Haydn - his life and Symphonies

Franz Josef Haydn was born in Lower Austria in March 1732 and despite his poor beginnings as the son of a wheelwright, became one of the greatest composers of the Classical era and has been widely described as the "father of the symphony". His musical life started as a member of the choir in Saint Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna during the 1740s and then continued at Vienna through the 1750s. However, his musical career really took off when he entered the service of the Prince of Esterhazy, at Eisenstadt, Austria in 1761. Haydn was placed in charge of a large musical staff and his schedule included daily performances of chamber music, and, each week, two opera performances and two formal concerts. It's not surprising that the majority of his 100-odd symphonies, plus a large number of other works, were composed during his time there.

Haydn's early symphonies lacked the "standard" structure that his (and others') later ones took - the sonata-style fast opening movement, followed by the slow 2nd movement, then a 3-time dance (typically a minuet) and into the fast 4th movement. Instead, his early symphonies were frequently more clearly based upon the Italian Opera overture, with the 3rd movement of the later "traditional" symphony frequently omitted. He also varied the form in a number of other ways - for example the use of slow introductions (e.g. No. 6). Nor was he afraid to vary the theme of his early symphonies - as No 26 (Lamentatione) demonstrates. Several of its movements are based upon a Gregorian Passion melody - a lamentation chant sung during holy week.

However, his symphonic development is perhaps of greatest interest in the years 1768-74, often referred to as the Sturm und Drang ("storm and stress") period, in which he was particularly inventive in his search for new styles and forms. Representative of this period are Symphony no. 45 (the Farewell Symphony), which he composed as a hint to the Prince of Esterhazy that the orchestra was ready for a holiday. It is composed so that all the players leave during the final movement, blowing out their candles and putting away their instruments as they do so. Only two solitary violinists are left at the end. Despite its somewhat humorous ending, its style is highly representative of the sturm und drang period, with agitated moods, abrupt dynamic changes and use of canon.

From the 1760's on, Haydn's fame began to spread throughout Europe. He remained closely associated with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who lived in Vienna from 1781 until his death in 1791 and he also briefly taught Ludwig van Beethoven in Vienna. Their different personalities made this meeting unrewarding, but Beethoven was a great admirer of Haydn's works. Between 1784-6 he composed the six Paris symphonies, which added further style features to his previous works, including the use of chromaticism.

In 1790, his life changed dramatically, with the death of his patron, Prince Anton. Anton's successor cared little for music, but was still prepared to retain Haydn as musical director. As a result Haydn was free to compose and travel as he wished. In 1790 he accepted an invitation from Johann Peter Salomon, one of London's leading impresarios, to compose and direct a number of works for a public concert series in that city. On New Year's Day in 1791, Haydn arrived in London, and he remained there for 18 months. In England he was greeted with great public acclaim. The concert season was immensely successful, he was feted by royalty, and Oxford University conferred upon him an honorary doctorate. Haydn returned to Vienna in 1792, but early in 1794 he again journeyed to England at Salomon's invitation for another concert series, this one even more successful than the first. The stimulation of Haydn's two London sojourns was precisely what the composer needed to realise his full potential. The 12 symphonies that Haydn composed for London (nos. 93-104, usually called the London symphonies) represent the pinnacle of his symphonic work. In these works he was anxious to create symphonies on a grand scale with dazzling orchestration for large orchestras and audiences. They frequently feature slow, long, introductions to the sonata-form 1st movement and extended codas, reminiscent of a further development.

In the summer of 1795, Haydn returned to Vienna, where he lived for the rest of his life. He composed no further symphonies, concentrating on oratorios (The Creation and The Seasons) together with masses and string chamber pieces.