May 31st marked the 208th anniversary of the death of Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn also known as the “Father of the Symphony.” Throughout his career, Haydn composed 106 symphonies and played a major role in the development of chamber music, one of the foundational genres of classical music.
Haydn grew up in the town of Roharu, Austria. When his parents noticed his musical talents, he was enrolled at a young age to sing at St. Stephen's cathedral in Vienna, where he would also learn how to play keyboard and violin. At the age of 16, Haydn was forced out of St. Stephen's choir because his voice was changing. However, he continued to grow as a musician. He was asked to assist composer Nicola Porpora, a Neapolitan composer who wrote for the palace of the Esterházy family.
In 1766, Haydn was promoted to be Kapellmeister (music director) at the Esterházy palace, a site that can be seen on Encore Tours’ 10 day trip to Austria. As Haydn rose in popularity with the Esterházy family, he caught the attention of the public. The position of Kapellmeister provided him with the opportunity to write and publish many of his own pieces of music. During his time as Kapellmeister, he would compose the Paris Symphonies and The Seven Last Words of Christ.
Following his nearly thirty year stint at the Esterházy palace, Haydn grew lonely and missed his friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Despite the fact that Haydn was 24 years older than Mozart, they were dear friends and Haydn thought very highly of Mozart's compositions, so highly that Mozart's Requiem was played during Haydn's funeral.
In the late 1700’s, Haydn made his way to London to perform with violinist and composer Johann Peter Salomon. He spent many years in England composing his London Symphonies and earned great recognition (and money) during his time there. Haydn developed a strong connection to London – his love for the English national anthem inspired him to compose his own national anthems for Austria and Germany.
Haydn had become a celebrity and it was at this point in his career when he would take on a young composer as his pupil, Ludwig van Beethoven. Haydn was instrumental in Beethoven's career and growth as a composer. He had taken a natural affinity towards Beethoven, however as the years passed, Beethoven developed some animosity towards Haydn and their relationship was strained.
In 1795, Haydn returned to Vienna and the Esterházy palace to again serve as Kapellmeister. During the last ten years of his life, Haydn composed six masses for the Esterházy, including some of his most popular music The Creation and The Seasons. In 1802, Haydn's health was deteriorating and he would compose his last work Harmoniemesse. Seven years later, in 1809, Haydn passed away, leaving behind an immense legacy and immeasurable impact on classical music.