Franz Joseph Haydn

The Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) in his instrumental music, especially the symphonies and string quartets, essentially founded and brought to first mature realization the formal and structural principles of the classical style.

Joseph Haydn virtually created the classical formal structures of the string quartet and symphony, which were developed later by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. He participated in the development of other forms of 18th-century instrumental music, in addition to composing prolifically in the fields of sacred music, opera, and song. Throughout a lifetime of experimentation he developed in the quartet and symphony a fully mature classical tonal idiom, characterized externally by the four-movement structure (allegro, slow movement, minuet and trio, and finale) of the majority of these works and internally by emphasis on thematic and motivic development within a balanced tonal framework. Haydn evolved a tonal language that exhibited a gradual growth toward contrapuntal complexity and a vast range of expression in comparison to the technical simplicity and expressive triviality of much mid-18th-century instrumental music of the style galant.

Haydn was born in Rohrau, Lower Austria, on March 31, 1732. At the age of 8 he became a choirboy at the Cathedral of St. Stephen's in Vienna, remaining there until his dismissal in 1749. By his own account his early years were largely given to self-instruction in music: he developed some facility as a violinist and keyboard player (but he was never a virtuoso performer); he studied briefly with the Italian opera composer and singing master Niccolò Porpora; and he became thoroughly acquainted with Viennese musical life of the period 1740-1760 and knew its leading figures.

Haydn made his first attempts at composition; as he later described them, "I wrote industriously but not quite correctly." His early works included a Singspiel entitled Der krumme Teufel (1752), a few keyboard sonatas and trios, and his first string quartet, written during the 1750s. This first period of his development concluded with 2 years (1758-1760) in private service in Bohemia, during which he evidently composed his first symphony (generally dated 1759).


In Service of Esterházy Family

In 1761 Haydn entered the private service of the noble Hungarian Esterházy family, serving under Prince Paul Esterházy and then, on his death in 1762, under Prince Nicholas. Haydn embarked on the longest and most productive period of private service at a single court enjoyed by any major composer of the 18th century and perhaps of the entire epoch of court patronage of musicians. He remained in the Esterházy service until 1790. At first he held the post of vice kapellmeister, or conductor. In 1766 Prince Nicholas opened a new estate at Esterházy (the previous one had been at Eisenstadt), and that year, on the death of Gregor Werner, Haydn was promoted to kapellmeister.

Haydn was in charge of the musical forces of the court, which included an orchestra of 12 musicians and a group of singers. His duties were to provide two operas and two concerts a week plus a Sunday Mass and whatever additional music might be wanted. Under these conditions his productivity and originality were equally remarkable. As he described it in a famous statement: "As head of an orchestra I could experiment, observe what heightened the effect and what weakened it, and so could improve, expand, cut, take risks; I was cut off from the world, there was no one near me to torment me or make me doubt myself, and so I had to become original."

During the 3 decades of his Esterházy service Haydn's output was prodigious. By 1770 he had produced some 40 symphonies, the quartets up to the six of Opus 9 (1769), much chamber music for baryton (an instrument of the viol family, played by Prince Nicholas), several concertos, operas, keyboard music, and his first Masses. During the period 1771-1780 (called by some biographers his "romantic" period) his music deepened in seriousness and elaborative richness, and he struck out in new paths; as one biographer, E.L. Gerber, put it in 1812: "Haydn's finest symphonic period begins with the year 1770 and from then on gains each year in magnificence." From 1771 and 1772 come the 12 quartets of Opus 17 and Opus 20, with special importance attaching to the latter group, several of which have fugal finales; about 30 more symphonies, including the Mourning Symphony, No. 44, and the Farewell, No. 45 (1772); and about 18 keyboard sonatas, 6 operas and other dramatic music, and two Masses.


Friendship with Mozart

During his last decade in private service, a most important influence on Haydn's music arose from his contact with Mozart. This relationship dates from the time Mozart took up residence in Vienna in 1781; in the next years Haydn came to know him during his trips to Vienna, and they admired each other's music beyond that of any other contemporary. Haydn commented often on Mozart's remarkable gifts and complained bitterly over the lack of recognition and the absence of any permanent post for Mozart comparable to the one Haydn enjoyed. When an official of Prague asked him for an opera in 1787, 2 months after the premiere of Mozart's Don Giovanni there, Haydn declined, saying in part: "It is hardly possible for anyone to stand beside the great Mozart. For if I could impress Mozart's inimitable works as deeply, and with that musical understanding and keen feeling with which I myself grasp and feel them, upon the soul of every music lover … the nations would compete for the possession of such a jewel within their borders."

Haydn's major works of this period seemed to his younger contemporaries to show a considerable influence of Mozart's mature style, and the relationship was openly reciprocal. In this decade Haydn produced about 20 symphonies, including the 6 Paris Symphonies, Nos. 82-87 (1786), and the Oxford Symphony, No. 92 (1788). He also produced the 25 quartets constituting Opus 33 (1781), "written in a new and special manner"; Opus 42 (1785); Opus 50 (1787); Opus 54 and Opus 55 (1789); and Opus 64 (1790). His reputation had by now spread throughout Europe, despite his isolation, owing in part to his being regularly published by a leading Viennese music publisher, Artaria.


Last Years

In 1791 the death of Prince Nicholas freed Haydn from private service, and he embarked on the last and most international phase of his career. He made his first visit to England, at the invitation of the impresario J. P. Salomon, to give concerts of his own works. This visit was a triumph in every respect: Haydn was awarded a degree by Oxford University, met and was honored by members of English society, and gave a highly successful series of concerts. In 1792 he returned to the Continent, passing through Bonn, where he met the young Beethoven, who became his pupil in Vienna. In 1794 he returned to London for another successful tour, then in 1795 settled in Vienna for good. In these years of his travels to England, Haydn, already in his sixties, produced many of his finest late works: his 12 last and greatest symphonies, Nos. 93-104, called the London Symphonies, and the last of his piano trios and piano sonatas.

In 1795-1800, on his return to the Continent, Haydn not only continued his extraordinary productivity but turned once again in a new and progressive direction as a composer. The quartets of Opus 71 belong to 1793; the six of Opus 76 (including the Emperor and Sunrise Quartets) were composed as late as 1797-1798; and the final quartets of Opus 77, Nos. 1 and 2, and the unfinished Opus 103 come from 1799 and 1803. In 1797 Haydn wrote the "Kaiser-Hymn" as a deliberately patriotic gesture in time of war, and it became, as he intended that it should, the Austrian national anthem. In 1796-1798 he set to work on the first of his two final major works—the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons.


The Oratorios

The Creation was based on a German translation by Baron Gottfried van Swieten of an anonymous English oratorio libretto that had been prepared for George Frederick Handel and was based on John Milton's Paradise Lost. With this work Haydn produced a work deliberately planned on the grand scale, based on a religious subject but freely developed in content, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. The work as a whole set him at once in the great tradition of oratorio that he had come to know in Handel's works during his visits to England. Although the strain of writing The Creation virtually exhausted him, Haydn in 1800 set to work on another oratorio of similar magnitude: The Seasons, again with libretto by Van Swieten based on James Thomson's poem.

In these oratorios Haydn came as close as he was ever to come to matching Mozart's sense of dramatic action articulated through music. Neither oratorio is truly a stage work, but both have strong elements of the dramatic and the pictorial, and at times have musicodramatic moments of the highest order. Among these is the entire first part of The Creation, beginning with a representation of "Chaos" as orchestral introduction, and then narrating the creation of the world. After the first recitative the chorus enters sotto voce with the words "And the spirit of God moved upon the waters; and God said, 'Let there be light."' The arrival of the chorus at a fortissimo climax on the word "light" electrified the audiences of Haydn's time, and at his last appearance in public before his death in Vienna on May 31, 1809, at a performance of The Creation in 1808 given as a tribute to him, he rose at this point and attributed, in effect, all his creative ability to divine power.


Enormous Output

Haydn's output was so large that at the end of his life he himself could not be absolutely sure how many works he had written. The problems of compiling an accurate catalog of his works, sorting out spurious compositions, and producing an accurate and complete edition have still not been solved. For example, the six string quartets of Opus 3 have been attributed on good grounds to a minor contemporary named Hoffstetter, whose name appeared on the title page of the original edition but was effaced and replaced with that of Haydn.

But the essential mass of Haydn's output remains unshakable in its attribution to him, and it is of formidable proportions: 104 symphonies; 78 string quartets (omitting Opus 3 and counting as separate items the seven movements of The Seven Last Words of Christ as arranged for quartet); numerous concertos for keyboard, violin, and violoncello; over 125 baryton trios; numerous divertimenti for winds and for mixed ensembles; 52 keyboard sonatas; over 30 piano trios; 12 Masses and a number of other sacred works; approximately 13 operas; and arias and songs.

Further Reading on Franz Joseph Haydn

A valuable primary source is The Collected Correspondence and London Notebooks of Joseph Haydn, edited by H. C. Robbins London (1959). The most important early biographies of Haydn are those by G.A. Griesinger (1809) and A.C. Dies (1810), both based on interviews with Haydn in his last years and available in English translation by Vernon Gotwals, Joseph Haydn: Eighteenth-Century Gentleman and Genius (1963). Modern biographies include K. Geiringer, Haydn: A Creative Life in Music (1946; 2d rev. ed. 1963), and Rosemary Hughes, Haydn (1950). Major studies in English on sectors of Haydn's work are few. Excellent contributions are H.C. Robbins Landon, The Symphonies of Joseph Haydn (1955), and D. F. Tovey, "Haydn's Chamber Music, " in his The Main Stream of Music and Other Essays (1949). Perceptive analytic studies of a number of works are in Felix Salzer, Structural Hearing: Tonal Coherence in Music (2 vols., 1952).

Additional Biography Sources

Bobillier, Marie, Haydn, Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press 1972; New York: B. Blom, 1972.

Butterworth, Neil, Haydn: his life and times, Tunbridge Wells, Eng.: Midas Books, 1977.

Geiringer, Karl, Haydn: a creative life in music, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.

Greene, Carol, Franz Joseph Haydn: great man of music, Chicago: Children's Press, 1994.

Landon, H. C. Robbins (Howard Chandler Robbins), Haydn: chronicle and works, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976-1980.

Landon, H. C. Robbins (Howard Chandler Robbins), Haydn: chronicle and works, London: Thames and Hudson, 1976-c1980.

Landon, H. C. Robbins (Howard Chandler Robbins), Haydn: his life and music, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988.

Landon, H. C. Robbins (Howard Chandler Robbins), Haydn, a documentary study, New York: Rizzoli, 1981.

Lasker, David., The boy who loved music, New York: Viking Press, 1979.

Thompson, Wendy, Joseph Haydn, New York: Viking, 1991.

Vignal, Marc, Joseph Haydn, Paris: Fayard, 1988.