Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732 – May 31, 1809)
Haydn was an Austrian composer and one of the most important composers of the Classical period. His father was the village mayor and his mother Maria, worked as a cook in the palace of Count Harrach, the presiding aristocrat of their town. Neither parent could read music;but his childhood family was extremely musical, and frequently sang together and with their neighbors.
Haydn's parents wanted him to have more serious musical training than he could get in his town, so when he was six years old, they sent him to live with the schoolmaster and choirmaster in Hainburg and Haydn never lived with his parents again.
Haydn had a beautiful singing voice, and when he was eight years old he was introduced to the director of music in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Haydn and his brother Michael were choirboys there. When Haydn’s voice started to change during puberty Queen Maria Theresa apparently reported that, while Michael sang beautifully, Franz Joseph sang ‘like a crow’.
In 1749, when he was 17, Haydn, who was known as a prankster, was fired from the choir for snipping off the pigtail of a fellow chorister. Haydn worked as singer, a composer’s accompanist and eventually started composing himself. He worked as a voice teacher and musician until he was promoted to music director for a very wealthy family.
Haydn became known for his sense of humor, and he included many musical ‘jokes’ in his works. The Surprise Symphony includes a sudden loud chord in the middle of an extended quiet passage, the music continuing after the chord as if nothing unusual has happened. Some people thing it was intended to be a fart joke!
The final movement of his ‘Joke’ Quartet op.33 no.2 features a theme that can sound like an opening or closing phrase: it is played in phrases separated by long pauses, leaving the audience unsure of whether the music is over or not.
Haydn’s Farewell Symphony was written when he and his fellow musicians of the court had been kept at his employer’s summer residence for too long, away from their wives and families. In the final movement each musician finishes playing, snuffs out his candle and leaves in turn until just two violins are left playing (these would have been Haydn and his assistant.) The Prince took the hint and all were allowed to return home soon after.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a friend whom Haydn met sometime around 1784. The two composers occasionally played in string quartets together. Haydn was a huge fan of Mozart's work and praised it to everyone. Mozart evidently felt the same way about Haydn, as seen in his dedication of a set of six quartets, now called the "Haydn" quartets, to his friend.
Fun fact: The singing ghosts in Disney’s Haunted Mansion movie sing “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”. This is one of the Haydn quartets!
Like Mozart, Haydn was unable to marry the woman he loved (Therese Keller - she entered a convent) and so married her sister (Maria Anna Keller). Work often kept the two apart for long periods and the marriage was not a happy one. They had no children. There are stories that Maria Anna using Haydn’s manuscripts to line pastry tins or to curl her hair while Haydn apparently didn’t bother to open letters from his wife saying that he was certain she never opened his either.
Fun fact:Haydn is known as “father of the symphony” & “father of the string quartet”, because he was the first to compose four-part music for two violins, a viola and a cello on a regular basis. His musicians, friends and students all lovingly called him Papa, because of his fatherly way of taking care of everyone around him.
Haydn died at the end of May in 1809, shortly after an attack on Vienna by the French army under Napoleon. He was 77. Among his last words was his attempt to calm and reassure his servants "My children, have no fear, for where Haydn is, no harm can fall." Mozart's Requiem was performed at his memorial service.
Creepy Fact: Shortly after Haydn’s body was buried it was dug up and his head was cut off and removed by amateur phrenologists who then reburied the body. The theft went unrecognised for several years and it took nearly 150 years for Haydn’s skull to be reunited with his body.
Fun fact:Beethoven was so overawed by Haydn’s talent and reputation as a quartet composer that when he came to publish his own early efforts he rearranged them as short piano pieces to avoid comparison!