Regarded as the teacher of Beethoven and mentor of Mozart, and acclaimed as the ‘Father of Symphony’, Franz Joseph Haydn was born in 1732 in a small village in Austria. Remembered as the first great symphonist and composer, who is known for his 106 symphonies and revered as the principal architect of classical music, Haydn left an indelible mark as the inventor of the string quartet as well as a master of symphonies and chamber music.
His father was a master wheelwright who loved music and his mother was a cook who sang melodies. Haydn displayed a talent for music early in life and sang in the church choir, besides learning to play many instruments. Later he moved to Vienna where he served as a chorister at a reputed church. Subsequently, he was named Kapellmeister, or “court musician,” at the palace of the influential Esterházy family, a position that would financially support him for nearly 30 years. It was during this phase that he produced Paris symphonies and the original orchestral version of The Seven Last Words of Christ.
Symphony No. 94, 2nd Movement
Haydn had a four-year stint in London wherein he wrote some of his most famous works, including the Military, Drumroll, London, and Miracle symphonies. After he returned to Vienna, he wrote a number of masses, along with the epic oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons.
A phenomenally prolific composer Haydn’s prolific output includes 106 symphonies; 68 string quartets; 32 divertimenti for small orchestra; 126 trios for baryton, viola & cello; 29 trios for piano, violin & cello; 21 trios for two violins and cello; 47 piano sonatas; about 20 operas; 14 masses; 6 oratorios; and 2 cello concerti.
Trumpet Concerto in Eb, 1st Movement
Listing the best pieces of such a prolific composer is near-impossible. However, there’s a broad consensus of his most memorable works which include: many symphonies, especially the ‘Surprise’ Symphony (No. 94), ‘London’ Symphony (No. 104), ‘Military’ Symphony (No. 100) and the ‘Clock’ Symphony (No. 101); as well as many string quartets: Die Schöpfung (The Creation), Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons), Nelson Mass (or Missa in Angustiis—‘Mass for troubled times’), The Seven Last Words of Christ.
Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, 1st Movement
Haydn’s personal life just didn’t match with his professional success. His wife, Maria Anna Keller did not show any interest in her husband’s work as she didn’t understand music. Ironically she used his manuscripts for pastry pan linings or to curl-papers. They didn’t have any children. He passed away at the age of 77 and Mozart’s Requiem was performed at his funeral.
Haydn was also known as the ‘Father of the String Quartet’. The Vintage Guide to Classical Music says, ‘There is nothing in music finer than the best Haydn string quartets. Certainly Bach and Beethoven have more depth, Mozart more magical perfection. Yet Haydn, the workhorse in this group of thoroughbreds, can reach their level at times because he was good at everything; he has more variety per movement and more originality than Bach or Mozart, was as good a melodist as Beethoven, and was the equal of anyone an architect of musical forms.’