Born second of twelve children to a poor but music-loving family, at the age of eight Franz Joseph was accepted in the choir of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. In 1749, after enduring nine years at the cathedral, he was turned out when his voice broke. Without money, a job, or a home, the young man somehow survived by singing, playing the harpsichord where he could, and teaching, all the time practicing and continuing to study music.
He also began composing and making connections, and was given his first professional position leading the orchestra of a Count Morzin of Bohemia. His first symphony led to his being engaged in 1761 as orchestra conductor to the Hungarian Prince Paul Anton Esterházy. Haydn spent thirty years in the employ of the Esterházys, virtually as a servant, but nevertheless composing some 90 symphonies, two dozen operas, a number of masses, and vast amounts of chamber music. His fame spread across Europe due to the publication of his music and, almost unknown to him, the immense popularity of his music set the standard of the musical tastes and techniques of the next half century. He met the young Mozart in 1781 and the two became close friends and admirers of one another's music.
When Prince Nicolaus Esterházy died in 1790 (he had succeeded Prince Paul in 1762 and had retained Haydn's services), Haydn was dismissed by his successor. With a generous pension and income from publications and pupils, Haydn moved to Vienna. He was invited to London by impressario J. P. Salomon for a series of concerts. During this visit and a second trip to England, Haydn composed his last twelve "London" symphonies, his crowning achievements in the genre. He was also asked to compose an oratorio in the style of Handel. He composed two, and his music transforms the majesty of the Baroque into that of the early nineteenth century with such choruses as "The Heavens are Telling" from The Creation, which premiered in 1798.
Known today as the "the father of the symphony and the string quartet," Haydn actually invented neither, but did develop them into the forms that eventually swept throughout Europe. Joseph Haydn was evidently an unassuming man who seemingly without effort turned out literally hundreds of sonatas, quartets, symphonies, operas and concertos during his career. His music is always extremely well-crafted, simple, and charming, but there are always flights of fancy and pure jokes amidst the classical veneer. The most famous example is the "surprise" in the second movement of his Symphony no. 94 in G major, but his humor can also be heard in the finale of the Symphony no. 82, nicknamed "the Bear" as the bass drone and chortling bassoons in the finale conjured images of a dancing bear in the minds of the symphony's first audiences.
By 1802, Haydn, now an old man, felt himself played out. He spent his last years enjoying the adulation that came his way from all over Europe. When, in the spring of 1809, the French under Napoleon began their destruction of Vienna, Haydn suffered a quick decline and died on May 31.
HAYDN: A BRIEF HISTORY AND BASIC REPERTOIRE
Of humble origins, Franz Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau, near Vienna. When he was eight years old he was accepted into the choir school of Saint Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, where he received his only formal education. Dismissed from the choir at the age of 17, he spent the next several years as a struggling free-lance musician. He studied on his own the standard textbooks on counterpoint and took occasional lessons from the noted Italian singing master and composer Nicola Porpora. In 1755, Haydn was engaged briefly by Baron Karl Josef von Furnberg, for whom he apparently composed his first string quartets. A more substantial position followed in 1759, when he was hired as music director by Count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin. Haydn's marriage in 1760 to Maria Anna Keller proved to be unhappy as well as childless.
The turning point in Haydn's fortunes came in 1761, when he was appointed assistant music director to Prince Pal Antál Esterházy; he became full director, or Kapellmeister, in 1762. Haydn served under the patronage of three successive princes of the Esterházy family. The second of these, Pal Antál's brother, Prince Miklós Jozsef Esterházy, was an ardent, cultivated music lover. At Esterháza, his vast summer estate, Prince Miklós could boast a musical establishment second to none, the management of which made immense demands on its director. In addition to the symphonies, operas, marionette operettas, masses, chamber pieces, and dance music that Haydn was expected to compose for the prince's entertainment, he was required to rehearse and conduct performances of his own and others' works, coach singers, maintain the instrument collection and music library, perform as organist, violist, and violinist when needed, and settle disputes among the musicians in his charge. Although he frequently regretted the burdens of his job and the isolation of Esterháza, Haydn's position was enviable by 18th-century standards. One remarkable aspect of his contract after 1779 was the freedom to sell his music to publishers and to accept commissions. As a result, much of Haydn's work in the 1780s reached beyond the guests at Esterháza to a far wider audience, and his fame spread accordingly.
Miklós Jozsef Esterházy (1714-1790)
After the death of Prince Miklós in 1790, his son, Prince Antál, greatly reduced the Esterházy musical establishment. Although Haydn retained his title of Kapellmeister, he was at last free to travel beyond the environs of Vienna. The enterprising British violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon lost no time in engaging the composer for his concert series in London. Haydn's two trips to England for these concerts, in 1791-92 and 1794-95, were the occasion of the huge success of his last symphonies. Known as the "Salomon" or "London" symphonies, they include several of his most popular works: "Surprise" (#94), "Military" (#100), "Clock" (#101), "Drum Roll" (#103), and "London" (#104).
In his late years in Vienna, Haydn turned to writing masses and composed his great oratorios, The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801). From this period also comes his Emperor's Hymn (1797), which later became the Austrian national anthem. He died in Vienna, on May 31, 1809, a famous and wealthy man.
Haydn was prolific in nearly all genres, vocal and instrumental, sacred and secular. Many of his works were unknown beyond the walls of Esterháza, most notably the 125 trios and other assorted pieces featuring the baryton, a hybrid string instrument played by Prince Miklós. Most of Haydn's 19 operas and marionette operettas were written to accommodate the talents of the Esterháza company as well as the tastes of his prince. Haydn freely admitted the superiority of the operas of his young friend Wolfgang Mozart. In other categories, however, his works circulated widely, and his influence was profound. The 107 symphonies and 68 string quartets that span his career are proof of his ever-fresh approach to thematic materials and form, as well as of his mastery of instrumentation. His 62 piano sonatas and 43 piano trios document a growth from the easy elegance suitable for the home music making of amateurs to the public virtuosity of his late works.
Haydn's productivity is matched by his inexhaustible originality. His manner of turning a simple tune or motive into unexpectedly complex developments was admired by his contemporaries as innovative. Dramatic surprise, often turned to humorous effect, is characteristic of his style, as is a fondness for folkloric melodies. A writer of Haydn's day described the special appeal of his music as "popular artistry", and indeed his balance of directness and bold experiment transformed instrumental expression in the 18th century.