Franz Joseph Haydn
Joseph Haydn is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the classical period. He is often called the father of both the symphony and the string quartet, and he founded what is known as the Viennese classical school, which consisted of himself, his friend, Wolfgang Mozart, and his pupil, Ludwig van Beethoven. During his lifetime, he produced a mind-boggling amount of music. He lived from the end of the baroque period to the beginning of the romantic period, and presided over the transition between them.
Franz Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau, Austria, on April 1, 1732, to Mathias and Anna Maria Koller Haydn. Joseph Haydn’s parents had twelve children, but, sadly, six of them died during infancy. His surviving siblings included two brothers, Johann Evangelist and Johann Michael, and three sisters, Anna Maria Franziska, Anna Maria, and Anna Katharina. Many references give March 31 as Haydn’s birthday, but official records disprove this. It is rumored that his brother, Michael, was the source of this inaccuracy. Supposedly, Michael didn’t want it said that his big brother came into this world as an April Fool.
At age seven, young Joseph entered the choir school at St. Steven’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he was to remain for the next nine years. During his early years, he became interested in composing music, but he had no formal training until his late teens, when he worked for Italian musician and composer, Niccol Porpora. He avidly studied music, including the works of C. P. E. Bach, and held several music-related jobs in Vienna during the 1750’s. His earliest composition, Missa Brevis in F, comes from this period, as does Der Krumme Teufel (The Lame Devil), a burlesque opera, which Haydn composed in 1752. This opera was banned shortly after it’s opening, however, because a local nobleman thought that the main character was his caricature.
Then, in 1758, Haydn got his first regular musical job as musical director to Count Ferdinand Maximillian von Morzin in Lukavec, Bohemia, where he wrote his first orchestral compositions. The Morzin orchestra performed Haydn’s first symphony, which he conducted from the harpsichord.
On November 26, 1760, he married Maria Anna Keller. Maria Anna, who was Joseph’s elder by four years, was bad tempered, disliked music, and was unable to clean the house or bear children. She enjoyed making Joseph angry, and often used his compositions as tablemats. As a result, the couple fought often, and the marriage was a total disaster. He retreated into his music, while she found consolation by spending a great deal of time in church.
In 1761, Count Morzin was forced to disband his orchestra due to financial problems. It wasn’t long, however, before Haydn was offered another job, this time in Eisenstadt, Austria, as assistant Kapellmeister for Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, who was greatly impressed by the music that Haydn performed while he was with the Morzin orchestra.
Paul Anton died in 1762 and was succeeded by his brother Nicholas, who was also a music lover and played the baryton (a brass wind instrument). Thus, Haydn composed more than a hundred trios for baryton, viola, and bass during the next thirteen years. Haydn also composed several short operas and a full-length opera, named Acide.
Upon the death of Gregor Werner in 1766, Joseph Haydn was promoted to Kapellmeister (musical director). Prior to his death, Werner earned slightly over half of the wage paid to his highly talented, younger assistant. The orchestra was expanded, and Haydn composed four to five symphonies a year. He also continued to compose operas.
In 1768, Haydn and the Esterhazy orchestra moved to Eszterhaza, a beautiful new palace built by Prince Nicholas. During this time, Haydn did not maintain his usual volume of symphony production, as he composed less than ten between 1766 and 1770. However, Haydn experienced a renewed interest in writing string quartets. He composed three groups of six quartets between 1771 and 1772, which he published with the opus Nos. 9, 17, and 20.
Haydn’s work underwent a transition between the years of 1768 and 1774. This was largely due to a movement in Western Europe’s literature known as “Sturm und Drang”, or “Storm and Stress”, where emotional themes became increasingly important in literature. This movement had an effect on Haydn and his music, and he was particularly inventive in his search for new styles and forms. There are emotional and tragic elements in several of the symphonies that he wrote during this period, the most widely known of these being symphony No. 45, named Abschiedssinfonie (Farewell Symphony). His operas do not reflect this shift, however, because the aristocratic and noble audiences were not fond of the Sturm und Drang movement.
In 1776, a fire in Eisenstadt destroyed most of Haydn’s manuscripts. It is not known how many works were destroyed. Then, only three years later, another fire, this time at Eszterhaza, destroyed many more of Haydn’s compositions.
Haydn continued to compose both symphonies and operas. In 1782, Haydn wrote the opera Orland Paladino, which came to be his most famous during his lifetime. He composed another opera, Armida, in 1783, which he felt to be his greatest opera. Haydn’s fame had spread even to Spain, as he composed seven slow works, titled Instrumental music for The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour from the Cross, upon a request from the priest of the cathedral in Cadiz.
During his lifetime, Haydn became friends with a great contemporary of his, namely, Mozart. They most likely met each other in 1781, and remained friends until Mozart’s death in 1791. Haydn recognized the immense talent of the younger virtuoso, and gave his advice and criticism to Mozart, who valued Haydn’s opinion higher than any other’s. The two confided in each other and became very close, even dedicating compositions to each other. Upon hearing of Mozart’s death, Haydn refused to believe it at first. The death of his friend affected him so greatly that, even years later, the mere mention of it would bring tears to his eyes. Haydn was once quoted as saying, “Friends tell me often that I am brilliant, but he Mozart stood far above me.”
In 1790, Prince Nicholas Esterhazy died, and his successor, Anton, cared nothing for music, and disbanded the orchestra and choir. He did keep Haydn on as Kapellmeister, though he required nothing of him. After the death of Prince Nicholas, Haydn moved to Vienna, where he would be free to follow his own pursuits. By this time, Haydn’s fame had spread across the whole of Europe, and his works were even being performed in America.
Early in 1791, Haydn traveled to London, where he was to stay for eighteen months. He knew no English and had never seen the sea, but the aging composer was received most cordially. He performed for the royal family and nobility, and all of his concerts were huge successes. In July of 1791, Oxford University awarded Haydn an honorary doctorate of music. He seemed to be on top of the world, but tragedy was soon to strike, for it was during this stay in London that he heard of Mozart’s untimely death.
Shortly thereafter, Haydn composed one of his most important works, symphony No. 94 in G, which the English nicknamed ‘The Surprise’. Many regard symphony Nos. 93-104, collectively called ‘The London’, as the pinnacle of Haydn’s symphonic achievements. The six ‘Apponyi Quartets’, which he wrote during this time, are also among his greatest works. Haydn returned to Vienna in mid-1792, where, much to his disappointment, his arrival went largely unnoticed.
That autumn, a young musician and composer named Ludwig van Beethoven arrived in Vienna to receive composition lessons from Haydn. The two men were very different, and a close friendship such as that between Haydn and Mozart never developed. Haydn instructed the young Beethoven for approximately a year, and once said of him, “Beethoven will one day be one of Europe’s greatest composers and I am proud that I was his teacher.” Likewise, Beethoven was a great admirer of Haydn’s works.
Haydn returned to London in early 1794, and again he received the warmest of welcomes. He composed several more symphonies for the London concert season. His many friends and admirers asked him to stay permanently in England, but this was not to be. Upon the death of Prince Anton, Nicholas II (grandson of Nicholas I), asked Haydn to return to Vienna, which he did late in the summer of 1795. Nicholas II wanted to reform the orchestra that his father had disbanded; however, the relationship between Haydn and his new employer was not very good.
Haydn composed six masses for Nicholas II. In 1796, he began work on an oratorio named Die Schopfung (The Creation), which he finished two years later. This piece is arguably Haydn’s most important work. Haydn also wrote another oratorio, which he called Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons). He finished this in 1801, but he felt that composing this work drained his strength. He once said of the piece, “Die Jahreszeiten did not bring me luck. I should not have composed it. It finished me.”
On March 20, 1800, Haydn’s wife died. In the last years of his life, Haydn received many honors from all across Europe. Having never been very ill, he found his fading strength difficult to accept. Haydn resigned his job with the Esterhazy family in 1804, a position which he held for over forty years. Prior to his death, Haydn was almost completely disabled. In his last days, troops from Napoleon’s armies invaded Vienna. The dying Haydn suffered from the noise and clamor, but he was not disturbed, as Napoleon ordered a guard to stand in front of his home. On May 31, 1809, Joseph Haydn entered into a coma and died. It was several days before the news of his death spread, and, because of the invasion, his funeral went largely unnoticed. His remains were moved several times after his death, and his body now rests in Eisenstadt.
During his lifetime, Joseph Haydn composed 107 symphonies, about 50 divertimenti, 84 string quartets, about 58 piano sonatas, and 13 masses. In all, his surviving musical works include over 750 compositions and over 330 songs. (A large number of Haydn’s works were destroyed in the 1770’s, so these totals would be even higher had it not been for the two fires.) He produced such an abundance of works during his long career that a man named Anthony von Hoboken compiled a directory of the master’s works, the title of which translates to Joseph Haydn – Thematic-bibliographic Listing of his Works. This three-volume directory was so helpful in sorting through the massive quantity of music that most of Haydn’s works are now known through their Hoboken reference number as well as their title.
Undoubtedly, Franz Joseph Haydn is one of the greatest composers of all time. His music, widely acclaimed during his day, has since made him immortal. Very few can stand shoulder to shoulder with this great master.
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