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Classical Composer Franz Joseph Haydn

March 31 marks the 280th anniversary of Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn's birth. His music, said to epitomize the sound of the so-called Classical Era that followed the Baroque period, is noted for its warmth, clarity, and intellect. Composers of the following generation such as Mozart (a close friend of Haydn) and Beethoven (briefly his student) picked up on his innovations and developed them further. Indeed, these followers soon came to eclipse Haydn in reputation, and it wasn't until early in the twentieth century that his music began to receive renewed attention from musicologists and performers.

Haydn is often referred to as the "father" of the string quartet and the symphony, two of the most enduring genres in classical music. His prolific output (78 quartets, 104 symphonies) was not limited to these forms - he also wrote much more chamber music and a considerable number of vocal works, including operas, oratorios, and masses. For most of his professional life Haydn was employed by successive princes of the Austro-Hungarian Esterházy family, and their wishes largely determined what he composed, but in the latter half or so of his long career (he died in 1809), he had some freedom in what he could write and was able to sell his works to music publishers throughout Europe as his popularity spread.

If you would like to explore Haydn's music, check out RCPL's holdings on CD, which include many of his symphonies and string quartets, as well as his popular oratorios.  A great resource for learning while listening is the book Exploring Haydn: A Listener's Guide to Music's Boldest Innovator, which includes two CDs, one devoted to his orchestral and one to his chamber and vocal works.

You can learn more about Haydn in biographies and critical studies such as Haydn: His Life and Music, by the pioneering Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon and David Wyn Jones, and the concert pianist Charles Rosen's The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. But you can also learn a lot about his character and temperament, as well as the age in which he lived, just by listening to his witty and sparkling music.


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