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Franz Joseph Haydn and his “Surprise” Symphony

Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732–May 31, 1809) was an Austrian composer, one of the most prolific and prominent of the Classical period, who often called the “Father of the Symphony” and “Father of the String Quartet” because of his important contributions to these forms as well as to the development of the piano trio and the evolution of sonata form. Haydn was born in Rohrau, Austria, a village that at that time stood on the border with Hungary. His father, Mathias Haydn, was a wheelwright who also served as “Marktrichter”, an office akin to village mayor. Haydn’s mother Maria, née Koller, had previously worked as a cook in the palace of Count Harrach, the presiding aristocrat of Rohrau. . Neither parent could read music, but Mathias was an enthusiastic folk musician, who during the journeyman period of his career had taught himself to play the harp. The family frequently sang together and with their neighbors.

Haydn’s parents had noticed that their son was musically gifted and knew that in Rohrau he would have no chance to obtain serious musical training. It was for this reason that they accepted a proposal from their relative Johann Matthias Frankh, the schoolmaster and choirmaster in Hainburg, that Haydn, about six years old, be apprenticed to Frankh in his home in Hainburg to train as a musician. Beginning his musical training there, he could soon play both harpsichord and violin. The people of Hainburg heard him sing treble parts in the church choir. In 1739 he was brought to the attention of Georg von Reutter, the director of music in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, who happened to be visiting Hainburg and was looking for new choirboys. Haydn, age eight, successfully auditioned with Reutter, and after several months of further training moved to Vienna (1740), where he worked for the next nine years as a chorister, living in the Kapellhaus next to the cathedral, along with Reutter, Reutter’s family, and the other four choirboys, which after 1745 included his younger brother Johann Michael, who himself became a highly regarded composer,. The choirboys were instructed in Latin and other school subjects as well as voice, violin, and keyboard

By 1749, Haydn had matured physically to the point that he was no longer able to sing high choral parts. He had the good fortune to be taken in by a friend, Johann Michael Spangler, who shared his family’s crowded garret room with Haydn for a few months. Haydn immediately began his pursuit of a career as a freelance teenage musician. During this time, Haydn worked at many different jobs, as a music teacher, as a street violin serenader, and eventually, in 1752, as valet–accompanist for the Italian composer Nicola Porpora in exchange for lessons. He was also briefly in Count Friedrich Wilhelm von Haugwitz’s employ, playing the organ in the Bohemian Chancellery chapel at the Judenplatz. When he was a chorister, Haydn had not received serious training in music theory and composition, which he perceived as a serious gap. To fill it, he worked his way through the counterpoint exercises in the text Gradus ad Parnassum by Johann Joseph Fux, and carefully studied the work of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. As his skills increased, Haydn composed an opera, Der krumme Teufel, “The Limping Devil”, written for the comic actor Johann Joseph Felix Kurz in 1753.

Between 1754 and 1756 Haydn also worked freelance for the court in Vienna. With the increase in his reputation, Haydn eventually obtained aristocratic patronage, crucial for the career of a composer in his day. Countess Thun, having seen one of Haydn’s compositions, summoned him and engaged him as her singing and keyboard teacher. In 1756, Baron Carl Josef Fürnberg employed Haydn at his country estate, Weinzierl, where the composer wrote his first string quartets. Fürnberg later recommended Haydn to Count Morzin, who, in 1757, became his first full-time employer. Haydn’s job title under Count Morzin was Kapellmeister, that is, music director. He led the count’s small orchestra and wrote his first symphonies for this ensemble. In 1760, with the security of a Kapellmeister position, Haydn married. His wife was the former Maria Anna Aloysia Apollonia Keller (1729–1800). The couple had no children.

Count Morzin soon suffered financial reverses that forced him to dismiss his musical establishment, but Haydn was quickly offered a similar job (1761) by Prince Paul Anton, head of the immensely wealthy Esterházy family. Haydn’s job title was only Vice-Kapellmeister, but he was immediately placed in charge of most of the Esterházy musical establishment, with the old Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, retaining authority only for church music. When Werner died in 1766, Haydn was elevated to full Kapellmeister. Haydn had a huge range of responsibilities, including composition, running the orchestra, playing chamber music for and with his patrons, and eventually the mounting of operatic productions. The Esterházy princes, Paul Anton, then from 1762–1790 Nikolaus I, were musical connoisseurs who appreciated his work and gave him daily access to his own small orchestra. During the nearly thirty years that Haydn worked at the Esterházy court, he produced a flood of compositions, and his musical style continued to develop.

1779 was a watershed year for Haydn, as his contract was renegotiated: whereas previously all his compositions were the property of the Esterházy family, he now was permitted to write for others and sell his work to publishers. Haydn soon shifted his emphasis in composition to reflect this, with fewer operas, and more quartets and symphonies, and he negotiated with multiple publishers, both Austrian and foreign. The new publication campaign resulted in the composition of a great number of new string quartets (the six-quartet sets of Op. 33, 50, 54/55, and 64). Haydn also composed in response to commissions from abroad: the Paris symphonies (1785–1786) and the original orchestral version of The Seven Last Words of Christ (1786), a commission from Cadiz, Spain. Haydn met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart sometime around 1784 and was hugely impressed with Mozart’s work.

In 1790, Prince Nikolaus died and was succeeded as prince by his son Anton. Following a trend of the time, Anton sought to economize by dismissing most of the court musicians. Haydn retained a nominal appointment with Anton, at a reduced salary of 400 florins, as well as a 1000-florin pension from Nikolaus. Since Anton had little need of Haydn’s services, he was willing to let him travel, and the composer accepted a lucrative offer from Johann Peter Salomon, a German impresario, to visit England and conduct new symphonies with a large orchestra. The two visits, in 1791–92 and again in 1794–95, were a huge success. He received the Doctor Honoris causa in the University of Oxford. Musically, the visits to England generated some of Haydn’s best-known work, including the Surprise, Military, Drumroll, and London symphonies, the Rider quartet, and the “Gypsy Rondo” piano trio. While traveling to London Haydn met the young Ludwig van Beethoven in his native city of Bonn. On Haydn’s return, Beethoven came to Vienna and during the time up to the second London visit was Haydn’s pupil.

Haydn returned to Vienna in 1795. Prince Anton had died, and his successor Nikolaus II proposed that the Esterházy musical establishment be revived with Haydn serving again as Kapellmeister. Haydn took up the position, though only on a part-time basis. He spent his summers with the Esterházys in Eisenstadt, and over the course of several years wrote six masses for them. But by this time Haydn had become a public figure in Vienna. He spent most of his time in his own home, a large house in the suburb of Windmühle, and wrote works for public performance. In collaboration with his librettist and mentor Gottfried van Swieten, and with funding from van Swieten’s Gesellschaft der Associierten, Haydn composed his two great oratorios The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801). Both were enthusiastically received. Haydn frequently appeared before the public, often leading performances of The Creation for charity benefits. He also composed instrumental music: the popular Trumpet Concerto and the last nine in his long series of string quartets, including the Fifths, Emperor, and Sunrise quartets.

During the later years of this successful period Haydn faced incipient old age and fluctuating health, and he had to struggle to complete his final works. By about 1802, his condition had declined to the point that he became physically unable to compose. During his illness, Haydn often found solace by sitting at the piano and playing Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, which he had composed himself as a patriotic gesture in 1797. This melody was later used for the Austrian and German national anthems. A final triumph occurred on March 27, 1808, when a performance of The Creation was organized in Haydn’s honor. The very frail composer was brought into the hall on an armchair to the sound of trumpets and drums, and was greeted by Beethoven, by Antonio Salieri, who led the performance, and by other musicians and members of the aristocracy. Haydn was both moved and exhausted by the experience, and had to depart at intermission. Haydn lived on for another year. He died, aged 77, at the end of May 1809, shortly after an attack on Vienna by the French army under Napoleon.

Franz Joseph Haydn is the composer who, more than any other, epitomizes the aims and achievements of the Classical era. His influence upon later composers is immeasurable. Haydn’s most illustrious pupil, Beethoven, was the direct beneficiary of the elder master’s musical imagination, and Haydn’s shadow lurks within the music of composers like Schubert, Mendelssohn, and Brahms. By one estimate, Haydn produced some 340 hours of music, more than Bach or Handel, Mozart or Beethoven. Few of them lack some unexpected detail or clever solution to a formal problem. Haydn was prolific not just because he was a tireless worker with an inexhaustible musical imagination, but also because of the circumstances of his musical career: he was the last prominent beneficiary of the system of noble patronage that had nourished European musical composition since the Renaissance. His output includes Church Music, Oratorios, Stage Works, Vocal Music, Chamber Music, Keyboard Music, and Orchestral Music consisting of Symphonies and Concertos

My collection includes the following works by Franz Joseph Haydn:

Cello Concerto No. 1 in CM, Hob. VIIb, No. 1 (1765).
Cello Concerto No. 2 in DM, Hob. VIIb, No. 2, Great (1783).
Cello Concerto No. 3 in DM, Hob. VIIb, No. 4, Little.
Concerto No. 1 for King Ferdinand IV of Naples in CM, HV VII, No. 1.
Concerto No. 2 for King Ferdinand IV of Naples in GM, HV VII, No. 2.
Concerto No. 3 for King Ferdinand IV of Naples in GM, HV VII, No. 3.
Concerto No. 4 for King Ferdinand IV of Naples in FM, HV VII, No. 4.
Concerto No. 5 for King Ferdinand IV of Naples.
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit.
Italian Overture in DM.
La Fedelta Premiata: Overture.
Sinfonia Concertante in BbM for oboe, bassoon, violin, cello, and orchestra, Hb. I, no. 105 (1792).
Symphony No. 6 in DM, Morning.
Symphony No. 7 in CM, Midday.
Symphony No. 8 in GM, Evening.
Symphony No. 22 in EbM, The Philosopher.
Symphony No. 26 in dm, Lamentatione.
Symphony No. 44 in em, Trauer (1772).
Symphony No. 45 in f#m, Farewell, Hob. 1:45.
Symphony No. 50 in CM (1773).
Symphony No. 53 in DM, L’Imperiale.
Symphony No. 83 in gm, The Hen, Heb. 1:83.
Symphony No. 87 in AM (1786).
Symphony No. 88 in GM (1787).
Symphony No. 89 in FM (1787).
Symphony No. 94 in GM, Surprise (1791).
Symphony No. 99 in EbM, Salomon No. 10 (1792).
Symphony No. 100 in GM, Military (1794).
Symphony No. 101 in DM, The Clock (1794).
Symphony No. 104 in DM, London (1795).
(Trumpet) Concerto for Trumpet in EbM, Hob. VIIe, no. 1 (1796).

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources


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