Franz Joseph Haydn, best known simply as Joseph Haydn was a prominent and prolific composer of the Classical Period. His works have earned him the name of “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet”. He played a key role in the development of chamber music. His works have been vastly influential for the composers that came after him.
Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau, Austria. He was the son of a wheelright and a former cook, none of them having had any type of formal musical education. His father Mathias, however, was passionate about folk music and taught himself how to play the harp. Moreover, his family loved to sing together and often with their neighbors. Upon discovering their son’s talent, Haydn’s parents sent him to become the apprentice of Johann Matthias Frankh, the schoolmaster and choirmaster in Hainburg.
Life was not easy for the child who moved from his parents’ home at just six years old. However, it was there that he started learning how to play the harpsichord and violin. He also sang in the choir. His voice impressed Georg von Reutter, the director of music in St. Stephen’s Cathedral, who took Haydn to Vienna where he spent the following nine years as a chorister.
In 1749, Haydn was kicked out of the choir and started to pursue a life as a freelance musician. He began to gather a reputation with his opera, Der krumme Teufel, “The Limping Devil” which premiered in 1753. He worked freelance at the court between 1754 and 1756. It was during that period that he became more famous and gained a patron. In 1756 he wrote his first string quartets. In 1761 he was named Kapellmeister, or “court musician,” at the palace of the influential Esterházy family. He worked there for the following 30 years.
His works became famous even abroad. He received commissions from foreign countries such as the Paris symphonies and the original orchestral version of “The Seven Last Words of Christ”. In 1791 he moved to England to conduct new symphonies. It was there that he composed some of his most famous works such as: “Rider” quartet and the Surprise, Military, Drumroll and London symphonies.
He returned to Vienna in 1795 and died fourteen years later in 1809. Have you listened to any of Joseph Haydn’s works?
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