Joseph Haydn: 12 Interesting Facts About The Composer

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

What do you get when you cross a prankster with a prolific composer? You get Joseph Haydn, and there are plenty of interesting facts about Haydn and his works.

Keep reading to learn some fun facts about one of the greatest Austrian composers to share with others or for your own enjoyment.

1. He Sang as a Boy Soprano

Haydn had such a good singing voice that he started singing in a church choir at age five.

The Choir School of St. Stephen’s in Vienna asked Haydn to join the choir.

Because women and girls weren’t as active in music during the 18th century, young boys would sing the soprano parts.

However, Haydn wasn’t allowed to continue after his voice dropped when he was 16.

2. His Father Changed His Destiny

The St. Stephen’s Cathedral’s choirmaster wanted Haydn to go through castration so that Haydn could continue to sing.

However, Haydn’s father didn’t allow the procedure to happen, allowing the boy to continue with puberty.

While this meant that Haydn could no longer sing as a soprano, it did allow him to pursue other musical endeavors.

He learned to play various instruments, teach, and compose, which helped him throughout his career.

3. He Wrote More Than 100 Symphonies

Some composers have written many works, but few have written as much music as Haydn as, during his lifetime, he wrote 106 symphonies.

Because of that, he’s known as the father of the symphony, even though he didn’t develop the form.

He didn’t just write symphonies however, he also worked to develop the string quartet of which he wrote over 90, as well as 620 piano sonatas and 32 piano trios.

His catalog of works includes pieces for other instruments and groups as well.

4. He Was Religious

Haydn dedicated many of his works to God, so people believe the composer was religious.

He grew up singing in a church choir, and his mother wanted him to become a Roman Catholic priest.

While he never became a priest, he composed a lot of sacred music with one of his most famous works, The Creation, definitely inspired by his faith.

When he was composing it, Haydn would pray if he ever lost the energy necessary to keep working on the piece.

5. He Was Mozart’s Mentor

After Haydn met fellow Austrian composer Mozart, he provided the younger composer with some advice.

Mozart was already a successful composer, but Haydn was able to guide Mozart and during their relationship, Mozart called his mentor Papa Haydn

In addition to being Mozart’s mentor, Haydn would play in string quartets with his mentee.

Mozart wrote a series of string quartets to dedicate to Haydn.

6. He Taught Beethoven

While his relationship with Beethoven wasn’t as deep as with Mozart, Haydn did teach Beethoven.

Haydn taught Beethoven after Mozart passed away and was unable to teach the younger composer.

The lessons didn’t last long because Haydn was busy composing and traveling around Europe so Beethoven ended up studying with other teachers, and the rest is history.

However, Beethoven apparently said that he “learned nothing from Haydn.”

7. He Worked for a Wealthy Family

For much of his career, Haydn worked as the Vice-Kapellmeister (assistant music director) for the Esterhazy family.

While he wasn’t the main music director, he did handle everything outside of church music, which the other director managed.

The job had many responsibilities, including composing, conducting, performing, and managing opera productions.

Over the years, the two princes that ran the Esterhazy family gave Haydn plenty of resources to compose music and develop his style.

8. He Moved to England

After he finished working for the Esterhazy family, Haydn moved to England where he had a unique connection to London, despite not knowing English before moving there.

While in London, he studied composition composed even more music writing where he wrote the London Symphonies during his time in the city.

Other works, such as the London Trios, for two flutes and cello, had the same inspiration.

However, he eventually returned to Vienna for his final years.

9. He Used Humor and Messages in His Works

When composing, Haydn would often include humor or other special messages in the music with one example of this in his string quartet in E flat major.

He would use false endings to make the audience believe the piece was done when there was still music left.

As far as more serious messaging, Haydn composed his Farewell Symphony.

During the piece, players would blow out a candle before leaving the stage one at a time.

At this time, he worked for the Esterhazys, and the prince then decided to give the musicians a break.

10. He Was Famous When Alive

During his lifetime, Haydn was the most famous composer alive, however, he thought that Mozart was a better composer between the two of them.

Still, many people across Europe knew Haydn’s music and enjoyed his works and even today, centuries later, many people love Haydn’s music.

Because he was prolific, there are works for everyone to enjoy.

Even if you don’t like one piece, you can probably find another of Haydn’s works that you do like.

11. He Was Safe When Napoleon Invaded

At the end of Haydn’s life, Napoleon invaded Austria.

Fortunately, Haydn didn’t have to worry about his safety because many people knew and loved the composer, Napoleon sent two of his employees to guard Haydn.

By that time, Haydn was older and couldn’t move as easily so the guards were able to protect Haydn during the invasion so that he didn’t have to move quickly to safety.

12. His Brother Was Also a Composer

Haydn’s Brother –Michael Haydn

Haydn wasn’t the only member of his family to write music with his younger brother, Michael Haydn also a composer.

The two brothers were at St. Stephen’s Cathedral school together.

When the two Haydns were at the cathedral, many thought that Michael would be more successful.

Of the two of them, Joseph Haydn enjoyed playing jokes even more than his brother, so people didn’t believe he would have a good career in music.

Where’s Haydn Hiding?

Joseph Haydn was a famous, prolific composer, and he’s still well known today.

Whether you’ve played his works or not, it’s fun to look at some facts about Haydn and his life.

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.