Rohrau 1732 - Vienna 1809

Franz Joseph Haydn

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The world Haydn grew up in was not so different from today’s, if a talented musician of humble origins, as he was (his father was a wheelwright, his mother a cook), ever so often one had to go hungry as a child and throughout his youth (though thankfully he never lost his sense of humor), had to perform and compose ‘commercial’ music to help balance the family books, and had to wait for recommendations from the more influential families before beginning to show his creative vein. What may have been different today is that one of Franz Joseph’s most important teachers was an Italian, Nicola Porpora from Naples – even if the colourful methods he used to correct the young student would probably be the same today. In 1766 Haydn began to work for one of the Empire’s most powerful families, the royal Esterházy family – sophisticated music lovers. Under their tutelage he could compose copiously. In 1781 he met Mozart, with whom he shared not only music but the same Masonic lodge. Following Haydn’s long period of service as court musician to the Esterházy family, Haydn became very famous in England. He was called to London where he was welcomed so warmly that he seriously thought of becoming a citizen, mindful of another widely acclaimed German-speaking musician, Georg Friedrich Händel. Among his works dating to this period are the famous London Symphonies, including such masterpieces as: La sorpresa (n. 94), La militare (n. 100), L’orologio (n. 101), Rullo di tamburo (n. 103), and Londra (n. 104). But the Vaterland called. The man who returned to Vienna, where he had an enormous house built, was an affirmed and rich musician who at the end of his long and productive life now had the luxury of taking his time to write: he was not harassed by princes nor by impresarios, only by himself, for himself (or for all of us). In this period he created some of his great masterpieces: La creazione and Le Stagioni, six Messe and his last nine Quartets, among them the very famous Quartetto dell’Imperatore (1797), later to become the German national anthem. Haydn lived a long life, and right until the end was blessed by a creative drive which carried him to the edge of a world that was to be altered forever. He was honored by one of its most ruthless leaders: Napoleon, who through the principles of ’89 and France’s youth, with the greatest mass uprising, was changing the course of history. An honour guard of the Grande Armée was sent to his funeral in 1809 while Bonaparte and his soldiers occupied the streets and palaces of the capitol of a régime that would shortly become most definitely ancient.
As is known, Haydn is considered the father of the Symphony and the String Quartet. But it was the development of the so-called ‘Sonata-form’ that made him a model of excellence for the classical style. His creative sphere extended over approximately half a century and he had the capability to lead musical style from the descendents of the baroque (Händel and Bach) right up to the edge of Romanticism, profoundly influencing even young Beethoven. At the end of the 1950’s, the scholar Anthony van Hoboken developed a system called Hob., or Hoboken, to classify Haydn’s large and versatile corpus of music. The Concertos (for violin, cello, harpsichord and other instruments) account for a small part of this corpus, while the Symphonies (104) and chamber music: Quartets for strings (83), Trios with and without piano (43) and Sonatas for piano (62 sonatas) take up the lion’s share. Sacred music also takes up a sizeable share: in addition to the Messe and other religious compositions (Stabat Mater, Te Deum etc.), the composer’s great masterpieces: Le Sette ultime parole (Musica instrumentale sopra le 7 ultime parole del nostro Redentore in croce, o sieno Sette Sonate con un’introduzione ed al fine un terremoto, 1785) and the  Oratories: La Creazione (Die Schoepfung, 1798) for solos, chorus and orchestra and Le stagioni (Die Jahreszeiten, 1801) for solos, chorus and orchestra should be mentioned here.  Haydn also wrote about fifteen theatre Operas.

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