Franz Joseph Haydn’s Early Years

Today we will begin learning about my favorite composer of all time… Franz Joseph Haydn (pronounced: HI din)!

Besides composing a lot of wonderful music, he was the kind of person who you would want to hang out with. He definitely was not boring. The best part is that his personality comes out in his music. Let’s get to know him!

Haydn’s Childhood

He was born March 31, 1732, in Austria-Hungary. This was the year our first president was born. Who was our first president?

If you said George Washington, then you are correct.

Haydn was the second oldest child out of twelve children. His parents were Mathias and Anna Maria Haydn. Mathias was a wheelwright, but he also sang and played the harp. Anna Maria was a cook for Count Karl Anton Harrach before she married Mathias. Several of Mathias and Anna’s children became singers and musicians even though neither of their parents could read music. 

Franz Joseph’s brother Michael Haydn also composed music as an adult and became relatively famous. His youngest brother, Johann Evangelist Haydn, sang tenor in the choir of the Esterhazy Court.

Franz Joseph’s family spent their free time playing music and often held concerts led by their father Mathias. Anna Maria usually sang the melodies. Despite the family’s love of music, Haydn’s parents hoped that he would become a priest.

When Haydn was six years old, however, he was asked to join a music school in the Austrian city of Hainburg. Johann Franc was impressed by Haydn’s voice and insisted that his parents let him take young Haydn with him to study music. He had to move away from his family. Since it was thought to be such a wonderful opportunity, he did what he had to do. He never lived with his parents again.

Haydn’s parents let him go with the hope that he would become something special. He mostly studied music, but also Latin, arithmetic, religion, and writing.

Haydn’s Time with the St. Stephens Cathedral

St. Stephens Cathedral ~ Where Franz Joseph Haydn lived and performed as a choirboy.

While studying with Johann Franc, Georg Reutter of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna (pictured on the right) heard Haydn sing. He had such an amazing voice that Georg Reutter just had to have Franz Joseph in his cathedral choir.

The choirboys were always very poor and hungry at St. Stephens Cathedral.

When the boys sang at special concerts, they would get to eat refreshments as part of their pay.

When Haydn realized this, he worked even harder and always sang as beautifully as he could, so he would always get invited to come back to sing. Part of the reason why he loved singing the solos was because he went to more concerts and got more special treats.

During his time as a choirboy, Haydn also took harpsichord, organ, and violin lessons.

In 1745 the choir performed at Empress Maria Theresa’s palace. After their concert, they thought that it would be fun to climb on the scaffolding. They were making a lot of noise and Empress Maria Theresa caught them in the act! She said that if they ever did that again, they would be whipped.

The next day, Haydn was dared to climb on the scaffolding. Guess what he did?

He took the dare and climbed up on it. What do you think happened then?

He got caught! He got a whipping.

In 1777 (32 years later) ~ Haydn performed again at the same palace and told everyone the story from his childhood and they all laughed about it.

Haydn’s Teen Years

Haydn’s brother Michael joined the choir three years after he did. The older choirboys instructed the younger ones. 

Franz Joseph had an amazing voice until his voice changed. His brother Michael also had a beautiful voice and started receiving the attention that Haydn was used to getting.

When he was 18, Haydn got bored during choir practice and cut off the pigtail of another choirboy. He was immediately kicked out of the choir! He was kicked out onto the streets without any food, money, or a place to live.

Remember… His family lived in another town, so he could not easily just go home.

Haydn ended up living for a short time with another very poor musician who had also once been in the choir and took odd-jobs to make some money. He composed music on his harpsichord when he was not working. He gave music lessons, played violin for services at a monastery and for parties, and spent time as a street serenader.

Haydn studied whatever music he could find to teach himself how to compose. At this time, he came across the first six keyboard sonatas of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous sons). He studied them thoroughly and personally told his first biographer that he owes a lot to Emanuel Bach.

In 1752, Haydn was a valet and accompanist for the Italian composer Nicola Porpora. Haydn later said that this was when he learned “the true fundamentals of composition” or how to compose the proper way.

He began to notice that some pieces of music he composed and had simply given away were now being published and sold in local music shops. In the mid 1750s, Haydn worked often for the court in Vienna as a supplementary musician at balls and other special occasions. His reputation was on the rise and he started working for a variety of aristocrats, which was extremely important for composers of this time.

We will learn more about Franz Joseph Haydn’s life and music in our lesssons: Franz Joseph Haydn and The Farewell Symphony and Surprise Symphony and Haydn’s Later Years.

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2 thoughts on “Franz Joseph Haydn’s Early Years”

  1. In a letter of 1793 to Beethoven’s patron, the elector of Cologne, Haydn stated that “Beethoven will one day be considered one of Europe’s greatest composers, and I shall be proud to be called his teacher.

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