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J. Haydn


Born: 31 March 1732, Rohrau, Lower Austria
Died: 31 May 1809, Vienna
Type of Music: Symphony, concerto, stage, choral, oratorio, chamber, keyboard
Influenced by: Stamitz and the Mannheim School, Handel, C.P. E. Bach, Mozart
Contemporaries: Johann Stamitz, Antonio Soler, Gaetano Pugnani, Francois Gossec, J.C. Bach, Johann Albrechtsberger, Boccherini


1732 Haydn's father was a wheelwright and the village sexton. Joseph was the second of his twelve children. His brother Michael, born five years later, also became a composer. Haydn's father had taught himself to play the harp by ear, and a paternal cousin, Johann Mathias Franck, was a local choral director, but otherwise there was nothing in his ancestry to indicate a musical career. His first lessons were from his cousin, and he was only eight when admitted to St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna as a chorister.
1748 After leaving the choir when his voice broke, Haydn was thrown back on his own resources, borrowing money to rent an attic where he could practise the harpsichord. He made a thorough study of C.P.E. Bach's keyboard works, read as much musical theory as he could absorb and had a few lessons from the then famous Italian composer Nicolo Porpora, who was living in Vienna.
1759 His first compositions began to be noticed and he was engaged as music director and composer to the Austrian Count Maximilian von Morzin at his estate in Lukavec.
1760 Haydn married - one of the biggest mistakes of his life. He had been in love with one of his pupils in Vienna, and when she became a nun he married her sister Maria Anna Keller, who had no love of music, no appreciation of Haydn's greatness and even used his manuscripts as hair-curlers. They were separated for most of his life, but he still sent her money. It is said that, although they corresponded, he never opened her letters.

Haydn remained in Eisenstadt until 1790 and it was here that he composed most of his eighty-three string quartets, eighty of his 104 symphonies, and nearly all his operas and keyboard works, as well as a huge amount of music written for the prince to play himself. In addition to the daily performance of chamber music, Haydn and his orchestra had to present two operas and two concerts every week. His salary was generous and Haydn was encouraged to compose as he wished. He recalled: 'As a conductor of an orchestra I could make experiments, observe what produced an effect and what weakened it, and was thus in a position to improve, alter, make omissions, and be as bold as I pleased. I was cut off from the world, there was no one to confuse or torment me, and I was forced to become original.' The members of the orchestra loved him, hence his nickname 'Papa Haydn', and the composer even got on well with the prince - it must have seemed like a dream.
1781 By this time Haydn was acknowledged throughout Europe as a genius, honoured by all. He made only brief annual visits to his beloved Vienna but on one of them he met Mozart for the first time. Mozart was twenty-five, nearly a quarter of a century younger than Haydn. The two became close friends; Mozart admired Haydn's music and dedicated his first six string quartets to him, while the ever-generous Haydn described Mozart as 'the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name' and set about promoting Mozart's works rather than his own. The two learned much from each other.
1790 Prince Nicholas died, succeeded by his son Paul Anton who was more interested in paintings than music. Nevertheless, an annuity of 1,000 florins kept Haydn as the nominal Kapellmeister at Eszterhaza, allowing him to live permanently in Vienna. The same year, the enterprising impresario Johann Peter Salomon invited Haydn to London for a series of concerts. The composer was feted wherever he went and he returned to Vienna eighteen months later with a small fortune.
1794 Haydn visited London again, achieving further triumphs, and later in the year returned to Eszterhaza. Paul Anton had died, succeeded by his son, another Prince Nicholas, who planned to revive the Haydn orchestra. As Kapellmeister, Haydn now turned his attention to choral works. From this period come the Nelson Mass, The Creation, The Seasons and the Austrian National Anthem, first performed on the Emperor's birthday, 12 February 1797. (Its original text, 'Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser', was changed in the year of European revolution, 1848, to 'Deutschland, Deutschland iiber alles' with its later connotations of German imperialism.)
1800 In his mid-sixties Haydn's health began to fail and he resigned as Kapellmeister in 1802, though Prince Nicholas 11 increased his pension to 2,300 florins and paid all his medical bills so that Haydn should suffer no financial burden.
1808 Haydn made his last public appearance at a concert given in his honour and conducted by Salieri.
1809 Vienna capitulated to Napoleon who ordered a guard of honour to be placed round Haydn's house. When Haydn died, the music at his funeral service was a Requiem by his favourite composer, Mozart.
1820 Before his reinterment at Eisenstadt, Haydn's head somehow became separated from his body and it was exhibited in a glass case in the hall of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna for some years.
1954 On 5 June, Haydn's skull was reunited with his body at Eisenstadt.

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