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Haydn, Franz Joseph (31st March 1732-31st May 1809)

He was a composer born Franz Joseph Haydn in Rohrau, Austria, but only since his death has the Franz been used.  His father was a wheelwright who was a self-taught harpist and his mother had been a cook at the local palace of Count Harrach.  Once his musical abilities had been recognised by his parents when he was about six years old, he was taken in by the Hainburg choirmaster and schoolmaster Johann Matthias Franck as his apprentice and never went home again.

Although not having the best living conditions and often going hungry he managed to learn the violin and harpsichord as well as singing in the church at Hainburg.  In 1740 he came to the attention of the Director of Music at Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral and after passing an audition he moved to Vienna and spent nine years as a chorister.  For four of these years his brother, Michael, was also a chorister there.  Once again he went hungry though and received much in the way of musical education even though the cathedral was one of the best known in Europe at the time.

When it got to 1749 he had become too old to sing high enough and was dismissed from the choir and left homeless and living on the street.  Luckily his frend Johann Michael Spangler took him in and Haydn began his pursuit of a career as a musician straight away.  It wasn’t an easy ride though and he worked as an accompanist for the composer Nicola Porpora, a street serenader and a music teacher while taking on his own studies of the works by Carl Phil Emanuel Bach and Johann Joseph Fux.

His began seriously composing and premiered his first opera Der krumme Teufel in 1753.  His work began to get known and he was taken on as a music teacher for Countess Thun and as a composer for Baron Carl Josef Furnberg.  While in the Count’s employ he started writing string quartets and in 1757 he went to work for Count Morzin as his kapellmeister after being recommended by the Baron.  This was when he wrote his first symphonies and led a small orchestra.

He moved on to become Vice Kapellmeister for the wealthy Esterhazy family in 1761 and spent most of his life as a court musician for them family on their large estate.  Staying with them for around thirty years it meant he remained isolated from other composers and musical trends until the latter part of his life but he developed his musical abilities and prolifically wrote many successful works, some of which were commissions, and became internationally popular.

Around 1784 he built a friendship with Mozart, whose work he had already been influencing for years.  He tried to help the young composer and they occasionally played in string quartets together with Mozart dedicating six of his own quartets to him.

He was put onto a pension after the death of Nikolaus Esterhazy and went to England in 1791 after an offer to conduct large orchestras and perform new symphonies.  He stayed until 1792 and he was so successful that he returned in 1794 and his time in London produced some of his acclaimed symphonies such as London, Drumroll and Military.

In the intervening years he taught Ludwig van Beethoven but their relationship didn’t last as Beethoven deemed him an “unsatisfactory” teacher.  Settling back down in Vienna from 1795 he wrote his oratorios The Creation and The Seasons and many other works such as his Trumpet Concerto.  By the time the 1800s had come around he was beginning to suffer from ill health and by 1802 he had to give up composing.

In 1809 the French Army were attacking near where he lived and caring about the worries and fears of his staff he said, “My children, have no fear, for where Haydn is, no harm can fall”.  These were to be some of his final words as he died shortly after at the age of 77 having survived smallpox in his earlier life and leaving a huge legacy in music.  He is now familiarly known as “The Father of the Symphony”.