Haydn: An Appreciation

A look at Franz Joseph Haydn, the Classical grand vizier who produced a staggering uninterrupted flow of masterworks.

Franz Joseph Haydn

I’ve heard Haydn composed hundreds of pieces, but are they any good?

That’s the incredible thing about Haydn. He turned around an unbelievable 106 symphonies, 83 string quartets, 45 piano trios, 62 piano sonatas, 14 masses, 26 operas, 6 oratorios, 29 concertos, 32 divertimentos, 21 string trios, 126 baryton trios, 400 folksong arrangements, and countless other scores. However, there’s not one duff work among them, and his masterpiece-rate is astonishingly high.

How on earth did he do it?

Haydn prayed every morning for guidance from God and then set furiously to work. “If an idea strikes me as satisfactory to the ear and heart,” he explained, “I would far rather overlook a grammatical error than sacrifice it to mere pedantic trifling.”

Haydn has a habit of doing the unexpected – right?

Absolutely right. If Mozart seamlessly covers over the cracks, for Haydn the cracks often held a special fascination: “I was cut off from the world. There was no one near to torment me or make me doubt myself, and so I had to become original”.

And he was a bit of a ladies’ man?

Well, yes. His marriage to an unsophisticated Viennese wigmaker’s daughter proved something of a disaster, so, as the composer put it himself: “I was therefore more inclined towards the charms of other women.”

What exactly was his London connection?

Haydn accepted an invitation from the great impresario, Johann Peter Salomon, to visit England twice in the 1790s. Such was his impact that the King invited him to stay in London for good.

So does Haydn really stand comparison with the likes of Beethoven and Mozart?

The great painter, Jean Ingres, was in no doubt about the matter: “Whoever studies music, let his daily bread be Haydn. Beethoven, indeed, is admirable, he is incomparable, but he has not the same usefulness as Haydn. He is not a necessity.”