Franz Joseph Haydn

Born:  March 31, 1732 – Rohrau, Austria

Died: May 31, 1809 – Vienna, Austria

Haydn was a busy man: his output includes 108 symphonies, 68 string quartets, 32 divertimenti for small orchestra, 126 trios for baryton, viola, and cello, 29 trios for piano, violin, and cello, 21 trios for two violins and cello, 47 piano sonatas, 20 operas, 14 masses, 6 oratorios, 2 cello concerti.

He left his parents’ home at the age of six to receive musical training at Hainburg. While there he caught the attention of Georg von Reutter, music director at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, who was impressed by his treble voice. He became a chorister at the Cathedral in 1740 and remained there until 1749 when he was no longer able to sing the treble parts. Complaints from the Empress Maria Theresa about his “abominable crowing” and a prank – he snipped off a colleague’s pigtail – got him caned and expelled from the Cathedral.

Seriously underfed in the Reutter household Haydn and his fellows were motivated to sing well, hoping to gain invitations to perform for aristocrats. The singers were usually served refreshments and no doubt stowed tidbits away to consume in their under-heated lodgings.

In 1761 he became Kapellmeister (Court Musician) for the rich and powerful Esterhazy family. At the death of his long-time patron in 1791 Haydn was dismissed from service. He had been with the family for 30 years. He returned to the position part-time in 1795 and remained employed by the Esterhazy’s until his death in 1809.

In 1760 Haydn married Maria Anna Theresia Keller, the younger sister of a former paramour. It was an unhappy marriage; the couple drifted apart and formed other relationships.

Physically Haydn was not “handsome” by any standards. His growth had been stunted by malnutrition, his face marked with smallpox scars, and polyps that plagued him his entire life disfigured his nose. However he still attracted many of the beauties of the time. He was puzzled by this and once said: My beauty couldn’t have led them to me.

“Don’t be afraid, children, where Haydn is, no harm can reach you!” the ailing 77-year old Haydn called to his trembling servants as his Viennese residence was bombarded by Napoleon’s advancing army on May 10, 1809. The city fell to the French on May 13. Thirteen days later Haydn played his “Emperor’s Hymn” through three times with unusual gusto and then collapsed. “Papa Haydn” was so universally loved that Napoleon had a special guard posted to ensure the dying composer would not be disturbed.

Because of the French occupation Haydn was buried in a simple grave at his parish in Vienna. However when Prince Nicholas Esterhazy had Haydn’s body exhumed for reburial at Eisenstaedt the head was missing! And even more bizarre his tomb at the Bergkirche now contains two skulls! Give a click here (link to find out what happened to Haydn’s head.







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