Composer. Ranking among the most important figures in the history of classical music, he has often been called the father of the symphony and the string quartet. Although he did not invent these forms, he greatly expanded their potential and created models that would later be developed by Mozart and Beethoven. The combination of instruments that Haydn used in his mature symphonies (strings, woodwinds, brass, timpani) was the foundation of the modern symphony orchestra. Franz Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau, Austria. As a boy he sang in the choir of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna (1740 to 1749), and after his voice broke he privately studied music while supporting himself as a pianist and teacher. His early compositions brought him attention from Vienna court poet Pietro Metastasio and composer Nicola Porpora, and through them important patrons. In 1760 he married Maria Keller, the sister of a woman he had once been in love with; the couple were incompatible and separated within a few years. They had no children. In 1761 Haydn began 29 years of private service for the noble Hungarian Esterhazy family, first in Eisenstadt and then at their new palace near Odenburg. He was promoted to Kapellmeister in 1766. It was a lonely life filled with drudgery - men in Haydn's position were thought of as servants rather than artists - but it was uniquely productive. The musical forces he had at his disposal enabled him to experiment and improve his music with each succeeding work. As he later put it, "Cut off as I was from the world, with no one to confuse or torment me, I was forced to become original". His isolation was not total, however. Alongside the kind, gentle "Papa Haydn" of legend was a shrewd businessman and self-promoter, quite conscious of his worth. Almost from the start he had special permission from his employers to publish some of his works, and by the early 1780s, when the Esterhazys relinquished exclusive rights over his music, he was internationally famous. Commissions came to him from across Europe, including the six "Paris" symphonies (Nos. 82 to 87, 1785) for performance in the French capital and "The Seven Last Words of Christ" (1786) for the Cadiz Cathedral in Spain. He networked furiously during his infrequent visits to Vienna, meeting other musicians and catching up on the latest trends. His close friendship with Mozart, which began after 1781, was mutually beneficial. Haydn was astonished by his younger colleague's gifts and learned from him, while Mozart dedicated six great string quartets (nos. 14 to 19, 1785) to Haydn as an affectionate tribute to the first master of the genre. After Mozart's death in 1791 Haydn sadly remarked, "I have often been flattered by my friends with having some genius, but he was much my superior". Pensioned by the Esterhazys in 1790, Haydn entered the most satisfying period of his career as a freelance musician. He made two journeys to England (1791 and 1794) to conduct a series of concerts arranged by impresario Johann Peter Salomon, and wrote his 12 last and greatest symphonies (nos. 93 to 104) for these occasions; they are known collectively as the "London" or "Salomon" symphonies. The concerts were spectacularly successful and the composer was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Oxford University. Afterwards he settled in Vienna, secure in his finances and in his reputation as the greatest living composer. His last years were devoted to religious music: the great oratorios "The Creation" (1798) and "The Seasons" (1801), and six masses for the Esterhazys, including the "Mass in Time of War" (1796), "Mass in Troubled Times" (1798), and the "Harmoniemesse" (1802). He died at 77, while the French Army was occupying Vienna. Napoleon ordered an honor guard to accompany his coffin to its original resting place at the Hundsturm Cemetery. In 1820, the Esterhazys had his remains transferred to the crypt of the Bergkirche in Eisenstadt; a memorial tablet was placed on the wall above the site. Prince Paul Esterhazy built a private mausoleum for Haydn to commemorate his 200th birthday in 1932. As fans of music trivia know, not all of the composer's remains made it into his sumptuous new tomb. Shortly after his original burial at the Hundsturm, Haydn's head was stolen from the grave by amateur phrenologists who wanted to study it for signs of his genius. The skull then passed through the hands of ghoulish collectors before it was given to the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde ("Society of the Friends of Music") in 1895. Prince Esterhazy requested its return for the Haydn Bicentennial, but the rise of Hitler and World War II intervened. It was not until 1954, 145 years after his death, that Haydn's skull was finally reinterred with the rest of him at Eisenstadt. The first true classicist, Haydn devoted himself to freeing music from what he called the "mechanical regulations" of the Baroque era. His pioneering use of thematic development, his rich harmonic sense and extraordinary lyricism brought unheard of expressiveness and flexibility to instrumental music. During his lifetime the focal point of musical activity shifted from the sacred (the church) to the secular (the concert hall), and through his popular art - especially his 104 numbered symphonies and 86 string quartets - Haydn was a driving force in bringing about that change. He standardized the four-movement format of the symphony (fast, slow, minuet, fast), often adding a slow introduction to build expectation; and he defined the intimate chamber music sound of the string quartet, giving greater equality to the instruments. It is in the quartets that Haydn best revealed the many sides of his personality - the low-born and the noble at heart, the sensualist and the devout Christian, the loneliness and the irrepressible wit. His mischievous sense of humor has not dimmed over the centuries and listeners still delight in his musical jokes; the best known of these is the slow movement of the "Surprise" Symphony (No. 94, 1792), in which a quiet, lilting string theme is disrupted by a sudden fortissimo crash from the full orchestra. When asked if this was intended to awaken audience members who had dozed off, Haydn replied "No, but I wanted to surprise London with something new...". Indeed, he relished creating novel effects and some of his symphonies derive their nicknames from them, such as the "Military" (No. 100), the "Clock" (No. 101), and the "Drumroll" (No. 103). Also notable in his vast output are 62 piano sonatas, some 40 concertos for various instruments, and 15 operas. His brother Michael Haydn was a distinguished composer in his own right.
Bio by: Bobb Edwards