Haydn is known as ‘the father of the string quartet’ because he was the first to compose four-part music for two violins, a viola and a cello on a regular basis.

Beethoven was so overawed by Haydn’s talent and reputation as a quartet composer that when he came to publish his own early efforts he rearranged them as short piano pieces to avoid comparison.

Haydn and Mozart played string quartets together in Vienna in the 1780s.

Shortly after Haydn’s body was buried it was dug up. His head was cut off and removed by amateur phrenologists who then reburied the body. The theft went unrecognised for some years and it took nearly 150 years for Haydn’s skull to be reunited with his body.

The ‘Haydn Quartet’ was one of America’s earliest and most successful barbershop quartets. Formed in 1896 they made early recordings for Edison, scoring hits with numbers such as ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon’ (1910).

Haydn and his brother Michael were choirboys at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. After Haydn’s voice broke Queen Maria Theresa apparently reported that, while Michael sang beautifully, Franz Joseph sang ‘like a crow’.

Haydn’s dismissal from the choir would have been on account of his voice breaking but it may have been hastened by him cutting off the pigtail of another boy in the choir.

Haydn said that his brother Michael’s religious works were better than his own.

In a dinner scene from Rossini’s Il viaggio a Reims various characters get up and sing their national anthems, including Trombonok who sings Haydn’s music.

Germany’s national anthem is by Haydn and is partly inspired by the British national anthem. Impressed by the way ‘God save the Queen’ united Britons’ patriotism and aware that Austria was under threat of invasion from the French in 1797, Haydn composed a similarly stirring melody for Austria. He set it to words specially written by Lorenz Haschka (‘Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser… Lange lebe Franz der Kaiser’ or ‘God save Emperor Franz…Long live Emperor Franz’), and the song was presented to Emperor Franz II on his birthday.
Haydn re-used the theme for the Austrian national anthem in his ‘Emperor Quartet’.

Several composers have written variations on the national anthem theme, among them Carl Czerny and Niccolò Paganini.

The tune (‘Austria’) is commonly sung as a hymn in British churches to the words ‘Glorious things of Thee are spoken’ or ‘Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore Him’.

At the court of the Esterházy family which he served, Haydn sometimes worked alongside professional gypsy musicians. He acknowledges their influence in his String Quartet op.20 no.4 whose minuet is marked ‘alla zingarese’ (‘in gypsy style’) and Piano Trio no.39 whose rondo is marked ‘a l’Ongarese’ (‘in Hungarian [gypsy] style’). Some of his other works are possibly based on Croatian folk songs.

Haydn’s first opera is called The Limping Devil.

Renowned for his sense of humour, Haydn included many musical ‘jokes’ in his works. The Surprise Symphony includes a sudden loud chord in the middle of an extended quiet passage, the music continuing after the chord as if nothing unusual has happened.

The final movement of his ‘Joke’ Quartet op.33 no.2 features a theme that can sound like an opening or closing phrase: it is played in phrases separated by long pauses, leaving the audience unsure of whether the music is over or not.

Haydn’s Farewell Symphony was written when he and his fellow musicians of the Esterházy court had been kept at his employer’s summer residence in Esterháza for too long, away from their wives and families who were back at the Prince’s main residence in Eisenstadt. In the final movement each musician finishes playing, snuffs out his candle and leaves in turn until just two violins are left playing (these would have been Haydn and his assistant Alois Luigi Tomasini). The Prince took the hint and all were allowed to return home soon after.

Working away from the cultural influences that major city cities afforded, Haydn famously claimed he was ‘forced to be original’.

Haydn’s Symphony no.96 is nicknamed the ‘Miracle’ because a chandelier fell to the ground at its first performance but no-one was injured or killed.

Many more of Haydn’s symphonies have been given posthumous nicknames, for example: the ‘Bear’ (no.82) because its last movement was thought to sound like the sort of music used for bear-baiting; the ‘Hen’ (no.83) because of a jerky ‘clucking’ theme in the first movement; the ‘Queen’ (no.85) because it was a favourite of Marie Antoinette; the ‘Military’ (no.100) because it features a fanfare and uses Turkish military instruments including a Turkish ‘crescent’ (a stick with bells on it); the ‘Clock’ (no.101) because of the ‘ticking’ theme of its second movement; the ‘Drumroll’ (no.103) because of the long timpani roll that starts it.

Haydn and Mozart played string quartets together in Vienna in the 1780s.
In 1791 Haydn was so impressed with the massive Handel celebration in Westminster Abbey, marking fifty years since the premiere of Messiah, that it inspired him to compose TheCreation and TheSeasons.
While in England in 1792 Haydn visited the astronomer and amateur composer William Herschel (who discovered the planet Uranus) at his observatory in Slough.

Haydn has an asteroid named after him: 3941 Haydn, discovered in 1973 by Freimat Börngen.

Like Mozart, Haydn was unable to marry the woman he loved (Therese Keller - she entered a convent) and so married her sister (Maria Anna Keller). Work often kept the two apart for long periods and the marriage was not a happy one. They had no children. Many unproven anecdotes abound including stories that Maria Anna using Haydn’s manuscripts to line pastry tins or to curl her hair while Haydn apparently didn’t bother to open letters from his wife saying that he was certain she never opened his either.


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The Composers of the Year feature in a BBC 2 series, in May 2009 - Charles Hazlewood introduces the programmes.

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