"Since God has given me a cheerful heart, He will
forgive me for serving Him cheerfully."
These words were written by Franz Joseph Haydn about himself, and they
give us a great insight into the life and the music of this remarkable
Haydn was born the son of a wagonmaker in a small town on the border of
Austria and Hungary. His parents hoped that he would become a clergyman,
and they sent him away when he was only six years old to study in a cathedral
in Vienna. At the cathedral, Haydn discovered how much he loved
music. He learned to play wind instruments and string instruments,
and he sang in the choir. At the age of 17, when his voice changed
and he could no longer sing in the choir, he left the cathedral and went
out on his own.
For the next several years, Haydn lived in poverty, trying to make his
way in the world as a musician. He sang in the streets and played
a broken down clavier. (Haydn lived before the piano, as we know
it now, had been perfected. A clavier was was a stringed keyboard
instrument that was a precursor to the piano.) He continued to study
music on his own and with an occasional teacher, as he could find one.
Very gradually, his reputation grew.
When he was 29 years old, he was given a tremendous opportunity which
shaped the rest of his life. The Esterhazy family, a wealthy family
of nobility in Hungary, offered him a position as a musician. He
worked as a servant of this family for nearly thirty years. Over
time, he became the director of all the music in the vast royal household,
and this was a family that dearly loved music. Haydn continually
composed original music to be performed in the Esterhazy palace.
He conducted an orchestra employed by the family. (He became known
as “Papa Haydn” to the members of the orchestra.) Haydn
lived at a time in Europe when music had shifted away from being centered
in the church, to being centered in palaces, where the aristocracy could
enjoy it. There were very few public performances or concerts. Speaking
of Haydn’s long term arrangement with the Esterhazy family, one
fine music historian noted: “If you wanted to be a European musician
in George Washington’s time, and wanted to eat regularly - this
was the way to go." Phil G. Goulding, Classical Music,
at 159 (Fawcett Columbine 1992).
Although Haydn lived a good part of his life in a royal household, he
never confused himself about who he was and how he related to the aristocracy.
He wrote: “I have associated with emperors, kings, and many great
people, and I have heard many flattering things from them, but I would
not live in familiar relations with such persons; I prefer to be close
to people of my own standing.” Id. at 161.
Haydn became known as the
composer of the Classic period (1750 - 1825). This was a period
when reason, logic, and restraint in the arts were admired. The
Classic period prized clarity and simplicity in its music, as well as
an orderly restraint from too much emotion. Haydn’s music
was loved throughout Europe. He wrote music his entire life, and
some of his most admired pieces were composed late in his life.
In all, he wrote 104 symphonies, 83 string quartets, 60 piano sonatas,
23 operas, 4 oratorios, plus many concertos, masses and choral works.
He died at the age of 77.
Haydn’s music is wonderfully described by Harold C. Schonberg, who
served for many years as the senior music critic for the New York
Times and who wrote a terrific book about music history, The
Lives of the Great Composers, which we highly recommend. Mr.
Schonberg wrote: “[A]ll the music is animated by much the same approach:
a pure and perfect technique, a feeling of optimism, a clear layout, masculine-sounding
melodies, a surprising rich harmonic texture, and a sheer joy in composition….
Emotionally it is uncluttered and uncomplicated. It does not lack
feeling or even passion, but the impression it always gives is one of
buoyancy.” Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great
Composers, at 93 (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1997).
fully appreciate the clarity and simplicity of Classic music, it’s
helpful to listen to Johann Sebastian Bach and other Baroque and Rococo
composers (1600 - 1750). The music of these earlier periods was
incredibly complex and ornate. Classic music stayed away from ornamentation
and was, in contrast, very elegant and simple.
met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1871, when Haydn was 40 years old, and
Mozart was only 25. They tremendously admired each other, and each of
them learned in important ways from the other. Haydn’s music
became more expressive, broader and deeper, after he listened to Mozart’s
music. In turn, Mozart learned a great deal about the structural
organization of music from listening to Haydn’s music. Id.
always interesting to look at the events going on in the world at the
time that any particular composer was alive and creating his or her music.
Haydn was 20 years old and singing on the streets when, in 1750, James
Watt first invented the steam engine which would become an important power
source for ships and railroads. Shortly after that, in 1752, Benjamin
Franklin discovered the relationship between lightning and electricity.
Haydn was in his mid-forties when the American Revolutionary War
began in 1775, and was approaching 60 years old when the French Revolution
began in 1789.
would very much appreciate your writing to us about what your family members
were doing during the time of Haydn’s life, or about what was happening
in your part of the world. We would love to expand this discussion
of the times of Haydn on this web site.]
you would like to read more about Haydn’s music and about his life,
we encourage you to look at the fine books we used in preparing this material,
which discuss far more than we have attempted to include here:
Harold C. Schonberg, The Lives of the Great
Composers (W. W. Norton and Company, 3d Ed. 1997);
G. Goulding, Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their
1,000 Greatest Works (Fawcett Columbine 1992).
put Haydn’s music in the context of the history of art, and to see
a visual illustration of the contrast between the Baroque/Rococo style
and the Classical style, we recommend that you look at the wonderful art
history book by E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art (Phaidon, 16th
Ed. 1995), especially chapters 22 and 23 on “The Power and the Glory”
and “The Age of Reason.”
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John, Jean, Johnny and Chris Rice. All Rights reserved. No
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John, Jean, Johnny and Chris Rice
(1900 through present)