Biography of Franz Joseph Haydn, Austrian Composer

Franz Joseph Haydn on a stamp
hudiemm / Getty Images

Franz Joseph Haydn (March 31, 1732–May 31, 1809) was an Austrian composer who wrote 104 symphonies during his career. He was good friends with Mozart; the two respected each other's music and occasionally invited each other to their performances. Haydn was known for his wide-ranging talents, and today he is best remembered for his symphonies and chamber music.

Fast Facts: Franz Joseph Haydn

  • Known For: Haydn was one of the leading composers of the Classical era; he wrote numerous symphonies and chamber works that are still performed today.
  • Born: March 31, 1732 in Rohrau, Austria
  • Parents: Mathias Haydn and Maria Koller
  • Died: May 31, 1809 in Vienna, Austria
  • Spouse: Maria Anna Keller (m. 1760–1800)
  • Children: Alois Anton Nikolaus Polzelli

Early Life

Franz Joseph Haydn was born on March 31, 1732, in Rohrau, a small village in Austria. His father Mathias Haydn was a master wheelwright who loved music and often played the harp while his wife sang melodies. Haydn's mother Anna Maria Koller had been a cook for Count Karl Anton Harrach before she married Mathias. Haydn’s brother Michael also composed music and eventually became relatively famous. His youngest brother Johann Evangelist sang tenor in the church choir of the Esterhazy Court.

As a child, Haydn had a spectacular voice and precise musicality. Johann Franc, impressed by Haydn’s voice, insisted that Haydn’s parents allow the youth to live with him and study music. Franc was a school principal and the choir director of a church in Hainburg. Haydn’s parents allowed him to go in hopes that he would amount to something special. Haydn primarily studied music, but he also learned Latin, writing, arithmetic, and religion. Haydn spent most of his childhood singing in church choirs.

Haydn trained his younger brother Michael when he joined the choir school three years later; it was customary for the older choirboys to instruct the younger ones. Although Haydn's voice was great, he lost it when he went through puberty. Michael, who also had a beautiful voice, received the attention Haydn was used to getting. Haydn was dismissed from the school when he turned 18.

Musical Career

After leaving school, Haydn earned a living as a freelance musician, music teacher, and composer. His first steady job came in 1757 when he was hired as music director for Count Morzin. Over time, his name and compositions became more recognizable. During his time with Count Morzin, Haydn wrote 15 symphonies, concertos, piano sonatas, and possibly his first two string quartets. He married Maria Anna Keller on November 26, 1760.

In 1761, Haydn began his lifelong relationship with the wealthiest family among the Hungarian nobility, the Esterhazy family. Haydn spent nearly 30 years of his life in the family's employment. He was hired as vice-Kapellmeister, earning 400 gulden a year, and as time went on his salary increased as well as his ranking within the court. His music became widely popular. Though Haydn lived with the Esterhazy family at their remote estate, he occasionally visited Vienna, where he met and became friends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The two greatly admired each other's work.

Haydn's primary patron was Prince Nikolaus, himself a musician and music appreciator who commissioned a variety of works from Haydn. In the 1760s, the prince began learning how to play the baryton, a large stringed instrument that was somewhat unusual at the time. Haydn composed numerous works for the prince to play on this instrument, including more than 100 trios for baryton, viola, and cello.

In 1779, Haydn signed a new contract with the Esterhazy family, allowing him, at last, to accept commissions from other patrons. This freedom led to a fruitful period for the composer. Within the next decade, Haydn wrote "The Seven Last Words of Christ," an orchestral work with nine movements, and his six Paris symphonies, which were commissioned by the music director of a French orchestra.


Beginning in 1791, Haydn spent four years in London composing music and experiencing life outside the royal court. His time in London was the high point of his career. He earned nearly 24,000 gulden in a single year (the sum of his combined salary of nearly 20 years as Kapellmeister for the Esterhazy family). In London, Haydn wrote some of his most famous works, including the "Military," "Drumroll," "London," and "Miracle" symphonies.

After returning to Vienna, Haydn spent some time tutoring a young Ludwig van Beethoven (who he had originally met on his trip to London). Haydn then returned to London for a second trip and debuted several new symphonies, which were warmly received by English audiences.

In 1795, Haydn returned to Vienna and resumed his work for the Esterhazy family, now under the patronage of Nicolaus II. During this time he wrote a number of masses, along with the epic oratorios "The Creation" (based on the Book of Genesis) and "The Seasons."


Haydn spent the last years of his life in Vienna composing only vocal pieces such as masses and oratorios. He passed away in the middle of the night on May 31, 1809, at the age of 77. Mozart’s Requiem was performed at his funeral.


Along with Mozart and Beethoven, Haydn is one of the most famous composers of the Classical period. He was wildly prolific, producing more than 100 symphonies, more than 60 string quartets, more than a dozen operas, and countless other works for chamber groups and symphonies alike. Much of Haydn's work is bright and cheerful, perhaps because it was written to be pleasing to the Esterhazy court; however, some works were written in a "Sturm und Drang" style that featured great drama and emotion. His later compositions were written in a popular style that incorporated elements of folk music.


  • Heartz, Daniel. "Mozart, Haydn and Early Beethoven, 1781-1802." W. W. Norton & Company, 2009.
  • Jones, David Wyn. "The Life of Haydn." Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Stapert, Calvin. "Playing before the Lord: the Life and Work of Joseph Haydn." William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.