Franz Joseph Haydn, 1732-1809

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Franz Joseph Haydn was an Austrian composer whose long career stretched from the age of Bach and Handel to that of
Beethoven and Schubert. He was the son of a wheelwright, but his good ear and inventiveness stood him in good stead as he climbed to the top ranks of his generation's musical icons. Some feel that Haydn is "scandalously underrated" compared with other
composers (1). His late oratorios brought new life
to a musical form that had lost momentum since
Handel's death in 1759. (See "The Creation" and "The
Seasons" later in this entry). His late masses are
staples of the choral repertoire, and his 70
authenticated string quartets are important to people
who enjoy chamber music. Haydn is popularly referred
to as the father of the symphony, to which he devoted
nearly 40 years of his life. His early symphonies
show "direct influence of C.P.E. [Bach]" (2). C.P.E. was
the son of Johann Sebastian Bach. Haydn's middle
symphonies influenced contemporaries such as Mozart
and Vanhal. He went to London twice in the early 1790s,
where he presented the twelve so-called "Salomon Symphonies,
after the impresario who arranged the trips. These pieces
have stayed in the orchestral repertoire, and are currently
played regularly by symphony orchestras everywhere.
Of his 104 symphonies, these are the best-known.
Beethoven is known to have studied Haydn's symphonies
assiduously, using them as a jumping-off point
for his own symphonies.

Haydn spent most of his working life working for the
Eszterhazy family at the family's estate in Eisenstadt.
At times Haydn grew lonely, a condition that was
aggravated by his estrangement from his wife, Maria
Keller Haydn. He took a mistress, Luigia Polzelli, who
had been hired to sing in operatic productions.
Haydn's employers had a low opinion of Luigia, but Haydn
was able to write special arias for her when she couldn't
sing other composers' pieces. In this way Haydn made sure that
she stayed on the payroll.

Haydn was a close friend of Mozart, whom he regarded
as his greatest contemporary. Once it became clear that
Mozart was the era's supreme composer of operas, Haydn
stopped writing in that genre. By the same token, Mozart
cut back on his production of symphonies, apparently out
of deference to Haydn.

Haydn slipped into depression when news of Mozart's death
reached him in London in 1792. Nevertheless, Haydn
established himself as "Handel's successor" (3) in the field
of oratorio* with his "The Creation" (1798), and "The
Seasons," (1801). Also included in his late work are six
masses, dozens of piano trios, a trumpet concerto, his finest
string quartets, his final opera ("L'Anima del Filosofo"),
and numerous songs, and piano sonatas. In 1797, Haydn
wrote what is arguably his most famous song: "Gott
Erhalte Franz Den Kaiser" as a hymn dedicated to the Emperor. [National anthems as we know them were rare then]. He did this in response to France's Marseillaise, and chose the Emperor's birthday as the time for presenting it. The tune is in use as a
national anthem, though Germany is using it now, after changing
the lyrics.
Gott Erhalte Franze den Kaiser:
German national anthem:

Some time around 1803, Haydn became too feeble to work.
He retired to a house in Gumpendorf, a suburb of Vienna,
where he lived quietly with his servants and some pupils.
Although he did arrangements of Scottish folk songs,
he was unable to produce anything that demanded more
effort. In 1809, when Napoleon's troops were invading
Gumpendorf, Haydn got out of his sickbed to play the
Austrian National Anthem as an act of defiance against
Napoleon. Four days later, Haydn was dead, apparently
of shock from the heavy shelling. But even in death he
was to find no peace, for grave robbers stole the skull
from his crypt. It was not to be relocated and returned
to the rest of his remains until 1954. You can read more
about the incident here: A88010985

Posterity owes Haydn quite a bit. His tonal experimentation
in the overture to "The Creation" anticipates Richard Wagner. (4)
The high level of craftsmanship in Haydn's symphonies served
Beethoven well in his symphonies. Aficionados of chamber
music have much to celebrate, as Haydn continued the development
of the string quartet and piano trio from where Mozart left
off, giving Beethoven and his successors a solid foundation
on which to build.

However, posterity has also had to contend with the heavy demand for pieces by Haydn. Granted, his work ethic made it possible to satisfy many of the requests he received from people who wanted more music from him, but there were limits. Given that he didn't have more hours in the day than anyone else, some people basically cheated and went to lesser talents and persuaded them to *claim* that Haydn had written the pieces. This has complicated efforts to figure out which pieces were really by Haydn, and which were not. Despite fires at Esterhazy in the 1760s and 1770s, his surviving pieces are still so voluminous that sifting through them to figure out which were really by him has taken a lot of work. Even today, it sometimes happens that a "Haydn" piece turns out to be by someone else.

This entry ends with a list of recommended Haydn pieces. Here are notes on some of the best-known ones:

Symphony #45. The "Farewell symphony."
This symphony got its name because Haydn is said to have used it to convince his patron, Prince Nicolas Esterházy, to end his extended summer stay at his summer palace Esterháza – which kept the musicians away from their families. In the Finale, Haydn had the musicians would stop playing one by one, snuff out their candles, and walk off stage. By the end, only Haydn and his concertmaster were left on the stage. Apparently, Esterházy got the messagehint, and allowed the musiciansto return to Vienna the next day!

Symphony #94 . The "Surprise Symphony"
This is perhaps the best-known of Haydn's symphonies. It has even been used to sell men's underwear. The title "Surprise" comes form a sudden loud timpani stroke in the piece's second movement. The story went aorund that Haydn wanted to wake up audience members who had fallen asleep. However, Haydn denied that the loud chord had been written for that purpose. “Rather it was my wish to surprise the public with something new, so as not to be outdone by my pupil Iganz Pleyel, who was engaged in London for a concert series just before mine. My new symphony was well received, but enthusiasm reached its highest point with the unexpected timpani stroke. Even Pleyel complimented me on the idea.”

Recommended pieces


#22, "The Philosopher"
#31, "Hornsignal"
#45, "Farewell"
#48, "Maria Theresia"
#82, "The Bear"
#83, "The Hen"
#94, "Surprise"
#101, "The Clock"
#103, "Drumroll"

Masses and other liturgical pieces:

"Saint Nicholas"
"Mass in Time of War"
"Lord Nelson Mass"
"Te Deum" in C


"The Creation"
"The Seasons"

String Quartets:

Op. 64, #5, "The Lark"
Op. 76, #2, "Quinten"
Op. 76, #3, "Emperor"

Other Chamber music:

Haydn's late piano sonatas and piano
trios are generally his best. Gilbert Kalish
and Glenn Gould have made recordings
of the former, as have many other pianists.
The Beaux Arts Trio have
done likewise with the latter.


3 concerti for violin, 1 for horn, 2 for cello,
3 for harpsichord, and 1 for trumpet.

For readers interested in finding out more about musical forms in which Haydn wrote, There are edited guide articles on Haydn's string quartets ( A42922640), and orchestral music
( A640180).

A Post article giving reasons to consider Haydn if you are about to go to a desert island can be found here: A1172314
The author not only recommends some of the pieces featured here, but explains in some detail why they are good choices.

*oratorio: a lengthy choral work usually of a religious nature consisting chiefly of recitatives, arias, and choruses without action or scenery.

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