17 Fascinating Facts About the Maestro Franz Joseph Haydn

ByQuyen Anne

Aug 16, 2023

Here are the facts about the great composer – Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809).

  1. At the age of five, the young Joseph was sent to live with a relative who was choirmaster. Such was the beauty of his singing voice, the relative suggested that they castrate the child so that his voice might be preserved….he would become a ‘castrati’. Joseph’s father vehemently argued against the idea and so nature was allowed to take its course.
  2. After leaving the church choir at 16 when his voice finally broke, Haydn took up busking in the street with his violin. His efforts were rewarded when his talent was spotted and he was offered a position with the Italian composer Nicola Popora.
  3. Unlike Mozart, who was a close friend of his, Haydn made a lot of money from his work; and also unlike Mozart, he lived for a very long time. Mozart died aged only 35 whereas Haydn lived until he was 77.
  4. In his own words, Joseph Haydn wasn’t a good-looking fellow, but he could never understand why beautiful women found him attractive.
  5. Like his friend, Mozart, and his one-time pupil, Beethoven, Haydn didn’t marry the woman he loved. The lady in question joined a convent and he married her sister instead. There is no suggestion that she knew, but they were never happy together and she bore him no children. He spent many years away from home and, apparently, neither of them ever opened each others’ letters.
  6. Haydn briefly taught Ludwig van Beethoven when the young upstart went to Vienna in 1792; Haydn had seen his work and heard him play a few years previously and had offered to teach him there. Sadly, the two didn’t get on and Beethoven is famously quoted as later saying, ‘I learned nothing from Haydn’.
  7. It was always believed that Haydn’s Symphony No.96 in D Major was nicknamed the ‘Miracle Symphony’ on account of a chandelier crashing to the ground during its premiere and no one being hurt – seems they had all rushed to the front of the auditorium to cheer at the end of the performance, so missed it. However, recent research suggests that the chandelier incident occurred during the premiere of a later work, Symphony No. 102. Never mind.
  8. One of Haydn’s most enduring tunes was the one originally written for his String Quartet No. 62, Opus 76, no. 3 – known as the Kaiser Quartet. The tune became the basis for both the German and Austrian national anthems. Gott Erhlkte (God Save Emperor Franz).
  9. The Austrian national anthem was written in 1797 and was said to be inspired by Haydn’s two stays in England where he was inspired by how the English National Anthem united the British; at the time, in 1797, Austria was under the threat of invasion from the French so Haydn composed the tune for them.
  10. Haydn and Mozart were not only good friends, but they also played in string quartets together in Vienna during the 1780’s.
  11. The tune for the German and Austrian national anthems written by Haydn is frequently sung in English and American churches to the words ‘Glorious things of thee are spoken’ (written in 1779 by Englishman John Newton). The name of the melody is simply ‘Austria’.
  12. Haydn’s musical output was prodigious. The fact that lived until he was 77 helped, but his 106 symphonies, 90+ string quartets, 62 piano sonatas and 32 piano trios is larger than any of the other great composers. Someone calculated that there are over 340 hours of music.
  13. Haydn has been a bit of a prankster is well-known, and many of his compositions have an element of surprise. The ‘Farewell Symphony’ is, perhaps, one of the more subtle of his pranks. As the final movement progresses we see the musicians, one by one, arise from their seats, blow out their candles and leave the stage. By the end, there are only two left. Haydn’s ‘statement’ was his way of hinting to his and the other musicians’ employer, Prince Nikolaus, that they were being overworked and were due to a break. The Prince got the hint and they were allowed home for a well-earned rest.
  14. Another Hadyn prank that wasn’t taken quite so well as that played in the ‘Farewell Symphony’, occurred when Haydn was only 16. His voice was beginning to break and he had been told that he was to leave the choir. As a result, he decided to cut the pigtail off from the boy in front of him. The act earned him a public caning.
  15. Another musical example of Haydn playing games happens in his String Quartet in E Flat Opus 33, no. 2 (nicknamed ‘The Joke’). In this instance, Haydn tricks his audience into thinking that the final movement has ended….when it hasn’t. There is a four-bar rest, after which the quartet come back to re-state the original theme before actually ending with an unfinished phrase; the audience is left hanging.
  16. Haydn is often referred to as the ‘Father of the Symphony’. But, whilst he didn’t invent the symphony, he (through the 106 that he wrote) was responsible for much of the early development. The nickname ‘Papa’ is thought to have come about through his paternal treatment of the younger orchestra members throughout his career. Later, Mozart also referred to him as ‘Papa’ as a way of referencing the great old man’s importance in his own development as a composer.
  17. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart‘s friendship with Haydn was so great that he dedicated a set of six quartets (published in 1785 as his Opus 10) to the great man; Haydn was considered to be the creator of the modern string quartet. On hearing the works he said the now famous remarks about the young Mozart to the composer’s father, Leopold; ‘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, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition’. Praise, if ever there was.

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