Joseph Haydn

(1732 - 1809)


Various paternity charges have been levelled at the composer Haydn. His career coincided with the development of classical style and forms, with the symphony, sonata, string quartet and other instrumental forms, in the moulding of which he played an important part. Born in Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright, he was trained as a chorister at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he made his early living, before appointment to the small musical establishment of Count Morzin in 1759. In 1760 he entered the service of the Esterházy Princes, and succeeded to the position of Kapellmeister on the death of his predecessor and immediate superior Gregorius Werner in 1766. Much of Haydn’s life now centred on the magnificent palace and estate at Esterháza, where his employer Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had moved his entourage for most of the year. The death of the Prince in 1790 released Haydn and allowed travel to London. There followed further service of the successors of Prince Nikolaus, now at the former residence at Eisenstadt, and concluding retirement in Vienna, where he died in 1809, as the soldiers of Napoleon again entered the city.

Haydn’s duties as Kapellmeister to the Esterházy family involved the provision of church music, as well as music for entertainment. The Mass settings composed for the younger Prince Nikolaus include the well known Nelson Mass, celebrating the English admiral’s victory at the Battle of the Nile. Between 1796 and 1802 Haydn wrote seven Masses, all with popular German nicknames, “Heiligmesse”, “Paukenmesse”, “Coronation Mass”, “Theresienmesse”, “Schöpfungsmesse” and “Harmoniemesse”.

Haydn’s visits to London suggested to him the musical possibilities of oratorio, in the form perpetuated after Handel’s death by commemorative festival performances. The result was The Creation (Die Schöpfung), with a text by Baron van Swieten based on English sources, first performed in Vienna in 1798. The Seasons (Die Jahreszeiten), with a text by van Swieten based on James Thomson, was first performed in 1801. Haydn’s earlier oratorios include Il ritorno di Tobia (The Return of Tobias), completed in 1775.

Haydn’s two dozen operas have received rather less attention than many of his other works. Most of these were written for performance at Esterháza, either in the principal theatre or in the marionette theatre.

Haydn wrote a number of songs, providing nearly 400 British folk-song arrangements for the Edinburgh publisher Thomson, in addition to songs and cantatas in German and English. The two sets of Canzonettas written in England in 1794 and 1795 include settings of verses by the wife of Haydn’s London surgeon, Hunter.

Haydn’s 108 symphonies, written between 1759 and 1795, range from works written for the relatively modest local court orchestra of two oboes, two horns and strings, to the greater complexity of his larger scale London Symphonies, the twelve written for performance in London under the direction of the German-born violinist and impresario Salomon during the composer’s two London visits. The London Symphonies include a number of works with nicknames, No. 94, “The Surprise”, No. 96, “The Miracle”, No. 100, “The Military”, No. 101, “The Clock”, No. 103, “The Drumroll”, and No. 104, known as “The London” or “The Salomon”. Other named symphonies that remain in regular concert repertoire include No. 92, “The Oxford” and Nos. 82, 83 and 84, “The Bear”, “The Hen” and “La reine” (The Queen of France). Earlier named symphonies include the interesting Symphony No. 22, “The Philosopher”, which includes two cor anglais or English horns, tenor oboes in place of the normal higher-pitched instrument, written in 1764, three years after “Le matin”, “Le midi” and “Le soir” (Morning, Noon and Evening), Nos. 6, 7 and 8. The “Farewell” Symphony, No. 45, allows players, impatient for a return from Esterháza to their families at home, to leave the platform one by one. Its immediate predecessor is the “Trauersinfonie”, Mourning Symphony, while No. 49, “ La Passione”, reflects elements of Sturm und Drang, the Storm and Stress movement in German literature and art of the period.

Of Haydn’s concertos, the work written in 1796 for the newly developed and soon to be obsolete keyed trumpet, is the best known, closely rivalled by the two surviving Cello Concertos, in D and in C. Three genuine Violin Concertos remain, in G, in C and in A, and one Horn Concerto. The keyboard concertos have recently entered popular repertoire, in particular the Concerto in D major. They were originally designed either for organ or harpsichord and were written in the earlier part of Haydn’s career, before his employment by the Esterházys.

Haydn was a prolific composer of chamber music, with a considerable number of compositions for his principal patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, who played the baryton, a bowed string instrument resembling a viola da gamba, with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked. The English scholar Dr. Burney suggested it as only useful on a desert island, where a player could accompany a bowed melody with plucked accompaniment, without other assistance. For the more conventional string quartet Haydn wrote some 83 works, described originally as divertimenti, but later dignified by the more serious title by which they are generally known. Once again nicknames reflect the continued popularity of many of these works. Sets of named quartets include the Sun Quartets of 1772, Op. 20, the Russian Quartets written in 1781, Op. 33, and including “The Joke” and “The Bird”, the Prussian Quartets of 1787, Op. 50, much influenced by Mozart   and including “The Frog”. There are three sets of Tost Quartets, Opp. 54, 55 and 64, bearing the name of the Esterháza violinist turned business-man Johann ToSt The Tost Quartets include “The Razor” and “The Lark”. Further sets of quartets were issued in 1793 and 1797, the “Apponyi”, Opp. 71 and 74, including “The Rider”, and the “Erdödy”, Op. 76, including the “Fifths”, “Emperor” and “Sunrise”, both groups bearing the names of aristocratic patrons. The Opus 1 Quartets were seemingly written between 1757 and 1761. The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross was arranged in string quartet form from the original work for full orchestra, amplified with the addition of choral parts. It was written for performance in Cádiz on Good Friday 1787. In addition to a number of works for two violins and cello and 126 baryton trios, Haydn wrote a number of attractive piano trios between 1784 and 1797. The best known of these last is the G major Trio with its so-called Gypsy Rondo.

Haydn composed nearly fifty keyboard sonatas, the earlier intended for harpsichord and the last for the newly developed hammer-action fortepiano. The final works in this form include the so-called English Sonata in C major, written in 1795 during Haydn’s second visit to London.

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