“Since God has given me a cheerful heart . . .” - Joseph Haydn
“. . . He will forgive me for serving him cheerfully” - these were the words of Haydn, the great musician and great human being. But let us make it clear: “cheerful” here is not synonymous with “humorous,” but based on an attitude of seriousness. He is born in a Lower Austrian border town, where he grows up with the music that is most “natural” - his mother’s singing and his father’s harp playing.
For young Haydn, the “world” begins a few miles from his birthplace in Hainburg an der Donau, the home of his relative, a teacher; by the end of his life, his language would be understood “the whole world over.” Most of what he learned, he learned on his own: Fux’s Gradus ad Parnassum and Emmanuel Bach’s sonatas were his foundations.
He would later surpass both by far. As a young composer, he lives in a small attic room - by the end he is a well-established house owner in Vienna. He achieved much through hard work. But the composer of The Seasons would later tell his librettist Gottfried van Swieten that hard work alone was not enough - the dear Lord also had to give his blessing.

© Johannes Leopold Mayer, ORF - Radio Österreich 1


  • Born on March 31, 1732 in Rohrau, Lower Austria

  • His father: Mathias, a cartwright; his mother: Maria Anna, a palace cook

  • 1740-49 choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna

  • 1759-61 Kapellmeister to Count Morzin in Lukavĕc. At the service of Prince Esterházy from 1761 until the end of his life

  • 1760 marries the wigmaker’s daughter Maria Anna Kellerin. The marriage does not produce any children, to the regret of both, but they live together until her death in 1800

  • In the 1790s, two extended journeys to England. He is invited by concert promoter Johann Peter Salomon - as a freelance artist, not as the Prince’s Kapellmeister. “How good it tastes to have a bit of freedom,” he writes during the journey

  • Death on May 31, 1809 in Vienna, during the invasion of the French troops

  • Haydn creates the classical string quartet form (writing around 70 works, including the famous “Lark” and “Emperor” quartets)

  • With his 107 symphonies, he is the father of this genre as well (among them, the 12 “London” symphonies are particularly remarkable)

  • Oratorios: The Creation, The Seasons

  • 13 masses - especially significant are the 6 final ones, composed around 1800, for the name day of princess Maria (including the Theresienmesse and Harmoniemesse)

  • Concertos for trumpet, cello, piano, and organ (the latter for his own use)

  • In his time he was also a successful opera composer (including Die Feuersbrunst and Armida)

Did you know?

  • Haydn characterized himself as a “brutto ritratto,” but who, when you see him, clearly means well with people.

  • As Kapellmeister, he is totally committed to the members of the Esterházy orchestra - even to the point of opposing the prince and the administration above him. With his “Farewell” Symphony, he succeeds in putting an end to their stay at the summer palace, whereupon the musicians are finally allowed to go home to their families.

  • Haydn loved people and understood human nature. He said that “before God,” Mozart was the greatest composer. But when he was told in London that Mozart had spoken ill of him in Vienna, he replied, “Well, if it’s true, he’s forgiven for it.”

  • Haydn on his composing: “If things aren’t moving forward, I take the rosary and pray - and then the ideas start coming again.”

  • Goethe on Haydn: “His works are the ideal language of truth. They might be superseded but never surpassed.”