The Kennedy Center

Franz Josef Haydn


Composer Franz Joseph Haydn was born in Rohrau, Austria in 1732 and is probably known to be one of the greatest masters of classical music. His compositions include 104 symphonies, 50 concertos, 84 string quartets, 24 stage works, and 12 Masses, among numerous other works.

He became musical director from 1759 to 1760 for Count von Morzin’s court musicians, for whom he wrote his earliest symphonies. He became musical director for the Esterházy family from 1761 until 1790. Given great scope for composition, most of his musical output was produced during the 29 years of service to the family. He wrote 3 sets of 6 string quartets each (Opus 9, 17 and 20), which were brought out from 1771-72. Also noteworthy were symphonies that included No. 49 in F minor, La Passione; No. 44, in E minor, Trauersinfonie, and Abschiedsinfonie (the Farewell Symphonie) in 1772. The last movement of the Farewell symphony ends in a long slow section during which one musician after another ceases to play and leaves the stage, until only the conductor and a single violinist remain to complete the work.

In the 1780s, Haydn received commissions from London and Paris and honors from all over Europe. He formed a close friendship with Mozart, an association that influenced the music of each. Haydn’s works were known for his originality, liveliness, optimism and instrumental brilliance. He established the basic forms of symphonic music and string quartet, which became the model and inspiration for the works of Mozart and of Beethoven, who studied under Haydn.

Two great oratorios, The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801) were written later in his life. The Creation was based on a German translation of an anonymous English oratorio libretto that had been prepared for George Frederick Handel and was based on John Milton’s Paradise Lost. He produced a work deliberately planned on the grand scale for solo voices, chorus and orchestra. In 1800 Haydn set to work on another oratorio of similar magnitude: The Seasons.

Haydn’s output was so large that at the end of his life, he himself could not be sure how many works he had written. Haydn died in Vienna Austria on May 31, 1809.

Franz Josef Haydn


  • Piano Sonata in E-flat major, Hob. XVI:45