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Classical Composers A-Z: Franz Joseph Haydn

Peter Wintersgill presents a potted biography of Franz Joseph Haydn, sometimes called the Father of the Symphony.

Haydn's title "The Father of the Symphony", though not strictly true, has nevertheless some truth in it; he wrote over 100 such works, and helped to put this new type of composition on the map.

1st April, 1732, in Rohrau, a village in Lower Austria.

Matthias, wheelwright, amateur harpist.

Maria Anna, singer of folk songs.

Second of 12 children; younger brother Michael also became a musician.

He grew up surrounded by folk songs. Went to school in Hainberg, a nearby town, run by Cousin Frank, who gave him a good all-round and musical education. He was discovered by Johann Reutter, a travelling choirmaster and was sent to the choir school to St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, at age eight. His brother Michael followed him five years later and succeeded Joseph as soloist. His voice broke at 17, and he had to leave the school.

He soon found lodgings and a job as barber's boy. He met Metastasio, a librettist, who found him a job as music teacher to a Spanish nobleman's daughter. He also introduced him to Porpora, Handel's old rival, who gave him music lessons in return for valeting duties. Early compositions about this time include some piano sonatas, a few string quartets and the Missa Brevis in F.

Early Adult Life
In 1759 he became musical director to Count Morzin in Bohemia, for whom he wrote his first symphony. He fell in love with a barber's daughter, Therese, but she entered a nunnery, so he did the next best thing and married her sister Anna Maria. It was a most unfortunate marriage. The girl had a violent temper and no interest in music; in addition there were no children, so Haydn in his own words "was not indifferent to the charms of other women".

His early symphonies attracted the attention of Prince Paul Anton Esterhaz, who appointed him Vice Kapellmeister at his palace at Eisenstadt in 1761, when the Count was no longer able to afford an orchestra. Prince Paul died the following year and was succeeded by his brother Prince Nicholas, who was a even keener musician than Prince Paul. He built a sumptuous palace called Esterhazy, where Haydn stayed until he retired. He was kept very busy, producing
original music for all special occasions, e.g. birthdays and the arrival of important guests.

All the musicians were parted from their families while the court was at Esterhazy, so they all longed for leave. When this came to Haydn's notice, he wrote the Farewell Symphony (no. 45); during the last movement each player crept out in turn, snuffing his candle in the process. Evidently the message got home, for leave soon followed. The Empress Symphony was written in 1769 for the visit of the Empress Marie Therese. For the visit of Grand Duke Paul of Russia he wrote the Russian Quartets. The Toy Symphony was written for the Prince, who was very pleased with it, as are audiences to this day. His fame spread abroad and commissions flowed in. His Stabat Mater was well received, as was the Seven Last Words from the Cross, commissioned by Cadiz Cathedral in 1785. In 1786 the Loge Olympic in Paris ordered six symphonies (numberss 82 - 87). He also wrote many string quartets. In 1790 Prince Nicholas died and Haydn retired.

Later Adult Life
After his retirement Haydn was able to travel about and see his friends, including Mozart, with whom he was on intimate terms. He was invited to England by an impresario named Salomon, who came to Vienna to fetch him. He went in 1790 via Bonn, where he briefly met young Beethoven. While in London he wrote six symphonies (numbers 93-98), including the Surprise (no. 94). He was awarded the Hon Mus Doc by Oxford University.

In June 1792 he returned to Vienna and gave a few lessons to young Beethoven, but without much success. They were very different in temperament, Haydn old and staid, rather set in his ways, the young man very impatient and boorish and certainly very outspoken. He was impressed by the young man, but upset by his bumptious ways.

In 1794 he came again to England, staying till August 1795. While here he wrote his last six symphonies ( 99-104), including 101 (Clock), 100 (Military) and 104 (London). He attended the 1794 Handel Commemoration in Westminster Abbey, which no doubt inspired him to consider writing an oratorio. "Ach," he is quoted as saying, "he is the master of us all!"

He was recalled to Vienna by Prince Nicholas II, but was only required to work part time. He wrote six masses during his later years; they included the Nelson Mass, the Creation Mass and the Missa in Tempore Belli (Mass in Time of War.)

About this time he was handed by Salomon the libretto of the Creation, compiled by Thomas Linley from Genesis and Milton's Paradise Lost. On his return to Vienna he handed the text to his old friend Baron van Swieten, a diplomat who was very knowledgeable about music, who translated it into German. The first performance was in the palace of Prince von Schwartzenberg in 1798, and the first public performance in Vienna the following year. It was such a success that he collaborated again with the Baron on The Seasons, based on a text by James Thompson. Though well received at the time, it has never become as popular as Creation.

By this time Haydn was old and tired, but still had the energy to write his last set of six string quartets, one of which contains the Emperor's Hymn, which became the Austrian National Anthem. He made his last public appearance as conductor in 1803 aged 71, and his last appearance of all was at a 'birthday' performance of Creation in 1808.

Following the bombardment of Vienna by the French army and its capitulation, Napoleon ordered a Guard of Honour to be mounted outside Haydn's house. An officer sang an aria from Creation to Haydn on his death bed. He died of heart disease on 31st May, 1809, aged 72. A memorial service was held two weeks later, attended by a large congregation, and Mozart's Requiem was performed. Thus passed Papa Haydn, as he was affectionately known, one of the greatest musicians of all time.


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