Franz Joseph Haydn (3/31/1732 - 5/31/1809)
Various musical paternity charges have been levelled at the composer Franz Joseph Haydn. His career coincided with the development of Classical style and forms (the symphony, sonata, string quartet and other instrumental forms), in the moulding of which he played an important part. Born in Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright, he was trained as a chorister at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, where he made his early living before his appointment to the small musical establishment of Count Morzin in 1759. In 1760 he entered the service of the Esterházy Princes, and he succeeded to the position of Kapellmeister on the death of his predecessor and immediate superior Gregor Werner in 1766. Much of Haydn’s life now centred on the magnificent palace and estate at Eszterháza, where his employer Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had moved his entourage for most of the year. The death of the Prince in 1790 released Haydn and allowed travel to London. There followed further service to the successors of Prince Nikolaus, now at the former residence at Eisenstadt, until his retirement in Vienna, where he died in 1809, as the soldiers of Napoleon again entered the city.
Haydn’s duties as Kapellmeister to the Esterházy family involved the provision of church music, as well as music for entertainment. The Mass settings composed for the younger Prince Nikolaus include the well-known ‘Nelson’ Mass (Missa in angustiis), written at the time of Nelson’s victory over Napoleon’s fleet at Aboukir Bay in 1798 and perhaps heard by Nelson and Lady Hamilton during their visit to Eisenstadt in 1800. Between 1796 and 1802 Haydn wrote five other Mass settings, known by their nicknames: ‘Heiligmesse’, ‘Paukenmesse’, ‘Theresienmesse’, ‘Schöpfungsmesse’ and ‘Harmoniemesse’.
Haydn’s visits to London suggested to him the musical possibilities of oratorio, in the form perpetuated after Handel’s death by commemorative festival performances. The result was Die Schöpfung (‘The Creation’), with a text by Baron van Swieten based on English sources, first performed in Vienna in 1798. Die Jahreszeiten (‘The Seasons’), with a text by Baron van Swieten based on James Thomson, was first performed in 1801. Haydn’s earlier oratorios include Il ritorno di Tobia (‘The Return of Tobias’), completed in 1775.
Haydn’s two dozen operas have received rather less attention than many of his other works. Most of these were written for performance at Eszterháza, either in the principal theatre or in the marionette theatre. They include Il mondo della luna (‘The World of the Moon’), with a libretto by Goldoni, the same writer’s Lo speziale (‘The Apothecary’), and a setting of Metastasio’s L’isola disabitata (‘The Uninhabited Island’).
Haydn wrote a number of songs, providing nearly 400 British folksong arrangements for the Edinburgh publisher Thomson, in addition to songs and cantatas in German and English. The two sets of canzonettas written in England in 1794 and 1795 include settings of verses by the wife of Haydn’s London surgeon, Hunter.