Childhood and adolescence (1732–1749)


Franz Joseph Haydn was born on 31 March 1732 in the little village of Rohrau in Lower Austria near the Hungarian border, the son of a wainwright called Matthias and his wife Anna Maria. Joseph was the second of their twelve children; their sixth child was Johann Michael (1737–1806), who was also to become a composer. The young Haydn's first experience of music was at home; his father enjoyed music-making, and was «by nature a great lover of music». When he was only about five, Joseph was sent to live in Hainburg with a distant relative called Johann Matthias Franck, from whom the boy received his first musical education.
Georg Reutter the Younger (1708–1772), who had succeeded his father as Kapellmeister at St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna in 1738, was on the look-out for talented young choristers when he visited the parish priest in Hainburg, probably in 1739. He invited the young Haydn to sing for him, and recognised his gift for music. Joseph joined the choristers' school at St Stephen's in Vienna as a choirboy at the age of eight. As well as receiving a very «deficient education» in general subjects, Haydn was taught how to sing, and learned to play the piano and violin.
The house of Kapellmeister Reutter, which was home to Haydn and another five choirboys, was located in the immediate vicinity of St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, nestling between a four-storey block of rented apartments and the chapel of St Mary Magdalene. Vienna, capital of the mighty Habsburg Empire, had been at the centre of an important musical tradition for generations: music enjoyed a golden age at the court of Emperor Charles VI due to the influence of the two leading representatives of the late baroque period, Johann Joseph Fux (1660-1741) and Antonio Caldara (1670-1736). Haydn's time as a choirboy came to an end in 1749/50 when his voice broke and he was dismissed from the choristers' school for alleged misbehaviour.


Apprenticeship and first appointment (1750–1761)


When Joseph Haydn was ejected from the choristers' school, he found himself without either an income or a roof over his head. In 1751, he took up residence in a wretched unheated garret in what was known as the Michaelerhaus, which can still be seen today near St Michael's Church opposite Hofburg Palace. During the next few years, Haydn's principal source of income came from providing music lessons and working as an accompanist. For 60 guilders a year, he played for the Brothers of Mercy in Leopoldstadt, accompanying the 8 am Mass every Sunday and Friday. At 10 am he played in Count Haugwitz's Chapel, and at 11 am sang Mass at St Stephen's for the sum of 17 kreutzers.
Among the other residents of the Michaelerhaus in Vienna were two individuals who were to play a significant part in Haydn's artistic career: the court poet Pietro Metastasio (1698–1782), who taught Haydn Italian, and the opera composer and singing teacher Nicola Antonio Porpora (1686-1768). Haydn was allowed to accompany Porpora's pupils on the piano, and also served occasionally as his valet. He acknowledged to his biographer Griesinger that «at Porpora's he benefited a great deal in singing, composition, and the Italian language». On the first floor of the Michaelerhaus lived the widowed Princess Maria Octavia Esterházy (1683-1762), the mother of Princes Paul Anton and Nikolaus, who were later to employ Joseph Haydn as Kapellmeister.
Haydn wrote his first string quartets for Baron Karl Joseph von Fürnberg, and these quickly gained popularity. They were the first of his works to be printed abroad (Paris 1764) – albeit without the composer's knowledge. Haydn's excursions to Baron Fürnberg's castle at Weinzierl and his early string quartets were the prelude to his appointment as Count Morzin's musical director. In 1757, Haydn was appointed Kapellmeister for an annual salary of 200 guilders plus bed and board, probably by Karl Joseph Franz (1717–1783/84?), son of the reigning count Ferdinand Maximilian Franz (1693–1763). Among the compositions which Haydn wrote for the Counts of Morzin are his first symphony and a number of divertimenti for wind instruments, usually two oboes, horns and bassoons.
On 26 November 1760, Haydn married Maria Anna Aloysia Keller (1729–1800), the eldest daughter of a Viennese wig-maker. Haydn is believed to have fallen in love with the youngest daughter Therese first, but she entered a convent. His wedding to Maria Anna was celebrated at St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. Haydn's was not a happy marriage: «My wife was unable to bear children, and therefore I was not indifferent to the charms of other women», was one of the few comments he made about his married life. Biographers Griesinger and Dies had nothing good to report of Mrs. Haydn: according to them, she was uneducated, failed to recognise the genius of her husband, and was a spendthrift.


The early Esterházy period (1761–1780)


When the Morzin family found itself in financial difficulties and was compelled to dismiss its musicians, Joseph Haydn soon found a new employer in Prince Esterházy.
When Joseph Haydn took up his post in 1761, the permanent residence of the Esterházy princes was in the small baroque town of Eisenstadt on the western shore of Lake Neusiedl. Haydn initially rented an apartment before buying his own house near the Franciscan monastery in 1766.
His new employer was Prince Paul I Anton Esterházy (1711–1762), who had inherited a love of music from his forefathers. The Esterházy family was one of the richest and most powerful in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. As well as several palaces in Vienna, it owned castles throughout Hungary and in what is now the Austrian province of Burgenland. The Esterházys lived a life of luxury, and reigned over their principality like sovereigns. An important period in Haydn's life began in Eisenstadt: «...that is where I wish to live and die», wrote Haydn in a letter dated 6 July 1776. The first compositions he wrote in his new post included the so-called 'Time of day' symphonies, 'Le Matin', 'Le Midi' and 'Le Soir' (Hob. I:6-8).
Haydn signed a contract of employment with Prince Paul I Anton Esterházy on 1 May 1761. When the composer first began working in Eisenstadt, he was originally appointed 'vice-Kapellmeister', as the elderly and infirm Georg Joseph Werner (1693-1766) was still officially the Prince's musical director. Haydn's contract obliged him to dress and conduct himself appropriately, set an example to his subordinate musicians, and compose music at the behest of the Prince. His duties ranged from maintaining instruments and cataloguing musical scores to teaching, composing and performing. Prince Paul I Anton Esterházy, who had a greenhouse in the palace grounds converted into a theatre, died on 18 March 1762.
Prince Nikolaus I Esterházy (1714–1790) succeeded his brother Paul Anton on 17 May 1762. He was to be Haydn's benefactor and employer for nigh on thirty years. He earned his epithet 'lover of splendour' because of his predilection for spending large sums of money on extravagant entertainment and special celebrations: the poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe referred to the 'Esterházy fairy kingdom' in his first volume of memoirs in 1811. In many respects, Nikolaus I was an exemplary patron. Under his employ, Haydn rose to become the third-highest remunerated official in the prince's household. Referring to the great level of esteem enjoyed by Haydn under Nikolaus I, the former later reported that, «My Prince was content with all my endeavours; I received applause (...) I was cut off from the world (...) and so I was compelled to become original.» (Griesinger)
The prince's favourite instrument was the baryton, which he had also learned to play, an instrument with similarities to the viola da gamba and the cello, which could not only be played with a bow, but also had strings behind the fingerboard which were plucked. Among Haydn's compositions were 125 divertimenti for baryton, viola and cello, as well as numerous duets and pieces of ensemble music which included solos to be performed by the prince. Following the death of Kapellmeister Georg Joseph Werner in 1766, Haydn assumed sole responsibility for music at the court.
Once Joseph Haydn was appointed principal Kapellmeister, he purchased a small house near the Franciscan monastery in Eisenstadt for 1,000 guilders. The house was to burn down twice, but on each occasion Prince Nikolaus had it rebuilt at his own expense, as further proof of the esteem in which he held his Kapellmeister. For his part, Haydn swore that he would serve the prince «until such time as the death of one or other of them determined otherwise». (Dies) Haydn sold the house in 1778. Since 1935, it has been the home of the Haydn Museum.
The Esterházy princes owned a little hunting lodge near the south-eastern shore of Lake Neusiedl, which was named after the nearby town of Süttör. Prince Nikolaus I was particularly fond of this location, and decided to convert the building into a sumptuous summer residence, later to be known as 'Eszterháza'. Erecting a 'Hungarian Versailles' at the marshy corner of a lake, which was to include an opera house, a puppet theatre and numerous ancillary buildings, and raising its status to that of a cultural centre on a par with the best in Europe, was undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements of this high-ranking western Hungarian family of magnates.
From 1766/67, Eszterháza became the centre of Haydn's working life; at first only in the summer months, but eventually for most of the year.
The first opera written by Haydn for the Esterházy court – Acide – was performed in Eisenstadt in 1763 to celebrate the marriage of the eldest son of Prince Nikolaus. After the court moved to Eszterháza, Haydn turned his attention back to opera with La canterina (1766), Lo speziale (1768) and Le pescatrici (1769). From 1776, opera and theatre productions became part of the prince's everyday life: during the period from 1780 to 1790 alone, Haydn directed more than 1,000 opera performances. Of the total of 78 operas performed up to 1784, fifteen were by Joseph Haydn (including Il mondo della luna (1777), L'isola disabitata (1779), Orlando paladino (1782) and Armida (1784), to name but a few). This substantial opera work placed an enormous strain on Haydn. Of historic importance was the visit to Eszterháza of Empress Maria Theresa in September 1773, during which she was able to enjoy L'infedeltà delusa, a 'burletta per musica', as well as Philemon and Baucis, a puppet opera by Esterházy's Kapellmeister.


The middle Esterházy period (1780–1790)


On 14 May 1780, Haydn was awarded his first major foreign distinction: the Philharmonic Academy in Modena nominated him as an honorary member. He then began to receive commissions from a number of European countries. For instance, a commission for the orchestral composition The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross came from Cadiz in Spain. In France, Haydn's works were widely circulated. The 'Paris Symphonies' (Nos. 82-87) and Symphonies Nos. 88-92 owe their very existence to Claude-François-Marie Rigoley, Comte d'Ogny (1757–1790), one of the driving forces behind the 'Concerts de la Loge Olympique' and one of the leading figures in French freemasonry. Haydn's links to England grew stronger in 1782, when the first attempts were made to woo him to London.
In Vienna in December 1781, Haydn gave music lessons to Maria Feodorovna of Russia, the wife of the Grand Duke and later Tsar Paul I. Some of his earlier string quartets, later to become famous as Opus 33, are dedicated to the Grand Duke and are known as the 'Russian Quartets'.
Freemasonry, which had gained popularity in educated circles under the reign of Emperor Joseph II (1780–1790), also piqued the interest of Haydn. On 11 February 1785, he became a member of the 'Zur wahren Eintracht' ('True Harmony') lodge. On the very next day, a private concert was held at the apartment of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), at which string quartets composed by this son of Salzburg and dedicated to Joseph Haydn were performed. Leopold Mozart wrote the following famous words to his daughter about this concert: «[...] Mr. Haydn said to me: Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name; he has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition.»
In June 1789, Joseph Haydn received a letter which was to form the basis for a friendship which became quite unlike any other. Marianne von Genzinger (1750–1793), the wife of Prince Nikolaus' personal physician in Vienna, sent him a piano score which she had based on the Andante from one of his symphonies. Her request for corrections and the hope she expressed that she would soon see Haydn in Vienna was the prelude to a long correspondence which provides us with an insight into the composer's personality. The admiration expressed by Mrs. von Genzinger, who was eighteen years his junior and a woman of remarkable refinement, prompted Haydn to divulge his innermost feelings to her and, in particular, to speak of the sense of isolation he felt in Eszterháza.
On 28 September 1790, Prince Nikolaus I, 'the lover of splendour', breathed his last. His death meant the end of an era in the world history of music. Prince Paul Anton II (1738–1794), the son and heir of Nikolaus I, did not share his father's interest in music to anything like the same degree, and dismissed the orchestra and choir within a matter of days. Only Haydn and concert master Luigi Tomasini remained officially in the service of the prince. Haydn retained his title of Kapellmeister and an annual pension of 1,000 guilders, although he no longer had any duties to perform for Prince Paul Anton


Travels to England (1791–1795)


«I am Salomon from London and have come to fetch you. Tomorrow we shall make an accord.» That is how Haydn described to his biographer Dies the decisive moment which was to result in him travelling to England. In return for the considerable sum of 5,000 guilders, Haydn undertook to write an Italian opera, six new symphonies and a series of other compositions, and to perform them at concerts which he himself would conduct. Johann Peter Salomon (1745–1815), a famous violinist from Bonn who was also a successful concert promoter, wasted no time in informing the British public about Haydn's imminent arrival. Haydn responded to Mozart's objection that he could not even speak English with the reply, «My language is understood all over the world! » (Dies)
On 1 January 1791, Joseph Haydn set foot on English soil after an arduous journey via Munich, Öttingen-Wallerstein, Bonn and Calais. Seven days later, Haydn wrote to Marianne von Genzinger: «...my arrival caused a great sensation throughout the entire city, and for three successive days I was mentioned in all of the newspapers; everyone is eager to know me.» Another sensation was caused when, at a royal court ball in St. James Palace, Haydn was greeted by the Prince of Wales with a noticeable bow.
The first of the concerts organised by Salomon in the Hanover Square Rooms was held on 11 March 1791, and they continued every week until 3 June. These were extremely select society events, and entry was reserved for the aristocracy and the upper middle classes. In late May 1791, Haydn attended the Handel Festival in Westminster Abbey, which was held every year under the patronage of the king. No other experience on English soil left such a lasting impression on the composer as this grand-scale commemoration. This was Haydn's first encounter with the oratorios Israel in Egypt, Esther, Saul and – as the highpoint of the festival – the Messiah.
At the close of his first successful London season, Haydn was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by the University of Oxford in July 1791, on the recommendation of music historian Charles Burney (1726–1814). The grand ceremony was held in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, and extended over three days. It was on this occasion that Symphony No. 92, actually written previously for performance in Paris, is reported to have been played; it later entered the annals of musical history as the 'Oxford Symphony'.
Until the beginning of the next concert season, Joseph Haydn retired from public life and gave private music lessons to Rebecca Schroeter (1751–1826) a member of a prosperous Scottish family and the widow of the German composer and keyboard artist Johann Samuel Schroeter (who died in 1788). A very close relationship developed between Haydn and his pupil. Her letters, which Haydn transcribed into his notebook, document the passionate feelings harboured by the forty-year-old for the nearly sixty-year-old composer: «…no language can express half the love and affection I feel for you.» Haydn was often Mrs. Schroeter's guest, and she took every possible care of the maestro's mental and physical wellbeing. During his second visit to London, Haydn was a close neighbour of Rebecca Schroeter, and later dedicated his piano trios Op. 73 to her as a token of his affection.
Back in August 1791, Prince Paul Anton II Esterházy had expressed the wish that Haydn should, after all, return to Eisenstadt. However, Haydn had certain contractual obligations to fulfil before he could do so, and it was not until late June 1792 that he left the British Isles at the end of another successful concert series. He stopped off in Bonn, where he made the acquaintance of the young Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827), before returning to Vienna. There it was agreed that Beethoven would visit Haydn in Vienna to study composition and counterpoint with him.
In January 1794, Haydn travelled to London for the second time with his private secretary and valet Johann Elssler (1769–1843). Salomon's concert series, now renamed 'Opera Concert', was once again very well received; it included the premiere of the 'Military Symphony', which was to prove the most popular of Haydn's orchestral works during his lifetime. During this visit, Haydn also established further contacts with a number of English publishers.
The list of works composed by Haydn for his two visits to England eventually numbered some 250 compositions, including the opera The Soul of the Philosopher, or Orpheus and Eurydice, which was not performed at the time, the twelve 'London Symphonies', six string quartets, thirteen piano trios, three piano sonatas and more than two hundred songs.
On 1 February 1795, Haydn was accorded the considerable honour of being the first living composer to be included in the programmes of the 'Ancient Concerts'. He now found official admission to the concerts of King George III (1738–1820), to whom he was introduced on this occasion by George Augustus Frederick, the Prince of Wales (1762–1830). In the spring of 1795, Joseph Haydn played, conducted and sang for the royal family a number of times, as well as performing at concerts held at Carlton House by the Prince of Wales (from 1820 King George IV). The British king and his consort Queen Charlotte attempted to persuade Haydn to remain in England for longer, even offering him an apartment in Windsor.


The late Esterházy period and Haydn's death (1795–1809)


Paul Anton II died only a few days after Haydn's departure from London in January 1794. His successor, Prince Nikolaus II (1765–1833), had informed Haydn the previous summer that he intended reconstituting his orchestra, and as he continued to regard Haydn as his Kapellmeister, he was recalling him to Eisenstadt. Haydn was not unhappy to hear this news, as it meant he could be certain of his pension and of provision for his general welfare. In early September 1795, Haydn – now a world-famous, prosperous man – arrived in Vienna to serve what was now his fourth Esterházy prince, whose alterations to the palace and park in Eisenstadt have remained unchanged to this day.
Nikolaus II was passionate about the theatre and was a great art collector. However, his interest in music was restricted mainly to church music, so it became Haydn's principal responsibility to compose Masses. From 1795, Haydn spent almost all of the remainder of his life in Gumpendorf near Vienna, apart from spending the summers in Eisenstadt, where he composed a Mass for the name day of Princess Maria Josepha Hermenegild (1768–1845) every September until 1802, which he then conducted in the Bergkirche. That this was the golden age of Haydn's choral music is just as apparent from these Masses as from his late oratorios.
«…I was never as devout as when I was at work on The Creation; I fell to my knees daily...,» Haydn confessed to his biographer Griesinger. After the monumental Handel productions Haydn had attended in London, it was his fervent wish to write an oratorio which would be a morally uplifting and artistic experience for its audience. The former statesman and avowed music-lover Gottfried van Swieten (1730–1803) supplied the German libretto for the work, based on an English original of uncertain provenance. The premiere of The Creation took place on 30 April 1798 at Schwarzenberg Palace on the Neuer Markt in Vienna before a select audience, and was a resounding success.
After completing the follow-up work The Seasons and abandoning his work on the string quartet cycle Op. 77, which had been commissioned by Prince Lobkowitz at the same time as Beethoven's Op. 18 and was eventually to comprise only two complete works, Haydn's creativity as a composer finally began to wane. On the recommendation of his biographer Griesinger, Haydn eventually published the third incomplete quartet in 1806 under Op. 103 – as a two-movement 'farewell' accompanied by a visiting card which bore the text, «All my strength is at an end, I am old and weak.» During the final years of his life, Haydn was visited by prominent figures from home and abroad and, as an honorary citizen of the City of Vienna, became a celebrated 'national treasure', who was awarded honorary degrees, medals and membership by many of the leading music societies in Europe.
Haydn made his final public appearance on the occasion of his 76th birthday on 27 March 1808, when his oratorio The Creation was performed in the auditorium at the Old University in Vienna. The production was attended by all the leading dignitaries of Vienna, and was conducted by Antonio Salieri (1750–1825).
Joseph Haydn died peacefully on 31 Mai 1809 at his home in Gumpendorf during Napoleon's siege of Vienna. He was interred in Hundsthurm cemetery on 1 June, and on the following day a Requiem Mass was celebrated in Gumpendorf Church. A great memorial service was held two weeks later at the Schottenkirche in Vienna, which was attended by the city's elite. Haydn's mortal remains have since been laid to rest in a mausoleum built in 1932 on the instructions of Prince Paul Esterházy at the Bergkirche in Eisenstadt.