Joseph Haydn Biography

Joseph Haydn was an 18th century Austrian composer of the Classical period. This biography of Joseph Haydn provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: March 31, 1732

Nationality: Austrian

Famous: Composers Austrian Men

Died At Age: 77

Sun Sign: Aries

Born in: Rohrau, Austria

Famous as: Composer


Spouse/Ex-: Maria Anna Keller

father: Matthias Haydn

mother: Maria Koller

siblings: Johann Evangelist Haydn, Michael Haydn

children: Alois Anton Nikolaus Polzelli

Died on: May 31, 1809

place of death: Vienna

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Joseph Haydn was an 18th century Austrian composer of the Classical period who played a major role in the development of chamber music. One of the most prominent composers of his time, he is fondly referred to as "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" in recognition of his immense contribution to musical form. Born as the son of a folk musician, he developed an early interest in music. His musically inclined parents recognized their young son’s talents and arranged for him to acquire musical training. He blossomed into a good singer and performed in a choir while he was a boy. He grew up to be a very talented singer and instrumentalist, but faced many struggles in his attempts to get established in a profession. Initially he worked in a string of jobs without much success before finally finding work as a valet–accompanist for the Italian composer Nicola Porpora from whom he learned the fundamentals of composition. Joseph Haydn did not receive a systematic training in musical theory; he self-educated himself by studying the works of prominent composers like Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, whom he later acknowledged as an important influence. Eventually he established himself as a famous composer in his own right and was appointed as a court musician of the wealthy Esterházy family.

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Childhood & Early Life
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Musical Career
  • Jobless all of a sudden, he struggled to establish himself in a career. Over the next few years he worked at a variety of jobs including that of a music teacher and a street serenader.
  • Since he did not receive any systematic training in musical theory while at the choir school, he embarked on a journey of self-education by studying the works of prominent composers and by practicing the exercises given in manuals of musical theory.
  • In 1752, he caught the attention of the Italian composer and singing teacher Nicola Porpora, who accepted him as valet–accompanist. It was there that he learned the true fundamentals of composition.
  • His skills developed over time and soon he started writing music along with playing instruments. One of his first compositions, the opera, ‘Der krumme Teufel’ ("The Limping Devil") was first premiered in 1753 with great success.
  • He gained much in stature over the next few years and was appointed as a musical director and chamber composer for the Bohemian count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin, in 1758. In this position he was made in charge of an orchestra of about 16 musicians.
  • After working with Morzin for three years he accepted a similar job offered by Prince Paul Anton, head of the wealthy Esterházy family, in 1761. His official title was Vice-Kapellmeister and he was placed in charge of most of the Esterházy musical establishment.
  • The old Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, died in 1766 and Haydn was elevated to full Kapellmeister. He served the Esterházy family for nearly three decades and greatly raised the quality of the prince’s musical ensembles by appointing a number of gifted instrumentalists and singers.
  • The Esterházy family was very supportive of Haydn’s ambitious plans and greatly appreciated his musical contributions. Over the course of his employment he had the good fortune of working in an environment highly conducive to the development of his musical skills.
  • Haydn not only composed operas for the court, but also composed symphonies, string quartets, and other chamber music. During his career with the prince, he frequently travelled to Vienna and met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart on one of these trips. The men developed a close friendship and found inspiration in each other’s work.
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  • The head of the Esterházy family, Prince Nikolaus, died in 1790, and was succeeded by his son, Prince Anton. The new prince had no interest in music and dismissed most of the court musicians. However he retained Haydn though he was no longer assigned any important duty. This gave Haydn ample time to pursue his personal musical interests.
  • He embarked on a trip to England in 1791 and spent several months there. He met eminent musicians and received much respect from the English for his works. In mid 1792 he left for Germany where he met a young Ludwig van Beethoven and soon realized the potential he possessed. Haydn invited the young man to come to Vienna and receive musical instruction from him. Accordingly Beethoven moved to Vienna in 1792 and began studying with Haydn.
  • By the late 1790s, Prince Anton had died and was succeeded by Nikolaus II. The new prince wanted to revive the Esterházy musical establishment and requested Haydn to serve again as Kapellmeister. Haydn took up the position on a part-time basis.
Major Works
  • Joseph Haydn was a prolific composer with 104 Symphonies, 32 Piano Trios, 62 Piano Sonatas, and more than 90 String Quartets to his name. One of his most popular String Quartet is the ‘Emperor Quartet’ Op.76 No.3 which uses the theme from the anthem ‘God Save Emperor Francis’. It later became the melody for the Austrian national anthem and then the German national anthem.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • Joseph Haydn’s personal life was a complicated one. He married Maria Anna Keller in 1760. His marriage proved to be an unhappy one, and both the spouses took on lovers. He had no children from this marriage.
  • He had a long term affair with Luigia Polzelli, a young Italian mezzo-soprano in the prince’s service.
  • As a successful and respected composer, he had become quite wealthy by his later years. He was well cared for by his servants during the last years of his life and died peacefully on 31 May 1809, aged 77.

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