Spotlight on Great Classical Composers: Haydn


Welcome back to another of our Spotlight series ~!  This month, we will be peeking into the life of Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809). 

The leading Austrian composer of the classical period, Haydn was instrumental in the development of the Symphonic and String Quartet genres.  This earned him the nicknames ‘Father of the Symphony’ and ‘Father of the String Quartet’.

Born to a wheelwright and a cook, Haydn’s family was a musical family nonetheless.  From a young age, Haydn revealed unusual musical talents, and later enrolled in a school in Hainburg to live together with his cousin – the then choirmaster and school principal.  There, Haydn joined the church choir and began training in music under the guidance of his cousin.

At the age of 8, Haydn was invited by the musical director of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna to join the choir of Vienna’s most important church.  Young Haydn studied there for 9 years but to his disappointment, he was eventually expelled when his voice underwent changes due to puberty.

After leaving the church, Haydn had to work odd musical jobs to make a living.  He instructed himself through the study of musical works and manuals of music theory.  Fortunately, he came across Nicola Porpora ~ an Italian composer who taught him the fundamentals of composition in exchange for work as an accompanist.

Haydn’s life took a turn in 1758 when he next came across an Austrian nobleman, Karl Joseph von Furnberg, who hired him to play chamber music in his home.  Subsequently, Haydn became a music director and composer for a Bohemian count, leading an orchestra of 16 musicians.

After the dismissal of this orchestra due to financial reasons, Haydn was invited by Prince Pal Antal Esterházy to work as vice-music director for the Esterházy family of Hungary.  One of the wealthiest and most-influential families of the Austrian empire, the Princes of the Esterházy family were connoisseurs of music.  Haydn’s employment in 1761 as vice-Kapellmeister and then his rise into the position of Kapellmeister in 1766 ~ made him chief of the musicians in the Esterházy establishment.

Palace of the the Esterházy family


In his position, Haydn composed music – symphonies, operas, string quartets and other chamber music.  He also directed the orchestra, played chamber music with his employer and mounted operatic productions.

One curious endeavour was the production of more than 150 compositions by Haydn featuring the baryton, a string instrument dearly loved by Prince Nikolaus Esterházy.

Haydn worked for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy for almost 30 years.  During this time, Prince Nikolaus preferred to hold court in the palace Esterháza, in rural Hungary.  However, whenever the court moved back to Eisenstadt, Haydn was able to make the short trip from there to Vienna – where he could meet with Mozart for some chamber music-making !

The two composers greatly respected one another and maintained a warm friendship.  After close study of Haydn’s set of six String Quartets Op. 33, Mozart crafted his own set of six which he dedicated to Haydn himself !

Haydn’s fame spread throughout Europe in the next decades despite his employment by the Esterházy family restricting his freedom to compose for commission – until the re-negotiation of his employment contract in 1779.  His symphonies, divertimenti, sonatas and concerti were being shared – and his music even collected by aristocrats in south Germany, Italy and the Austrian empire !

After the re-negotiation of his employment contract in 1779 ~ Haydn began to increase his output of string quartets and symphonies.  The Viennese firm Artaria published his set of six String Quartets Op. 33 – Haydn was able to accept a commission from Paris for a set of symphonies that resulted in his ‘Paris’ Symphonies – and he was also able to complete his most-admired works till date, his Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross.

Haydn eventually worked for the Esterházy family until his death ~ leaving behind 104 symphonies, 83 string quartets, 45 piano trios, 62 piano sonatas, 14 masses and 26 operas, amongst countless other works.

There is a lot more to learn about Haydn ~ as a person, his experiences and his music.

Join us in The Glasshouse to find out more about Haydn and the Symphony, as well as Haydn and the String Quartet !

Also, if you managed to catch our previous Spotlight feature on Grieg ~ you would know that we are releasing an exciting piece of artwork this month ~ featuring Grieg’s music and the dramatic landscape of Norway ~!

Do keep your eyes peeled and watch our Facebook and Instagram pages to stay posted ! (:

See you again soon in August for our next Spotlight on Great Classical Composers !