong until 1785, but his audience increasingly lay outside his employer’s court. In 1775 he composed his ﬁrst large-scale oratorio, Il ritorno di Tobia, for the Musicians’ Society in Vienna, and the Viennese ﬁrm Artaria published his six Opus 33 quartets in the 1780s.
These important quartets quickly set a new standard for the genre. In the mid-1780s a commission came from Paris to compose a set of symphonies. Also about this time, Haydn was commissioned to compose the Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross, one of his most admired works.
When Prince Miklós died in 1790, he was succeeded by his son, Prince Antal, who did not care for music and dis- missed most of the court musicians. Haydn was retained, however, and continued to receive his salary. At this point a violinist and concert manager, Johann Peter Salomon, arrived from England and commissioned from Haydn 6 new symphonies and 20 smaller compositions to be con- ducted by the composer himself in a series of orchestral concerts in London. Haydn gladly accepted this offer, and the two men set off for London in December 1790.
On New Year’s Day 1791, Haydn arrived in England, and the following 18 months proved extremely rewarding. The 12 symphonies he wrote on his ﬁrst and second visits to London represent the climax of his orchestral output. Their style and wit endeared the works to British audiences, and their popularity is reﬂected in the various nicknames bestowed on them—e.g., The Surprise (No. 94), Military (No. 100), The Clock (No. 101), and Drumroll (No. 103).
In June 1792 Haydn left London, ultimately for Vienna, where his return was only coolly received. This perhaps prompted him to make a second journey to England in January 1794. The principal compositions of his second visit to London were the second set of London (or Salomon) symphonies (Nos. 99–104) and the six Apponyi quartets (Nos. 54–59). While in London, Haydn reached even greater heights of inspiration, particularly in the last three symphonies he wrote (Nos. 102–104), of which the Symphony No. 102 in B-ﬂat Major is especially impressive.
Although King George III invited him to stay in England, Haydn returned to his native Austria to serve the new head of the Esterházy family, Prince Miklós II.
The Late Esterházy and Viennese Period
While in London in 1791, Haydn had been deeply moved by the performance of George Frideric Handel’s masterly oratorios. Deciding to compose further works in this genre, he obtained a suitable libretto, and, after settling in Vienna and resuming his duties for Prince Esterházy, he started work on the oratorio The Creation, the text of which had been translated into German by Baron Gottfried van Swieten.
The work was planned and executed to enable performances in either German or English; it is believed to be the ﬁrst musical work published with text underlay in two languages. The libretto was based on the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton and on the Genesis book of the Bible. The Creation was ﬁrst publicly performed in 1798 and earned enormous popularity subsequently.
Haydn then produced another oratorio, which absorbed him until 1801. An extended poem, The Seasons, by James Thomson, was chosen as the basis for the (much shorter) libretto, again adapted and translated by van Swieten so as to enable performance in either German or English. The oratorio achieved much success, both at the Austrian court and in public performances (although not in London).
Haydn’s late creative output included six masses written for his patron Miklós II. He also continued to compose string quartets, notably the six Erdödy quartets known as Opus 76. In 1797 Haydn gave to the Austrian Empire the stirring song Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser (“God Save Emperor Francis”). It was used for more than a century as the national anthem of the Austrian monarchy and as the patriotic song “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles” (“Germany, Germany Above All Else”) in Germany, where it remains the national anthem as “Deutschlandlied.” The song was so beloved that Haydn decided to use it as a theme for variations in one of his ﬁnest string quartets, the Emperor Quartet (Opus 76, No. 3).
After composing his last two masses in 1801 and 1802, Haydn undertook no more large-scale works. During the last years of his life, he was apparently incapable of further work. In 1809 Napoleon’s forces besieged Vienna and in May entered the city. Haydn refused to leave his house and take refuge in the inner city. Napoleon placed a guard of honour outside Haydn’s house, and on May 31 the enfeebled composer died peacefully; he was buried two days later.