Haydn, Franz Joseph

(1732–1809)
   The first of the major classical composers of the Viennese tradition, Haydn was born in the rural village of Rohrau in Lower Austria. His father was a master blacksmith. Haydn learned the rudiments of composition apparently on his own. However, his musical talents were recognized very early, by others as well as, on his own testimony, by himself. In 1740, Haydn became a choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. After his voice changed nine years later, he supported himself in a wide variety of musical jobs, as a dance violinist, as a choral accompanist, and as a choir director. He wrote his first symphony around 1761.
   By 1766, Haydn was the musical director of the Esterházy household in Eisenstadt, then in Hungary, and now the capital of the Austrian Burgenland. He remained in the service of these immensely wealthy patrons until 1790, when the choir was disbanded. Haydn then left for Vienna. The 24 years at the Esterházy Palace were among his most productive, spreading his reputation far beyond the provincial confines of his daily life. His works were performed in Paris and London, and he received an honorary degree from Oxford University.
   Haydn wrote over 100 symphonies, more than 70 string quartets, and countless other musical works for a wide variety of instruments. Perhaps his most impressive compositions are his oratorios, such as The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801), and masses such as the Lord Nelson Mass (Missa in angustiis, 1798). Though the composer never lost the popular inspiration that lies at the heart of his music, his formal achievements were very important in the development of both the Austrian and the Western musical idiom. He brought the thematic structure, along with the harmonic and expressive content of the sonata, to a new level of complexity, at the same time paying attention to the interrelatedness of all the musical elements of the work.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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