Joseph Haydn Biography

Joseph Haydn was one of the most prominent players of the classical period. Read on to know more on the childhood, life and timeline in this biography.

Joseph Haydn

Quick Facts

Also known as: Ton
Gender: Male
Birthday: 31 March 1732
Died: 31 May 1809
Nationality: Austrian
Sun Sign: Aries
Father: Mathias Haydn
Siblings: Michael Haydn, Johann Evangelist Haydn
Awards: Honorary citizen of Wien

Franz Joseph Haydn is the composer, unlike any other, who epitomizes the achievements music in the heart of the Classical period. His music mirrored the refinement, the elegance and the purity of the era and broke new grounds in terms of evolving a new genre of music for legendary music composers to take after. His perfectionist approach to his music made him a symbol of artistic royalty that resonated through his hundreds of instrumental sonatas, symphonies and string quartets. He was among the creative few who went on to creating these different genres of music that would go on to defining a new period in the existence of music. He had considerable influence and even taught immortal composers such as Beethoven, and even went on to influencing the then young Schubert, Brahms and Mendelssohn. He was also known as the ‘Father of Symphony” as he was one of the pioneering musicians who went on to introducing this form of music to the world apart from contributing immensely. Apart from contributing to the myriad of musical genres, he played the creative mastermind and was a key factor in developing the ‘Sonata’ that went on to become one of the most creative genres of music with a classical touch.

Early Life And Childhood

Franz Joseph Haydn was born in the quaint village of Rohrau, Austria that bordered Hungary. Haydn’s father served as an assistant or a wheelwright to the village head. His mother was a cook in the Palace of Count Harrach, and neither parent could read music although Haydn’s father had taught himself to play the harp in his early years. His parents realized that Joseph had a passion for singing and a talent for music and thought it would be a nice break to have a musician in the family who would go on to make the village of Rohrau known. He showed tremendous musical abilities and at the tender age of five, he was trained and taken under the wing by the schoolmaster at Hainburg, Johann Matthais Frankh, who taught him and introduced him to the world of music, after which he never met his parents.


At this institution, Haydn was introduced to a variety of instruments such as the violin, the clavier, the harpsichord and other small percussion instruments. He began to sing in choirs and people noticed that he could even hit treble parts with his vocal cords. A truly, gifted singer, people were impressed with his talent and he was soon spotted by George Von Reutter, the director of music at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, who was just passing by Vienna. The boy was then taken by Reutter and was put through an audition where he passed with flying colors. He was allotted a seat at this prestigious institution and went on to working as a chorister with the institution for the next nine years of his life along with the company of his younger brother Michael.
For the next few years, Haydn stayed with the Reutter’s and learnt a great deal at the Cathedral though he never really learnt much from Mr. Reutter himself. He was introduced to a wide variety of topics such as voice, violin, keyboard and other school subjects such as Latin. The school was a premier institution at the time and Haydn continued to learn even though he was professionally appointed as a chorister. The flip side to the story was when the autobiographer for Haydn mentioned that the musicians weren’t always fed very well and were only give refreshments from time to time.

Personal Life

In the year 1749, Haydn’s voice had matured and was no longer fit to sing high, choral parts. The empress herself noticed this change and complained to the school that he was no longer fit to sing. Following this accusation, Haydn played a prank on one of his school mates by cutting her pigtail off. This was enough to anger the management and he was severely caned and expelled from the institution, with no home or family to go to. A friend of Haydn, who stayed with him during his years with the Reutter’s gave him a roof and asked him to move in with him. Lucky Haydn then moved in and went on to pursue his career as a freelance musician.
During this time he worked really hard and tried his hand at different jobs and was finally an apprentice to the Italian composer Nicola Porpora from whom he learnt the basics of compositions. Nicola would be a key entrant to the final molding and direction of Haydn’s popular career. While he was an accompaniment to Nicola, he also made a living by playing the organ in the Bohemian chancellery chapel and continued to refine his theory and musical skills by reading up and studying the works of Carl Phillip Bach and Johann Fux. It was after this time that Haydn’s popularity slowly began to increase with his number of works. He worked for a freelance court in Vienna and was one of the several supplementary musicians at balls and other important court arrangements. He began to receive a staggering increase in wealthy patrons as his listeners and was also summoned by the Countess Thun as her royal keyboard and singing teacher. With the increase in his reputation, Haydn was also called to the important country estate, Weinzierl where he first began to compose his string quartets. This was followed by a brief period of compositions and performances after which he was picked by his first, permanent employer in the year 1757; Count Morzin.

Royal Connections

Under the banner of Count Morzin, Haydn was appointed as the head music director or the “Kapellmeister” where he wrote and produced countless symphonies, quartets and songs. Following his appointment as the music director with a royal background, Haydn decided to settle down with his first lover’s, younger sister Maria Anna with whom he led an unhappy, unfruitful marriage. They bore no children and went on to look for new lovers even though they were legally bound by marriage. The count soon became financially miserable and had to make Haydn and his services redundant. Luck was on Haydn’s side again and he was soon appointed by Prince Paul Anton, the heir to the Esterhazy family. It was here Haydn musically established himself. Although he was appointed as the Vice-Kapellmeister, he was given ample opportunities to create and perform music as he pleased. He took over as the official Music director after the death of the senior Kapellmeister. According to the rules of the Esterhazy family, Haydn had to dress as a nobleman in a uniform and also travelled with the royals on various occasions, as they were musical connoisseurs.
For the following three decades, Haydn worked with the Esterhazy court and his musical style continued to develop. It was during this time he produced some of his famous works such as the ‘Paris symphonies’ and the ‘Last seven words of Christ’. During his stay with the royals, his popularity outside the court and around the world increased and he continued to keep in touch with some of his friends around the world. He particularly wrote to Prince Nikolaus’ personal physician’s wife, to whom he mentioned his pangs of loneliness. After a brief communication period, he was suddenly presented with the news of her sad death which led him to write one of his other legendary pieces; F minor variations for the piano. Around 1785, Haydn met Wolfgang Mozart a couple of times and even congratulated him for his creations in music. His gradual collaborations with outside musicians made him write a series of quartets that were then popularly christened ‘Haydn’s quartets’ by his friend, Mozart.
Haydn had made frequent visits to London post Prince Nikolaus’ death. His salary had reduced considerably after Nikolaus’ son took over the throne. He then decided to leave the Royal court and travel to another part of Europe to make a living. Here he was made an offer by Johann Peter Salomon, an impresario, with whom he grew and performed and wrote large symphonies. After a few musical visits to London and a number of popular compositions to his credit such as Surprise, Military and the London symphonies, he began to involve himself romantically with a lady called Rebecca Schroeter. It was during this time, he met the young Ludwig van Beethoven who would then later learn and train under Haydn. Most of the works of Beethoven and Mozart were influenced greatly by Haydn’s style and taste for music.
In the year 1795, Haydn was called by the successor of Prince Anton, and was asked to re-establish himself at the estate. Haydn accepted the offer and in the due course, composed six masses for the royals while working on a part time basis. He had already won laurels and was a well-known figure in Vienna. During his free time and stay in a large house in Gumpendorf, Haydn collaborated with his friend Gottfried and went on to producing oratorios The ‘Creation’ and the ‘Seasons’. Some of his other instrumental music that went on to become popular at this stage was the string quartets and the Trumpet concertos.

Death And Legacy

Towards the last years of his life, Haydn was faced with multiple health problems. It got very difficult for him to compose or even perform. He received a lot of visitors, fans and public figures towards the end of his life and even during his illness, managed to compose a patriotic piece called ‘Gott erhalte franz den Kaiser’ which was then used in the Austrian and German national anthems. Just before his death, a final performance was put up for him and his famous composition the ‘Creation’ was played right before his weak eyes. Haydn died soon after and right after an attack on Vienna headed by the forces of Napoleon on May 31st 1809. A memorial service was held two weeks later where the ‘Requiem’ was performed. His romantic-influenced classical music was central to the Sonata form and went on to inspire musical legends such as Mozart and Beethoven that changed, defined and grappled the world of creativity and music.


1732: Franz Joseph Haydn was born
1738: Went to live with Johann Matthias Frankh at Hainburg, who introduced him to music
1740: Was picked up by Georg Von Reutter and admitted to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.
1749: Dismissed from the institution on the basis of ‘mischief’.
1752: Worked under Nicola Porpora from where he learnt how to compose.
1753: Premiered his first opera ‘The limping devil’ which was soon closed down by censors.
1756: Worked as a freelancer in a court in Vienna.
1757: Count Morzin employed Haydn as a full time employer
1760: Was accorded a place as the royal Kapellmeister.
1761: Was appointed by the Esterhazy family as Vice Kapellmeister where he served for thirty years.
1785: Composed his Paris symphonies and the seven last words of Christ.
1790: Met the young Beethoven who learned under him.
1798: Created his legendary works the ‘Creation and the ‘Seasons’.
1808: Final performance of the “Creation” for Haydn before his demise.
1809: Died of health problems, after the siege by Napoleon and his forces.

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Joseph Haydn Biography

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Last Updated

June 01, 2019

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