Franz Joseph Haydn: Austrian Classical Composer, regarded as ‘Father of Symphony’

Franz Joseph Haydn was an extremely prolific and popular Austrian composer of the Classical era and regarded the ‘father of symphony.’ A kindly and fatherly figure, he was nicknamed ‘Papa Haydn’ and pitted along Vienna’s best Classical composers: Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. He was famous for oratorios The Creation and The Seasons.

Along with his pupil and much younger friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, they epitomized the early Classical era. He wrote more than 100 symphonies, some of them with interesting nicknames. He was also a teacher of Beethoven.

Childhood and Youth in Vienna, c1750-1761

Born in Rohrau, Austria on March 31, 1732 (275 years ago), the son of a wheelwright, Haydn went to St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna as a chorister. He was big brother to another composer Michael Haydn five years his junior. Notably, Haydn was born while Baroque composers J.S. Bach and George F. Handel were still writing imposing oratorios and other sacred music. In composition, Joseph Haydn was largely self-taught, studying the works of C.P.E. Bach, and Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum.

In 1753, he became accompanist to Italian composer and teacher Nicola Porpora. His first string quartets were written about 1755.

He married Maria Anna Keller. At first, he had fallen in love with a younger sister, but when she entered the convent, he married Maria Anna instead. It was an unhappy marriage.

Esterhaza, 1761-1790

Haydn served as court composer at Esterhaza where he perfected the symphony, string quartets and sonatas – the classical music stronghold.

In 1761 he took employment with the Esterhazy family, a position he held for the rest of his life. Beginning with symphony no. 22 (the ‘Philosopher’, 1764) and continuing through the 1760s to no. 49 (‘La passione’), Haydn gained his maturity and inventiveness as a composer. In the set of quartets Op. 50 (1787), Haydn repaid the debt that Mozart had acknowledged in dedicating his own quartets to his Papa Haydn. Though he was isolated in Esterhaza, his popularity spread. He received invitations to travel.

London, 1791-1795

In 1790, on the death of Prince Nikolaus of the Esterhazy family, Haydn was free to accept invitation from the London impresario J.P. Salomon to go to England. His first visit to London (1791-1792), for which he composed six symphonies and an opera (not produced), was a huge success. This was followed by six more symphonies. These works confirmed his reputation as the most original composer of the genre during his time. Inspired by Handel’s oratorios he had heard in London, he composed two of his own: The Creation and The Seasons.

He retired in Vienna from 1803.

Haydn Works

In spite of huge advances made in the knowledge and performance of his music in recent years, the quantity of his output still awaits wide recognition, and some of his works are still unpublished. Haydn’s compositional works include: orchestral including symphonies, oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, chamber music, keyboard, operas including Armida, masses, cantatas, piano trios, piano sonatas, and songs.

Haydn Major Symphonies

  • Symphony No.6 “Morning”
  • Symphony No.7 “Midday”
  • Symphony No.8 “Evening”
  • Symphony No.22 “The Phliosopher”
  • Symphony No.48 “Maria Theresa”
  • Symphony No.45 “Farewell”
  • “Paris” symphonies including Symphony No.82 “The Bear” and Symphony No.83 “The Hen”
  • “London” Symphonies including Symphony No.94 “The Surprise,” Symphony No.100 “The Military” and Symphony No.101 “The Clock”

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