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5.3: Music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

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    Born in 1732, Joseph Haydn grew up in a small village that was located about a six-hour coach ride east of Vienna (today the two are about an hour apart by car). His family loved to sing together, and perceiving that their son had musical talent, apprenticed six-year-old Joseph Haydn to a relative who was a schoolmaster and choirmaster. As an apprentice, Haydn learned harpsichord and violin and sang in the church. So distinct was Haydn’s voice that he was recommended to Vienna’s St.Stephen’s Cathedral’s music director.

    Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 12.16.18 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Joseph Haydn,1791 by Thomas Hardy. Source: Wikimedia

    In 1740 Haydn became of student of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. He sang with the St. Stephen’s Cathedral boys’ choir for almost ten years, until his voice broke (changed). After searching, he found a job as valet to the Italian opera composer Nicola Porpora and most likely started studying music theory and music composition in a systematic way at that time. He composed a comic musical and eventually became a chapel master for a Czech nobleman. When this noble family fell into hard times, they released Haydn. In 1761, he be- came a Vice-Chapel Master for an even wealthier nobleman, the Hungarian Prince Esterházy. Haydn spent almost thirty years working for their family. He was considered a skilled servant, who soon be

    came their head Chapel Master and was highly prized, especially by the second and most musical of the Esterházy princes for whom Haydn worked.

    The Esterházys kept Haydn very busy: he wrote music, which he played both for and with his patrons, ran the orchestra, and staged operas. In 1779, Haydn’s contract was renegotiated, allowing him to write and sell music outside of the Esterházy family. Within a decade, he was the most famous composer in Europe. In 1790, the musical Prince Nikolaus Esterházy died and his son Anton downsized the family’s musical activities. This shift allowed Haydn to accept an offer to give a concert in London, England, where his music was very popular. Haydn left Vienna for London in December. For the concerts there, he composed an opera, symphonies, and chamber music, all of which were extremely popular. Haydn revisited London twice in the following years, 1791 to 1795, earning—after expenses—as much as he had in twenty years of employment with the Esterházys. Nonetheless, a new Esterházy prince decided to reestablish the family’s musical foothold, so Haydn returned to their service in 1796. In the last years of his life, he wrote two important oratorios (he had been much impressed by performances of Handel’s oratorios while in London) as well as more chamber music.

    5.5.1 Overview of Haydn’s Music

    Like his younger contemporaries Mozart and Beethoven, Joseph Haydn com- posed in all the genres of his day. From a historical perspective, his contributions to the string quartet and the symphony are particularly significant: in fact, he is often called the Father of the Symphony. His music is also known for its motivic construction, use of folk tunes, and musical wit. Central to Haydn’s compositional process was his ability to take small numbers of short musical motives and vary them in enough ways so as to provide interesting music for movements that were several minutes long. Folk-like as well as popular tunes of the day can be heard in many of his compositions for piano, string quartet, and orchestra. Contemporary audiences and critics seemed to appreciate this mixing of musical complexity and the familiar. Ernst Ludwig Gerber (1790-92), an important eighteenth-century musical connoisseur, wrote that Haydn “possessed the great art of appearing familiar in his themes” (Historisch-biographisches Lexikon der Tonkünstler of 1790-1792). Additionally, many of his contemporaries remarked on Haydn’s musical wit, or humor. Several of his music compositions play on the listeners’ expectations, especially through the use of surprise rests, held out notes, and sudden dynamic changes.

    Focus Composition:

    Haydn, String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4 (1772)

    The string quartet was one of the important performing forces and genres of the Classical period, and Haydn was one of its most important composers. Over the course of his life, Haydn wrote sixty-eight quartets, many of which were played both by Haydn’s aristocratic patrons and published and available for the amateur musician to purchase and play. In fact, many late eighteenth century writers (including the famous German poet Goethe) referred to the string quartet as “a conversation between four intelligent people,” in this case, the four people being the first and second violinist, violist, and cellist.

    The string quartet by Haydn which we will study is one of six quartets that he wrote in 1772 and published as opus twenty quartets in 1774 (roughly speaking, the “twenty” meant that this was Haydn’s twentieth publication to date). In many ways, this follows the norms of other string quartets of the day. It is in four movements, with a fast first movement in sonata form, a slow second movement that uses a theme and variations form, a moderate-tempo third movement that is like a minuet, and a fourth fast movement, here in sonata form. As we will see, the third movement is subtitled “alla Zingarese,” or “in the style of the Hungarians” (a good example of Haydn being “folky”). The entire quartet comprises a little over twenty minutes of music.

    First, we will listen to the first movement, which is marked “allegro di molto,” or very fast, and is in D major, as expected given the string quartet’s title. It uses sonata form, and as stated earlier, in the exposition, the home key and musical themes of the movement are introduced, or “exposed.” In the development, those themes are broken apart and combined in new and different ways, or “developed.” In the recapitulation, the home key and original musical themes return; in other words, they are “recapitulated” or “recapped.”

    The exposition, development, and recapitulation are further broken into sub- sections to correspond to modulations in keys and the presentation of new and different themes. For the time being, simply listen for the main sections of sonata form in the first movement of Haydn’s string quartet. You might also listen for Haydn’s motivic style. In the first musical theme, you’ll hear three motives. The first motive, for example, repeats the same pitch three times. The second motive consists of an arched musical phrase that ascends and descends and outlines the pitches of an important chord of the movement. The final motive that Haydn packs into his opening musical theme is a musical turn, or a series of notes that move by rapids. Each of these motives is heard repeatedly through the rest of the movement.

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    Performed by the New Oxford String Quartet, violinists Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, violist Eric Nowlin and cellist Brian Manker

    Composer: Haydn
    Composition: String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, no. 4 (I: Allegro di molto)
    Date: 1772
    Genre: string quartet

    Form: I: Allegro di molto is in sonata form

    Performing Forces: string quartet, i.e., two violins, one viola, one cello

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • It uses sonata form: exposition, development, and recapitulation
    • It is in D major
    • Haydn’s style here is very motivic

    Other things to listen for:

    • The interplay of the two violins, viola, and cello, in ways that might remind you of a “conversation between four intelligent people.”
    • The subsections of the sonata form
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form


    First theme in D major consists
    of three motives, including a first repeated note motive; first heard in the first violin and then passed to the other instruments, too.

    EXPOSITION: First theme


    Uses fast triplets (three notes per beat) in sequences to modulate to the key of A major



    New combinations of motives in themes in A major: starts with three-note motive, then a rapidly rising scale in the first violin, then more triplets, a more lyrical leap- ing motive, and ending with more triplets.

    Second theme and closing theme

    2:22 See above EXPOSITION repeats; see above
    4:44 Sequences the repeated note motive DEVELOPMENT


    Sounds like the first theme in the home key, but then shifts to an- other key. Repeated note and fast triplet motives follow in sequences, modulating to different keys (major and minor).



    A pause and the first motive, but not in the home key of D major; triplets, the more lyrical leaping motive and then a pause and the first motive, but still not in the home key.

    7:04 After a pause, the first theme in D RECAPITULATION: First theme major


    Uses fast triplets like the exposition’s transition section, followed by more lyrical motives, but it does not modulate away from D major.

    Transition-like section


    Return of the three-note motive followed by a rapidly rising scale in the first violin, then more triplets, a more lyrical leaping motive, and ending with more triplets but still in D major (was in A major in the exposition).

    Second theme and closing theme

    The third movement of Haydn’s String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, no. 4 uses a moderate tempo (it is marked “allegretto,” in this case, a slow allegro) and the form of a minuet. Keeping with the popular culture of the day, a great number of Haydn’s compositions included minuet movements.

    Here, however, we see Haydn playing on our expectations for the minuet and writing a movement that is alla zingarese. The minuet was not a Hungarian dance, so the listener’s experience and expectations are altered when the third movement sounds more like a lively Hungarian folk dance than the stately western-European minuet. (For comparison’s sake, you can listen to the second movement of Haydn’s String Quartet in E flat, Op. 20, no. 1, which is a much more traditional-sounding minuet.) Haydn retains the form of the stylized minuet, which consisted of a minuet and a trio. The trio consists of musical phrases that contrast with what was heard in the minuet: the trio got its name from an earlier practice of assigning this music to a group of three wind players. Here the entire string quartet plays throughout. After the trio, the group returns to the minuet, resulting in a minuet (A)—trio (B)— minuet (A). As was the custom, Haydn did not write out the minuet music at its return—remember paper was much more expensive 200 years ago than it is today. Instead, Haydn wrote two Italian words: “da capo” . As these words were used by all composers of the day, the players knew immediately to flip to the beginning of the movement and repeat the minuet, generally without repeats.

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    Performed by the New Oxford String Quartet, violinists Jonathan Crow and Andrew Wan, violist Eric Nowlin and cellist Brian Manker

    Composer: Haydn
    Composition: String Quartet in D major, op. 20, no. 4 (III. Allegretto alla zingarese)
    Date: 1772
    Genre: string quartet
    Form: III. Allegretto alla zingarese uses the form of a minuet and trio, that is, Minuet (A) Trio (B) Minuet (A).
    Performing Forces: string quartet comprised of 2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • It is in triple time and a moderate tempo, like most minuets
    • The music for the repeat of the minuet is not written out; instead, Haydn writes “da capo” at the end of the Trio
    • Instead of sounding like a stately minuet, it sounds more like a lively Hungarian dance

    Other things to listen for:

    • It hardly sounds like triple meter, because Haydn writes accents on beats two and three instead of mainly on beat one

    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form


    Lots of unexpected accents on beats two and three of the triple time meter; homophonic texture: the first violin gets the solo and the other voices accompany; in D major


    0:09 " a repeats
    0:17 Similar to a, but the melody is even more disjunct, with more leaps. B
    0:27 " b repeats


    Accents back on the first beat of each measure (that is, of each measure of the triple meter); homophonic texture: the cello gets the solo and the other voices accompany; still in D major

    TRIO: Cc


    Similar to c; note the drone pitches in the 2nd violin and viola accompaniment at the beginning of the phrase


    1:14 See above MINUTE: A
    1:20 See above B

    Focus Composition:

    Haydn, Symphony No. 94 in G major, “Surprise”

    Haydn is also often called the Father of the Symphony because he wrote over 100 symphonies, which, like his string quartets, span most of his compositional career. As already noted, the Classical orchestra featured primarily strings, with flutes and oboes (and, with Haydn’s last symphonies, clarinets) for woodwinds, trumpets and horns for brass, and timpani (and occasionally another drums or the cymbals or triangle) for percussion. The symphony gradually took on the four-movement form that was a norm for over a century, although as we will see, composers sometimes relished departing from the norm.

    Haydn wrote some of his most successful symphonies for his times in London. His Symphony No. 94 in G Major, which premiered in London in 1792, is a good ex- ample of Haydn’s thwarting musical expectations for witty ends. Like most symphonies of its day, the first movement is in sonata form. (Haydn does open the symphony with a brief, slow introduction before launching into the first movement proper.)

    Haydn’s sense of humor is most evident in the moderately slow andante second movement which starts like a typical theme and variations movement consisting of a musical theme that the composer then varies several times. Each variation retains enough of the original theme to be recognizable but adds other elements to provide interest. The themes used for theme and variations movements tended to be simple, tuneful melody lines. In this case, the theme consists of an eight-mea- sure musical phrase that is repeated. This movement, like many movements of Classical symphonies and string quartets, ends with a coda.

    Why did Haydn write such a loud chord at the end of the second statement of the a phrase of the theme? Commentators have long speculated that Haydn may have noticed that audience members tended to drift off to sleep in slow and often quietly lyrical middle movements of symphonies and decided to give them an abrupt wakeup. Haydn himself said nothing of the sort, although his letters, as well as his music, do suggest that he was attentive to his audience’s opinions and attempted at every juncture to give them music that was new and interesting: for Haydn, that clearly meant playing upon his listener’s expectations in ways that might even be considered humorous.

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    Performed by The Orchestra of the 18th Century, conducted by Frans Brüggen.

    Composer: Haydn

    Composition: Symphony No. 94 in G major, “Surprise” (II. Andante)

    Date: 1791

    Genre: symphony

    Form: II. Andante is in theme and variations form

    Performing Forces: Classical orchestra here with 1st violin section, 2nd violin section, viola section, cellos/bass section, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 bassoons, and timpani

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • It is in theme and variations form
    • The very loud chord that ends the first phrase of the theme provides the “surprise”

    Other things to listen for:

    • The different ways that Haydn varies the theme: texture, register, instrumentation, key

    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form


    Theme: aa

    Eight-measure theme with a question and answer structure. The “question” ascends and descends and then the “answer” ascends and descends, and ends with a very loud chord (the answer). In C major and most- ly consonant. In homophonic texture, with melody in the violins and accompaniment by the other strings; soft dynamics and then very soft staccato notes until ending with a very loud chord played by the full orchestra, the “surprise.”



    Contrasting more legato eight-measure phrase ends like the staccato motives of the a phrase without the loud chord;

    9:39 b

    Repetition of b


    Variation 1: aa

    Theme in the second violins and violas under a higher-pitched 1st violin counter- melody. Still in C major and mostly consonant

    Ascending part of the theme is forte and the descending part of the phrase is piano; the first-violin countermelody is an interesting line but the overall texture is still homophonic

    10:30 bb Similar in texture and harmonies; piano dynamic throughout


    Variation 2: aa

    The first four measures are in unison monophonic texture and very loud and the second four measures (the answer) are in homophonic texture and very soft; In C minor


    Develops motives from a and b phrases

    In C minor with more dissonance; very loud in dynamics; The motives are passed from instrument to instrument in polyphonic imitation.


    Variation 3: aa

    Back in C major.
    The oboes and flutes get the a phrase with fast repeated notes in a higher register; the sec- ond time, the violins play the
    a phrase at original pitch; uses homophonic texture through- out.



    The flutes and oboes play counter-melodies while the strings play the theme.


    Variation 4: ab

    The winds get the first a phrase and then it returns to the first violin; very loud for the first statement of a and very soft for the second statement of a; homophonic texture throughout.

    14:01 bb + extension Shifting dynamics
    14:50 Coda  

    The third movement of Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony is a rather traditional minuet and trio movement. The fourth movement is equally traditional; it uses a light-hearted form called the rondo. As state above, in a rondo, a musical refrain, labeled as “A,” alternates with other sections, alternately called B, C, D, etc. See if you can hear the recurrence of the refrain as you listen to this joyful conclusion to the symphony.

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    Performed by The Orchestra of the 18th Century, conducted by Frans Brüggen.

    Composer: Haydn
    Composition: Symphony No. 94 in G major, “Surprise” (IV. Finale: Allegro Molto)
    Date: 1791
    Genre: symphony

    Form: IV. Finale: Allegro molto is in a (sonata) rondo form

    Performing Forces: Classical orchestra here with 1st violin section, 2nd violin section, viola section, cellos/bass section, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 bassoons, and timpani

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • This movement uses a rondo form
    • It is at a very fast tempo
    • It uses a full orchestra

    Other things to listen for:

    • The alternation of the different sections of the rondo form
    • The changes in key and texture
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form


    Fast and tuneful theme in duple time in homophonic texture; in
    G major, with more dissonances as the music modulates to...



    D major for a different tuneful theme B that opens descending motion;


    Returns to G major and the first theme; texture becomes more polyphonic as it...

    20:49 modulates through several keys. C
    21:17 Return to the first theme in G major A A


    Opening motive of the first theme in minor and then sequences
    on other motives that modulate through minor keys.



    Back in G major with the first theme and other music of A that
    is extended into a coda that brings back b momentarily and juxtaposes forte and piano dynamics before its rousing close.

    A and coda

    Haydn’s symphonies greatly influenced the musical style of both Mozart and Beethoven; indeed, these two composers learned how to develop motives from Haydn’s earlier symphonies. Works such as the Surprise Symphony were especial- ly shaping for the young Beethoven, who, as we will later discuss, was taking music composition lessons from Haydn about the same time that Haydn was composing the Symphony No. 94 before his trip to London.

    This page titled 5.3: Music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Clark, Heflin, Kluball, & Kramer (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.