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Papa Haydn

It was the ultimate gig. A 30-piece orchestra at your beck and call. The run of the palace, and servants to meet your every whim. Dinner each night with the Duke and his wealthy friends, followed by cigars and brandy in the drawing room. Oh, and occasional weekend getaways to one of the great cities of Europe--Vienna. Your only responsibility was to do what you loved doing--compose. Yes, it was your job to write symphonies for the orchestra and to be on call to conduct whenever the Duke was in the mood for music.


For 30 years, that was the job of Franz Joseph Haydn, or “Papa Haydn,” as he was known to members of the orchestra.


What Haydn did in these 30 years was retool the symphony--take what was little more than an Italian overture of three movements--fast, slow, fast--add the minuet, and create something grand and noble--the modern symphony. He did much the same thing with the string quartet, the trio, and the sonata--transform them into the musical forms we know today. He did not consider himself a genius, merely hard working. Late in life he taught two indisputable geniuses--Mozart and Beethoven.


Haydn was a deeply religious man without any known vices. The son of wheelwright, he began by playing a broken-down clavier and singing in the streets of Vienna until he was rescued by the aristocracy. While he was pampered and well-treated by his patron Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, Haydn was for most of his life a lonely man. “I have associated with emperors, kings and many great people, but I would not live in familiar relations with such persons; I prefer to be close to people of my own standing.” For 30 years, this left Haydn without companionship, because the Prince would not permit Haydn to associate too freely with members of the orchestra or with the palace working staff. As a result, Haydn had very little to do other than to compose.


After his 30-year “residency” ended, Haydn moved to Paris, where he wrote six new symphonies (known as the “Paris” symphonies), and then to London, where he wrote 12 more (the “London” symphonies). In between, he wrote five symphonies known as, that’s right, the “Channel” symphonies. In all, Haydn wrote a staggering 104 symphonies, as well as 83 string quartets. After that, he turned to writing oratories, crowning his long career with “The Creation,” his finest work. In 1809, at age 78, he died.


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