Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn, (March 31 or April 1, 1732May 31, 1809) was a leading composer of the Classical period, called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet". His friendly disposition also earned him another title: "Papa Haydn." He used his second name, spelled in German "Josef". He was the brother of Michael Haydn, himself a highly regarded composer, and Johann Evangelist Haydn, a tenor singer.

A life-long resident of Austria, Haydn spent most of his career as a court musician for the wealthy Eszterhzy family on their remote estate. Being isolated from other composers and trends in music, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original".
Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1792
Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1792



Haydn was born in 1732 in the Austrian village of Rohrau near the border with Hungary. His father was Matthias Haydn, a wheelwright who also served as "Marktrichter", an office somewhat akin to village mayor. Haydn's mother, the former Maria Koller, had previously worked as a cook in the palace of Count Harrach, the presiding aristocrat of Rohrau. Haydn himself was nicknamed Sepperl as a child. Neither parent could read music. However, Matthias was an enthusiastic folk musician, who during the journeyman period of his career had taught himself to play the harp. According to Haydn's later reminiscences, his childhood family was extremely musical, and frequently sang together and with their neighbors.

Haydn's parents were perceptive enough to notice that their little son had musical talent, and they also knew that in Rohrau he would have no chance to obtain any serious musical training. It was for this reason that they accepted a proposal from their relative Johann Matthias Franck, the schoolmaster and choirmaster in Hainburg, that Haydn be apprenticed to Franck in his home to train as a musician. Haydn thus went off with Franck to Hainburg (ten miles away) and never again lived with his parents. At the time he was not quite six.

Life in the Franck household was not easy for Haydn, who later remembered being frequently hungry as well as constantly humiliated by the filthy state of his clothing. However, he did begin his musical training there, and soon was able to play both harpsichord and violin. The people of Hainburg were soon hearing him sing soprano parts in the church choir.

There is reason to think that Haydn's singing impressed those who heard him, because two years later (1740), he was brought to the attention of Georg von Reutter, the director of music in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, who was touring the provinces looking for talented choirboys. Haydn passed his audition with Reutter, and soon moved off to Vienna, where he worked for the next nine years as a chorister, the last four in the company of his younger brother Michael.

Like Franck before him, Reutter didn't always bother to make sure Haydn was properly fed. The young Haydn greatly looked forward to performances before aristocratic audiences, where the singers sometimes had the opportunity to satisfy their hunger by devouring the refreshments. Reutter also did little to further his choristers' musical education. However, St. Stephen's was at the time one of the leading musical centers in Europe, where new music by leading composers was constantly being performed. Haydn was able to learn a great deal by osmosis simply by serving as a professional musician there.

Struggles as a freelancer

In 1749, Haydn had matured physically to the point that he was no longer able to sing high choral parts. On a weak pretext, he was summarily dismissed from his job. He evidently spent one night homeless on a park bench, but was taken in by friends and began to pursue a career as a freelance musician. During this arduous period, which lasted ten years, Haydn worked many different jobs, including valet–accompanist for the Italian composer Nicola Porpora, from whom he later said he learned "the true fundamentals of composition". He labored to fill the gaps in his training, and eventually wrote his first string quartets and his first opera. During this time Haydn's professional reputation gradually increased.

The years as Kapellmeister

Portrait by Ludwig Guttenbrunn, ca. 1770
Portrait by Ludwig Guttenbrunn, ca. 1770
In 1759, or 1757 according to the New Grove Encyclopedia, Haydn received his first important position, that of Kapellmeister (music director) for Count Karl von Morzin. In this capacity, he directed the count's small orchestra, and for this ensemble wrote his first symphonies. Count Morzin soon suffered financial reverses that forced him to dismiss his musical establishment, but Haydn was quickly offered a similar job (1761) as assistant Kapellmeister to the Eszterhzy family, one of the wealthiest and most important in the Austrian Empire. When the old Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, died in 1766, Haydn was elevated to full Kapellmeister.

As a liveried servant of the Eszterhzys, Haydn followed them as they moved among their three main residences: the family seat in Eisenstadt, their winter palace in Vienna, and Eszterhza, a grand new palace built in rural Hungary in the 1760s. Haydn had a huge range of responsibilities, including composition, running the orchestra, playing chamber music for and with his patrons, and eventually the mounting of operatic productions. Despite the backbreaking workload, Haydn considered himself fortunate to have his job. The Eszterhzy princes (first Paul Anton, then most importantly Nikolaus I) were musical connoisseurs who appreciated his work and gave him the conditions needed for his artistic development, including daily access to his own small orchestra.

In 1760, with the security of a Kapellmeister position, Haydn married. He and his wife, the former Maria Anna Keller, did not get along, and they produced no children. Haydn may have had one or more children with Luigia Polzelli, a singer in the Eszterhzy establishment with whom he carried on a long-term love affair, and often wrote to on his travels.

During the nearly thirty years that Haydn worked in the Eszterhzy household, he produced a flood of compositions, and his musical style became ever more developed. His popularity in the outside world also increased. Gradually, Haydn came to write as much for publication as for his employer, and several important works of this period, such as the Paris symphonies (17856) and the original orchestral version of The Seven Last Words of Christ (1786), were commissions from abroad.

Around 1781 Haydn established a close friendship with Mozart, whose work he had already been influencing by example for many years. The two composers enjoyed playing in string quartets together. Haydn was hugely impressed with Mozart's work; it has been noted by Mozart scholars that after this time Haydn largely ceased to compose operas and concertos; two of the genres where Mozart was at his strongest. Mozart spent the better part of three years from 1782 to 1785 to produce a set of six string quartets that he would dedicate to the older man.

The London journeys

In 1790, Prince Nikolaus died and was succeeded by a thoroughly unmusical prince who dismissed the entire musical establishment and put Haydn on a pension. Thus freed of his obligations, Haydn was able to accept a lucrative offer from Johann Peter Salomon, a German impresario, to visit England and conduct new symphonies with a large orchestra.

The visit (1791-2), along with a repeat visit (1794-5), was a huge success. Audiences flocked to Haydn's concerts, and he quickly achieved wealth and fame: one review called him "incomparable", and many were filled with gushing language which reflected the acclaim his work received in London. Musically, the visits to England generated some of Haydn's best-known work, including the Surprise, Military, Drumroll, and London symphonies, the Rider quartet, and the Gypsy Rondo piano trio.

The only misstep in the venture was an opera which Haydn was contracted to compose, and paid a substantial sum of money for. Only one aria was sung at the time, and 11 numbers were published; the entire opera was not performed until 1950.

Final years in Vienna

Haydn actually considered becoming an English citizen and settling permanently, but eventually took a different course. He returned to Vienna, had a large house built for himself, and turned to the composition of large religious works for chorus and orchestra. These include his two great oratorios The Creation and The Seasons and six masses for the Eszterhzy family, which by this time was once again headed by a musically-inclined prince. Haydn also composed the last nine in his long series of string quartets, including the "Emperor", "Sunrise", and "Fifths" quartets. Despite his increasing age, Haydn looked to the future, exclaiming once in a letter, "how much remains to be done in this glorious art!"

In 1802, Haydn found that an illness from which he had been suffering for some time had increased greatly in severity, to the point that he became physically unable to compose. This was doubtless very difficult for him, because, as he acknowledged, the flow of fresh musical ideas waiting to be worked out as compositions did not cease. Haydn was well cared for by his servants, and he received many visitors and public honors during his last years, but they cannot have been very happy years for him. During his illness, Haydn often found solace by sitting at the piano and playing Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, which he had composed himself as a patriotic gesture in 1797. This melody later became used for the Austrian and German national anthems.

Haydn died in 1809, following an attack on Vienna by the French army under Napoleon. Among his last words was his attempt to calm and reassure his servants as cannon shots fell on the neighborhood.

Character and appearance

Haydn was known among his contemporaries for his kindly, optimistic, and congenial personality. He had a robust sense of humor, evident in his love of practical jokes and often apparent in his music. He was particularly respected by the Eszterhzy court musicians whom he supervised, as he maintained a cordial working atmosphere and effectively represented the musicians' interests with their employer.

Haydn was a devout Catholic, who often turned to his rosary when he got stuck in composing, a practice that he usually found to be effective. When he finished a composition, he would write "Laus deo" ("praise be to God") or some similar expression at the end of the manuscript. His favorite hobbies were hunting and fishing.

Haydn was short in stature, perhaps as a result of having been underfed throughout most of his youth. Like many in his day, he was a survivor of smallpox, and his face was pitted with the scars of this disease. He was not handsome, and was quite surprised when women flocked to him during his London visits. The various portraitists who drew or painted Haydn during his lifetime each took a different path in attempting to portray the attractive personality instead of the ugly face; hence no two surviving portraits of Haydn are alike.

Missing image
Portion of an original manuscript by Haydn, in the British Museum, from a biography of Haydn available from Project Gutenberg


Haydn is credited as the "father" of the classical symphony and string quartet, and also wrote many piano sonatas, piano trios, divertmenti and masses, which became the foundation for the Classical style in these compositional types. He also wrote other types of chamber music, as well as operas and concerti, although such compositions are now less known. Although other composers were prominent in the earlier Classical period, notably C.P.E. Bach in the field of the keyboard sonata (the harpsichord and clavichord were equally popular with the piano in this era) and J.C. Bach and Leopold Mozart in the symphony, Haydn was undoubtedly the strongest overall influence on musical style in this era.

The development of sonata form into a subtle and flexible mode of musical expression, which became the dominant force in Classical musical thought, was based foremost on Haydn and those who followed his ideas. His sense of formal inventiveness also lead him to integrate the fugue into the classical style, and to enrich the rondo form with more cohesive tonal logic, (see sonata rondo form). Another example of Haydn's inventiveness was his creation of the double variation form, that is variations on two alternating themes.

Structure and character of the music

A central characteristic of Haydn's music is the development of larger structures out of very short, simple musical motifs, usually devised from standard accompanying figures. The music is often quite formally concentrated, and the important musical events of a movement can unfold rather quickly. Haydn's musical practice formed the basis of much of what was to follow in the development of tonality and musical form. He took genres such as the symphony, which were, at that time, shorter and subsidiary to more important vocal music, and slowly expanded their length, weight and complexity.

Haydn's compositional practice was rooted in a study of the modal counterpoint of Fux, and the tonal homophonic styles which had become more and more popular, particularly the work of Gluck and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Of the latter Haydn wrote, "without him, we know nothing". He believed in the importance of melody, especially one which could be broken down into smaller parts easily subject to contrapuntal combination: in this regard he anticipated Beethoven.

Haydn's work became central to what was later described as the sonata form, and his work was central to taking the binary schematic of what was then called a "melodie". It was a form divided into sections, joined by important moments in the harmony which signalled the change. One of Haydn's important innovations (adopted by Mozart and Beethoven) was to make the moment of transition the focus of tremendous creativity. Instead of using stock devices to make the transition, Haydn would often find inventive ways to make the move between two expected keys.

Later musical theorists would codify the formal organization in the following way:

  • Introduction: If present in an extended form, a slower section in the dominant, often with material not directly related to the main themes, which would then rapidly transition to the
  • Exposition: Presentation of thematic material, including a progression of tonality away from the home key. Unlike Mozart and Beethoven, Haydn often wrote expositions where the music that establishes the new key is similar or identical to the opening theme: this is called monothematic sonata form.
  • Development: The thematic material is led through a rapidly-shifting sequence of keys, transformed, fragmented, or combined with new material. If not present, the work is termed a "sonatina". Haydn's developments tend to be longer and more elaborate than those of Mozart, for example.
  • Recapitulation: Return to the home key, where the material of the exposition is re-presented. Haydn, unlike Mozart and Beethoven, often rearranges the order of themes compared to the exposition: he also frequently omits passages that appeared in the exposition (particularly in the monothematic case) and adds codas.
  • Coda: After the close of the recapitulation on the tonic, there may be an additional section which works through more of the possibilities of the thematic material.

During this period the written music was structured by tonality, and the sections of a work of the Classical era were marked by tonal cadences. The most important transitions between sections were from the exposition to the development, and from the development to the recapitulation. Haydn focused on creating witty and often dramatic ways to make these transitions, by delaying them, or by having the occur so subtly that it takes some time before it is established that the transition has, in fact happened. Perhaps paradoxically one of the ways in which Haydn did this was by reducing the number of different devices for harmonic transitions between, so that he could explore and develop the possibilities he found in the ones he regarded as most interesting. This is perhaps why more than any other composer, Haydn is known for the jokes that he put into his music. The most famous example is the sudden loud chord in his "Surprise" symphony, No. 94, but others are perhaps funnier: the fake endings in the quartets Op. 33 No. 2 and Op. 50 No. 3, or the remarkable rhythmic illusion placed in the trio section of Op. 50 No. 1.

Haydn's compositional practice influenced both Mozart and Beethoven. Beethoven began his career writing rather discursive, loosely organized sonata expositions; but with the onset of his "Middle period", he revived and intensified Haydn's practice, joining the musical structure to tight small motifs, often by gradually reshaping both the work and the motifs so that they fit quite carefully.

The emotional content of Haydn's music cannot accurately be summarized in words, but one may attempt an approximate description. Much of the music was written to please and delight a prince, and its emotional tone is correspondingly upbeat; this tone also reflects, perhaps, Haydn's fundamentally healthy and well-balanced personality. Occasional minor-key works, often deadly serious in character, form striking exceptions to the general rule. Haydn's fast movements tend to be rhythmically propulsive, and often impart a great sense of energy, especially so in the finales. Some characteristic examples of Haydn's "rollicking" finale type are found in the "London" symphony No. 104, the string quartet Op. 50 No. 1, and the piano trio Hob XV: 27. Haydn's slow movements, early in his career, are usually not too slow in tempo, relaxed, and reflective. Later on, the emotional range of the slow movements increases, notably in the deeply felt slow movements of the quartets Op. 76 Nos. 3 and 5, the Symphony No. 102, and the piano trio Hob XV: 23. The minuets tend to have a strong downbeat (and upbeat!) and a clearly popular character. Late in his career, perhaps inspired by the young Beethoven (who was briefly his student), Haydn began to write scherzi instead of minuets, with a much faster tempo, felt as one beat to the measure.

Evolution of Haydn's Style

Haydn's early work dates from a period in which the compositional style of the High Baroque (seen in Bach and Handel) had gone out of fashion. This was a period of exploration and uncertainty, and Haydn, born 18 years before the death of Bach, was himself one of the musical explorers of this time. An older contemporary whose work Haydn acknowledged as an important influence was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the third son of Johann Sebastian.

Tracing Haydn's work over the five decades in which it was produced (roughly, 1749 to 1802), one finds a gradual but ever increasing complexity and musical sophistication, which developed as Haydn learned from his own experience and that of his colleagues. Several important landmarks have been observed in the evolution of Haydn's musical style.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s Haydn entered a stylistic period known as "Sturm und Drang" (storm and stress). This term is taken from a literary movement of about the same time, though some scholars believe that Haydn was unaware of this literary development and that the change in his compositional style was entirely of his own making. The musical language of this period is similar to what went before, but it is deployed in work that is more intensely expressive, especially in the works written in minor keys. Some of the most famous compositions of this period are the "Farewell" Symphony No. 45, the Piano Sonata No. 20 in C minor, and the six string quartets of Op. 20 (the "Sun" quartets), all dating from 1772. It was also around this time that Haydn became interested in writing fugues in the Baroque style, and three of the Op. 20 quartets end with such fugues.

Following the climax of the "Sturm und Drang", Haydn returned to a lighter, more overtly entertaining style. There are no quartets from this period, and the symphonies take on new features: the first movements now sometimes contain slow introductions, and the scoring often includes trumpets and timpani. These changes are often related to a major shift in Haydn's professional duties, which moved him away from "pure" music and toward the production of comic operas. Several of the operas, such as Il Mondo della luna (The World of the Moon), were Haydn's own work; these are seldom performed today. Haydn sometimes recycled their overtures as symphony movements, which helped him continue his career as a symphonist during this hectic decade.

In 1779, an important change in Haydn's contract permitted him to publish his compositions without prior authorization from his employer. This may have encouraged Haydn to rekindle his career as a composer of "pure" music. The change made itself felt most dramatically in 1781, when Haydn published the six string quartets of Opus 33, announcing (in a letter to potential purchasers) that they were written in "a completely new and special way". Charles Rosen has argued that this assertion on Haydn's part was not just sales talk, but meant quite seriously; and he points out a number of important advances in Haydn's compositional technique that appear in these quartets, advances that mark the advent of the Classical style in full flower. (See above, for their influence on Mozart.) These include a fluid form of phrasing, in which each motif emerges from the previous one without interruption, the practice of letting accompanying material evolve into melodic material, and a kind of "Classical counterpoint" in which each instrumental part maintains its own integrity. These traits continue in the many quartets that Haydn wrote after Opus 33.

In the 1790s, stimulated by his England journeys, Haydn developed what Rosen calls his "popular style", a way of composition that, with unprecedented success, created music having great popular appeal but retaining a learned and rigorous musical structure. An important element of the popular style was the frequent use of folk or folk-like material, as discussed in the article Haydn and folk music. Haydn took care to deploy this material in appropriate locations, such as the endings of sonata expositions or the opening themes of finales. In such locations, the folk material serves as an element of stability, helping to anchor the larger structure. Haydn's popular style can be heard in virtually all of his later work, including the twelve London symphonies, the late quartets and piano trios, and the two late oratorios.

The return to Vienna in 1795 marked the last turning-point in Haydn's career. Although his musical style evolved little, his intentions as a composer changed. While he had been a servant, and later a busy entrepreneur, Haydn wrote his works quickly and in profusion, with frequent deadlines. As a rich man, Haydn now felt he had the privilege of taking his time and writing for posterity. This is reflected in the subject matter of The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801), which address such weighty topics as the meaning of life and the purpose of humankind, and represent an attempt to render the sublime in music. Haydn's new intentions also meant that he was willing to spend much time on a single work: both oratorios took him over a year to complete. Haydn once remarked that he had worked on The Creation so long because he wanted it to last.

The change in Haydn's approach was important in the history of music, as other composers soon were following his lead. Notably, Beethoven adopted the practice of taking his time and aiming high. As composers were gradually liberated from dependence on the aristocracy, Haydn's late mode of work became the norm in Classical composition.

Books about Haydn


  • Haydn by Rosemary Hughes (New York: Farrar Strauss and Giroux 1970, out of print) gives a sympathetic and witty account of Haydn's life, along with a survey of the music.
  • Another biography, based on the most recent scholarship, is James Webster and Georg Feder's contribution to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (New York: Grove, 2001). This article was published separately as a book: The New Grove Haydn (New York: Macmillan 2002, ISBN 0195169042).
  • Haydn: Chronicle and Works, by H. C. Robbins Landon (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1976-1980), is a near-exhaustive compilation of the information we have about Haydn's life.

Criticism and analysis:

  • The Classical Style by Charles Rosen (2nd ed., New York: Norton 1997; ISBN 0393317129) is the essential work, covering much of Haydn's output, and explicating Haydn's central role in the creation of the classical style.


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.

See also

Lists of works

Articles on works by Joseph Haydn



Vocal works


Other topics

External links

da:Joseph Haydn de:Joseph Haydn es:Joseph Haydn eo:Joseph HAYDN fr:Franz Joseph Haydn he:יוזף היידן hu:Joseph Haydn ja:フランツ・ヨーゼフ・ハイドン no:Joseph Haydn pl:Joseph Haydn pt:Joseph Haydn sl:Joseph Haydn sv:Joseph Haydn zh:弗朗茨·约瑟夫·海顿


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