Joseph Haydn1732 – 1809

So far as genius can exist in a man who is merely virtuous Haydn had it

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Joseph Haydn was the eldest and longest lived of the four great composers of the so-called “First Viennese School”. Born when Bach and Handel were at the height of their fame, he outlived his friend Mozart by 18 years and saw his former pupil Beethoven well established in his own career.
It was Haydn who practically invented the Classical musical forma of symphony, concerto, string quartet and sonata.
Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert all owed an incalculable debt to their genial, hard-working predecessor.
Haydn’s life spanned a period of great social change. He was on of the last major musicians to work for a single aristocratic patron – in his case, the Hungarian Esterhazy family, whose seat was the castle of Eisenstadt, some 80 km from Vienna.

Early years
Haydn was one of the 12 children born to the village wheelwright in Rohrau, about 50 km south-east of Vienna. When he was only sic, his budding musical talent was noticed by his family and neighbours, and a relative in Hainburg, who was a schoolmaster, offered to the take the child as a boarder and begin his musical education. Shortly after his eighth birthday, Haydn was taken on as a choirboy at St Stephen’s.
Haydn left the choir in 1749, and for the next decade he eked out a meagre living in Vienna as a music teacher. His major breakthrough came when Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy happened to hear a symphony of Haydn’s and immediately offered the young composer a job. Haydn accepted, but first he took the disastrous step of getting married. His first love had become a nun, and perhaps out of a mistaken sense of duty to her father, Haydn agreed to marry her elder sister, Maria Anna Keller. His wife turned out to be bad-tempered,
unattractive, and didn’t care “whether her husband was a cobbler or an artist”. She was also apparently unable to have children. During the years ahead Haydn found consolation with other women, but by the time his wife died in 1800 he was too old to think of remarriage.
In May 1761 Haydn took up his new post. His duties included training the choir and orchestra at Eisenstadt, maintaining all the instruments and music, and keeping discipline.
He was also required to compose to order. Among the first works that Haydn wrote for his new patron were three symphonies called Morning, Noon and Evening, possibly intended to be played by the prince himself.
Less that a year later, Prince Paul Anton died. His successor, his brother Prince Nikolaus, was far more socially ambitious and soon Haydn found himself turning out a stream of music for his patron’s entertainment: symphonies, concertos, string quartets, trios, and a vast quantity of chamber music for the prince’s own instrument, the archaic, six-stringed baryton.

Move to Eszterhaza
In 1764 Nikolaus decided that Eisenstadt was no longer equal to his pretensions. He ordered the construction of a new summer palace – fit for a prince – on the shores of Lake Neusiedler. It has 126 lavishly decorated guest rooms, an art gallery, a concert hall, a ballroom and a 400-seat theatre. The Empress Maria Theresa attended a performance of one of Haydn’t operas there in 1775, and declared: “If I want to hear a good opera, I go to Eszterhaza”. All in all, Haydn wrote some 25 operas for Eszterhaza, including L’ infedelta
delusa, Il mondo della luna and Armida.
While Haydn enjoyed the isolation of Eszterhaza, where there was no one to bother him, and he was as he said “forced to become original”, the other musicians hated it. Each year Prince Nikolaus found it harder to tear himself away from his fairy-tale palace, and he and his courtiers spent as little time at Eisenstadt as possible. But many of the court musicians had families in Vienna, and they begged Haydn to intercede with the prince.
His witty answer was the Farewell Sympony, written in November 1772, in which one by one the musicians left the stage, packing up their instruments and blowing out their candles, until only two violins were left playing. The prince apparently took the hint.
The Farewell Symphony is one of a group of distinctive symphonies written during the 1770s in the fashionable, literary-influenced style known as Sturm and Drang (“storm and stress”).
Many are in unusual keys, and exhibit a wide variety of moods. The same emotional style also influenced Haydn’s other work of the period, including his highly original string quartets – of which he wrote 68 – and piano sonatas.
International fame
By the 1780s, Haydn’s international reputation was spreading rapidly, and he managed to negotiate a new contract with his employer which allowed him to compose for other patrons, and to have his works published. In 1785 he became a Freemason, and around the same time he was commissioned to write several symphonies by a Parisian masonic lodge.
The result was the “Paris” symphonies – several of which carry nicknames such as The Bear, The Hen and The Queen (a tribute to Marie Antoinette). Their success helped to consolidate his fame abroad.
After the death of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy in 1790, Haydn was free to travel for the first time. He was persuaded by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon to visit London, where he was – to his surprise – feted by the court and high society. In July 1791 Oxford University honoured him with the degree of Doctor of Music. His twelve “London” symphonies met with great public enthusiasm. Haydn made a further trip to England in 1794-5, but resisted King George III’s invitation to stay permanently.
Last years
Haydn returned to Vienna as Kapellmeister to a new Esterhazy prince, Nikolaus II, who in contrast to his predecessors required only sacred music for his newly austere court.
Between 1796 and 1802 Haydn produced six fine masses, including the Missa in tempore belli (Mass in Time of War) and the Missa in Angustiis (Nelson Mars), both reflecting the political turmoil of the Napoleonic wars. He also wrote two Handelian oratorios. These, his last major works, teem with vibrant details and an undimmed creative impulse.
The increasingly frail composer made his last public appearance at a performance of the Creation at Vienna University in honour of his 76 th birthday, and he died at the end of May 1809, during the Napoleonic occupation of Vienna attended his memorial service, which included a performance of Mozart’s Requiem.
Eleven years later his remains were reinterred in the chapel at Eisenstadt.
Oratorio, a large-scale musical composition on a sacred or semisacred subject, for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra. An oratorio’s text is usually based on scripture, and the narration necessary to move from scene to scene is supplied by recitatives sung by various voices to prepare the way for airs and choruses.
Handel’s famed ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ is from a larger work called ‘Messiah’. With choirs, solo singers, and orchestra, you might have thought this was an opera, but its religious topic and simple staging are the hallmarks of an oratorio.
What’s the difference between an opera and oratorio?
Like an opera, an oratorio includes the use of a choir, soloists, an ensemble, various distinguishable characters, and arias. However, opera is musical theatre, while oratorio is strictly a concert piece—though oratorios are sometimes staged as operas, and operas are sometimes presented in concert form.