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Timeline: Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn is a towering figure of the Classical era. He didn’t just mimic the changes of the late 18th century, in a large way, his music was the change. He forged new genres. 

He cemented a style of composition that married the rigor of the last two centuries of music with the emotional sensibilities emerging during the enlightenment; all the while maintaining a sense of humor and humility.

Haydn was born in a small village on the Danube. His father was a great lover of music and used to give concerts with all of his children. Haydn’s talent stood out at these concerts. His family decided to send him to school in Hainburg to receive a musical education, with the hopes that he would one day join the clergy.  He was only six years old.

It was a difficult time for the young Haydn. He faced harsh discipline yet he excelled in his studies. Two years later, he was accepted into the cathedral choir of Vienna. Haydn would remain in Vienna for the next two decades. While there, he served as a choir boy, studied with C.P.E. Bach, became a freelance composer and music educator.

In 1761, Haydn was appointed as the "Kapellmeister" for the court of Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy.  This was a huge turning point in his life. He was now surrounded by a community of musicians that looked to him for original compositions and arrangements. Haydn delivered on these responsibilities, composing numerous chamber works, masses, operas and concerti. However his greatest achievements were in the advancements he made to the symphony and the string quartet. Haydn’s 104 symphonies laid the blueprint of the genre for generations.

In 1790, Haydn’s music was becoming more and more popular throughout the courts of Europe. He arranged to split his time between the Esterhazy court and a public life in Vienna. Haydn was an avid supporter of the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a music teacher to Ignaz Pleyel and Beethoven. He was lovingly called “Papa Haydn” by his students and colleagues.

His later years saw an even greater public interest in his work, especially in England where he visited several times and premiered his London Symphonies to packed houses.

Haydn’s career spanned seven decades. Upon his death in 1809, he left behind not only a large body of work but also a pristine reputation as a man of honor, modesty and humor.

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Credit U.S. Public Domain
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Franz Joseph Haydn's signature.

Timeline is an exploration into the development of Western music. Take a journey into the events, characters and concepts that shaped our Western musical tradition.

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