Franz Joseph Haydn Biography

A brief biogrpaphy of Franz Joseph Haydn, who is remembered in history as the Father of the Symphony and an adventurer into almost every element of music.

Franz Joseph Haydn is best remembered for his symphonic music, honored by music historians who have dubbed him the "Father of the Symphony." That is a well-known fact. But did you know that Haydn worked his way from peasant to Kapellmeister where he lived in the house of a prince? Did you know that although Austria was his home, he traveled to London to write his most famous symphonies? Did you know that Haydn's oratorio "The Creation" grew out of his love of nature, as he was an avid hunter and fisherman? Or did you know that Haydn was mentor to a young music student by the name of Mozart?

These are the lesser-known facts, the parts of Haydn's life that allow us to peek inside a great man's legacy to see what made him tick. Haydn was indeed a self-made man. Born in the small village of Rohrau, Austria on March 31, 1732, Franz Joseph Haydn was the second of twelve children. His father was a wagon maker by trade, but quite musical. On Sundays, the Haydn family often gave private concerts. Haydn's father played the harp while Haydn and his mother sang. A cousin who was a schoolmaster recognized the five-year-old boy's talent and offered to take him into his school so that he could receive musical instruction. The food portions for the children were meager and Haydn himself said that "there was more flogging than food." Still, Haydn persevered, determined even as a young boy to maximize the opportunity and learn all that he could.

At the age of eight, Franz Joseph Haydn became a choirboy for the Viennese Cathedral. Again, the food was far less than what a growing youth needed and the choir children's treatment in general was harsh. Haydn stayed, learning all that he could about church music, until puberty changed the timbre of his voice and he was cast into the streets of Vienna with nothing more than a change of clothes. At the age of seventeen, Haydn found lodging and work. He gave music lessons and played in the serenades to earn money. An open door presented itself in the form of an Italian composer named Niccolo Porpora who hired Haydn as his accompanist. Haydn's status was that of a servant, but Porpora did adequately feed him - something he had not enjoyed at the school or the Cathedral - and taught him Italian, voice, and composition. Again, a positive-minded Haydn saw it as an opportunity.

With practice and performance, Haydn's musical prowess and fame grew with time. He was offered the position of Music Director for Count Morzin. From there, Haydn accepted employment with the Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy where he became the Vice-Kapellmeister and later Kapellmeister. His duties were intense, ranging from the administrative responsibilities associated with monitoring the needs of the musicians under him to himself composing music for orchestral, operatic, and chamber music performances. His response to the challenge was as it had always been - Haydn exhibited not only the stamina for that which was required of him, but the brilliance of creation that made his music famous. While in the employ of the Prince, Haydn composed eleven operas, sixty symphonies, five masses, thirty sonatas, one concerto, and hundreds of shorter pieces.

Haydn's positive attitude and sense of humor made him a favorite among musicians. Music students valued his knowledge and skill and considered it an honor to learn from him. One such musician was Mozart. Although Mozart was much younger than Haydn, the two men treated each other with a mutual respect reserved for the obviously gifted. Although Haydn openly opined Mozart as the more dramatic composer, his young counterpart looked to Papa Haydn as a mentor and the master of quartets.

Haydn's sense of humor often came into play during his thirty-year tenure with Prince Esterhazy. The prince had become complacent when listening to Haydn's symphonies, even falling asleep at the performances. This was something that seared the feelings of the diligent composer, especially when the prince emitted a loud snore during a part of the symphony over which Haydn had especially labored. Haydn decided to create a new symphony for the prince, a symphony that he hoped would "get Prince Esterhazy's attention." This particular symphony was written with a long slow movement, designed to be so soothing that the prince would surely fall asleep. On the evening of the performance, the prince did indeed drift off. Then, suddenly, a loud chord shattered the serenity of the murmuring movement. The prince awoke with a start and almost fell off his chair! Haydn adeptly gave the piece the name "Surprise Symphony."



On another occasion, Haydn was plagued by his musicians who were complaining that they were long overdue for vacations. He again faced the dilemma with ingenuity. Haydn composed a symphony during which the musicians' parts dropped off two by two. On the evening of the performance, Haydn saved this symphony as the last number, knowing that dusk would set in and the musicians would need to play the piece by candlelight. As each instrument's part finished, the musicians blew out their candles and left the stage until only Haydn was left. Prince Esterhazy got the message and sent everyone on vacation. Haydn named the piece "The Farewell Symphony."

When the prince for whom Haydn had served most of his career died, Haydn saw it as yet another opportunity. He packed his bags and traveled to London where he was employed by the entrepreneur J.P Salomon to compose symphonies. The demand for new music was incredible. Even at the age of sixty, Haydn's stamina was unquenchable and he produced perhaps his greatest work. Of these are the famous "London Symphonies."

After a return to Austria, Haydn turned to a new type of composition - the oratorio. He wrote "The Creation" and "The Seasons," both tributes to his love of nature and God. An enthusiastic hunter and fisherman and a man who considered his peace to come from God, it was not out of character for Haydn to turn to the topic, although the venture into a different music medium at such a late stage of his life might be considered unusual. Still, that was Haydn - never one to promote the usual.

Haydn died at the age of 77 on May 31, 1809. Elssler, Haydn's faithful servant, friend, and the chronicler of his works, wrote that Haydn passed from this world "quietly and peacefully," just as he had lived.

Haydn - a self-made man, remembered for his contribution to the symphony. But anecdotal studies of his life show he was also a man of optimism with an uncanny sense of humor. He was a mentor to other musicians and an untiring adventurer into almost every element of music.

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