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Haydn, Joseph (1732-1809)

Joseph Haydn

born: 31 March 1732
died: 31 May 1809
country: Austria

Most general histories of music emphasise Joseph Haydn’s achievements as a composer of instrumental works, a pioneer of the string quartet genre and the so-called ‘father of the symphony’. In short, he was one of the most versatile and influential composers of his age.

After early training as a choirboy at Vienna’s St Stephen’s Cathedral and a period as a freelance musician, Haydn became Kapellmeister to Count Morzin in Vienna and subsequently to the music-loving and wealthy Esterházy family at their magnificent but isolated estate at Eszterháza, the ‘Hungarian Versailles’. Here he wrote a vast number of solo instrumental and chamber pieces, masses, motets, concertos and symphonies, besides at least two dozen stage works. In old age Haydn fashioned several of his greatest works, the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, his six Op 76 String Quartets and his so-called ‘London Symphonies’ prominent among them. ‘I am forced to remain at home … It is indeed sad always to be a slave, but Providence wills it thus,’ he wrote in June 1790. Haydn was by now tired of the routine of being a musician in service. He envied his young friend Mozart’s apparent freedom in Vienna, but was resigned to remaining at Eszterháza Castle. The death of Prince Nikolaus prompted unexpected and rapid changes in Haydn’s circumstances. His son and heir, Prince Anton, cared little for what he regarded as the lavish and extravagant indulgence of music. He dismissed all but a few instrumentalists and retained the nominal services of Haydn, who became a free agent again and returned to Vienna.

Haydn was enticed to England by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon, attracting considerable newspaper coverage and enthusiastic audiences to hear his new works for London. Back in Vienna, Haydn, the son of a master wheelwright, was fêted by society and honoured by the imperial city’s musical institutions.

from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2010

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