The Rice Brothers and Friends

Home This month's featured video! "The Players"




Franz Joseph Haydn

1732 -1809



"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 classical composer.

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).


To 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.


Haydn 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. at 89.


It’s 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.


[We 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.]


If 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);

Phil G. Goulding, Classical Music: The 50 Greatest Composers and Their 1,000 Greatest Works (Fawcett Columbine 1992).


To 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.”


©  This page and the entire contents (including the video and audio contents) of this The Rice Brothers and Friends(TM) site are copyright © 2003 John, Jean, Johnny and Chris Rice.  All Rights reserved.  No copyright claimed in brief quotations from other authors for purposes of review or scholarly comment.

Copyright 2003 John, Jean, Johnny and Chris Rice






Baroque (1600-1750)




Classical (1750-1825)























Contemporary (1900 through present)