He is considered by some people to be one of the most famous composers of the classical period. His career grew 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. Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright, he trained as a chorister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he made an early living. He worked as a freelance musician, playing the violin and the keyboard instruments, accompanying for singing lessons given by the composer Porpora, who helped and encouraged him ( Boynick, 1).
In this essay, I will discuss a brief overview of Joseph Haydn’s life. I will also talk about some of the pieces he has composed and how they changed music forever. In 1759 he was appointed music director to Count Morzin; but he soon moved, into service as Vice-Kapellmeister with one of the leading Hungarian families, the Esterhazys, becoming full Kapellmeister in 1766 (Boynick, 1). He was director of an ensemble of generally some 15-20 musicians, with the responsibility for the music and the instruments, and was required to compose as his employer from 1762, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy (Boynick, 1).
At first he lived at Eisenstadt, 30 miles southeast of Vienna, by 1767 the family’s residence, and Haydn’s chief place to work at was at the palace of Eszterhaza. In his early years Haydn chiefly wrote instrumental music, including symphonies, and other pieces for the twice-weekly concerts and the prince’s Tafelmusik, and works for the instrument played by the prince, the baryton (a kind of viol), for which He composed circa 125 trios in ten years (Boynick, 1). After that, Haydn expanded his musical pieces from the occasional, entertainment music towards larger and more original pieces.
Also from 1768-1772, he composed three string quartets, probably not written for the Esterhazy establishment but for another patron or perhaps for publication (Haydn was allowed to write other than for the Esterhazys only with permission (Boynick, 1). Among the operas from this period are Lo speziale, L’infedelta delusa and II mondo della luna. Haydn’s job was to prepare the music, adapting or arranging it for the voices of the resident singers. In 1779 the opera house burnt down; Haydn composed La fedelta premiata for its reopening in 1781 (Boynick, 2).
Until then his operas has largely been comic genres; his last two for Esterhaza, Orlando paladino (1782) and Armida (1783), are mixed or serious genres (Boynick, 2). Haydn’s reputation had now grown and was international. Much of his music had been published in all the main European centres; under a revised contract with the Esterhaza his employer no longer had exclusive rights to his music (Boynick, 2). His work in the 1780s included symphonies, piano trios, piano sonatas, and string quartets. His influential op. quartets, issued in 1782, were said to be in a quite new, special manner: this is sometimes thought to refer to the use of instruments or the style of thematic development, but could refer to the introduction of Scherzos or mighty simply be an advertising device (Hughes, 36). More quartets appeared at the end of the decade, op. 50 was dedicated to the King of Prussia (often said to be influenced by the quartets Mozart had dedicated to Haydn) and two sets opp. 54-5 and 64 where written for a former Esterhazy violinist who became Viennese businessman (Hughes, 37).
Other works that carried Haydn’s reputation beyond central Europe included concertos and Notturnos for a type of that are written on commission for the King of Naples, and The Seven Last Words, commissioned for the Holy Week from Cadiz Cathedral and existing not only in its original orchestral form but also for string quartet, for piano and later for chorus and orchestra (Griesinger, 153). In 1790, Haydn was invited by the violinist JP Salomon to go to London to write opera, symphonies, and other works.
He composed his last f 12 symphonies for performance there, where they enjoyed great success; he also wrote symphony concertante, choral pieces, piano trios, piano sonatas and songs (some to English words) as well as arranging British folksongs for publishers in London and Edinburgh (Griesinger, 157). But because of intrigues his opera, L’anima del filosofo, on the Orpheus story, remained unperformed (Griesinger, 157). He was honored and feted generously and played, sang and conducted before the royal family (Griesinger, 161). He also heard Handel’s musical performances in Westminster Abbey.
Back in Vienna, his main duty was to produce masses for the princess’s nameday. He wrote six works, firmly in the Austrian mass tradition but strengthened and invigorated by his command of symphonic technique ( Boynick, 3). Other works of his late years include further string quartets (opp. 71 between the London visits, op. 76 and the op. 77 pair after them), showing great diversity of style and seriousness of content yet retaining his vitality and fluency of utterance; some have a more public manner, acknowledging the new use of string quartets at the concerts as well as in the home (Hughes, 48).
The most important work, however, is his oratorio The Creation in which his essentially simple-hearted joy of Man, Beast and Nature, and his gratitude to God for his creation of these things to our benefit (Boynick, 3). He then followed this piece with The Seasons, which is very similar, but is separated into sections rather than a whole. Haydn died in 1809 after twice dictating his recollections and preparing a catalogue of his works (Boynick, 3). He was widely revered, even though by the time of his death, his music was old-fashioned compared with Beethoven’s.
Some of his music remains unpublished and still unknown. His operas have never succeeded in holding the stage, but he is regarded as the father of the symphony and the string quartet. He saw both genres from their beginnings to a high level of sophistication and artistic expression, even if he did not originate them (Boynick, 3). He brought to them a new intellectual level and his closely argued style of development paved the way for new composers.