In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Joseph Haydn

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Catalogs and Indexes
  • Modern Editions
  • Biographies
  • Life and Works
  • Correspondence
  • Sources and Authenticity
  • Collections of Essays
  • Symphonies
  • Concertos
  • String Quartets
  • Baryton Music
  • Operas
  • Songs
  • Style
  • Reception
  • Performance Practice

Music Joseph Haydn
Melanie Lowe
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0151


Joseph Haydn (b. 1732–d. 1809) was an Austrian composer who during his lifetime became the most famous and celebrated composer in Europe. During his childhood and adolescence, Haydn was a choirboy at St. Stephen’s in Vienna. Along with singing, he studied harpsichord and violin at the choir school. Haydn spent the 1750s in Vienna, piecing together a living as a freelance musician, teacher, composer, and later as the director of music for Count Morzin. In 1761 he began employment as Vice-Kapellmeister for the noble Esterházy family at Hungary’s most prominent princely court. He was promoted to Kapellmeister in 1766 and retained this position for the rest of his life. In 1790, when the musical activities of the court were dramatically curtailed, Haydn was free to explore other professional opportunities. Two extended visits to London introduced the composer to the rich but highly competitive musical life of that city. His successes there cemented his reputation as the greatest living composer, and he returned to Vienna in 1795 a wealthy man. His musical career was centered in Vienna for the remainder of his life. Haydn composed music in all major genres of sacred and secular music, although historically he is most widely regarded for his symphonies and string quartets. He was an active symphonist for most of his career, writing more than one hundred symphonies over five decades, and his string quartet composition, while somewhat more sporadic, likewise spanned nearly his entire career. In Haydn’s own lifetime, his compositions in these two genres became models for emulation. Later in life Haydn would lament that he did not write more vocal music, which at the time was more highly regarded than instrumental music, but vocal music in fact constitutes half of his compositional output. The oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, both composed in the last decade of Haydn’s active compositional life, are his most widely known and admired vocal compositions today, just as they were in his lifetime. But Haydn composed much other sacred vocal music, including fourteen masses. He also composed some twenty Italian operas and several Singspiels, largely during a decade-long burst of activity composing dramatic works for Eszterháza’s two theaters. Haydn’s musical style is highly original and unique, as was recognized at the time. Even Haydn himself, reflecting on his time in Eszterháza, famously commented to his biographer Griesinger on this aspect of his style: because he “was cut off from the world . . .[he] was forced to become original.” Today, Haydn is regarded as a composer who experimented constantly throughout his career, and his music is celebrated for its wit and humor alongside a true earnestness and depth of feeling. Although historically Haydn has been held up as the first of the three great practitioners of the “classical style,” recent reevaluations challenge such a linear view, a view that risks marginalizing Haydn’s early music, reducing Haydn to merely the composer who paved the way for Mozart and Beethoven, and implying “classical style” itself as the culmination of Haydn’s compositional output.

General Overviews

Two nearly exhaustive encyclopedias of modern Haydn scholarship, Jones 2002 and Raab, et al. 2010, are excellent and efficient starting points for those pursuing Haydn studies. The one extensive annotated bibliography, Grave and Grave 1990, though now dated, is nonetheless indispensable for Haydn research.

  • Grave, Floyd K., and Margaret G. Grave. Franz Joseph Haydn: A Guide to Research. New York: Garland, 1990.

    Volume 31 of the Garland Composer Resource Manuals. The most complete annotated bibliography of Haydn research to date. Contains 1,158 entries and lists the published volumes of the Joseph Haydn Werke (through 1990), the Hoboken Numbers, and Haydn’s compositions.

  • Jones, David Wyn, ed. Haydn. Oxford Composer Companions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

    A single-volume encyclopedia of all things Haydn, presented in an A–Z format. Also includes the Haydn family tree; an Esterházy family tree; a map of the principal cities, towns, and villages in which Haydn worked or lived; a list of Haydn’s compositions; and a list of text incipits of Haydn’s vocal works.

  • Raab, Armin, Christine Siegert, and Wolfram Steinbeck, eds. Das Haydn Lexikon. Regensburg, Germany: Laaber-Verlag, 2010.

    The first German-language compendium of Haydn research. Nearly 1,000 pages, it contains over 500 articles written by leading scholars from around the world on Haydn’s life, music, historical contexts, and reception history. Includes a detailed chronicle of Haydn’s life and an up-to-date list of works.

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