Posted by: rbbadger | September 21, 2009

Haydn Piano Concerto

I suppose that in recent weeks, this blog has sort of become The Haydn Blog, or something like that.  Given that this is the 200th anniversary of his death, I suppose that celebrations are in order.  I do like the work of Franz Joseph Haydn very much.  From all accounts, he was a very likeable person.  As kapellmeister, or music director for the Esterházy Princes, he was loved by the musicians who worked under him.  He also had a very funny sense of humour, something which does manage to come through in his work.  One of the prime examples is his Symphony No. 94 “Surprise”.  In order to get back at those who tended to doze off during the slow movement, Haydn introduced some very loud noises in the midst of a generally slow and quiet movement. 

His musical development was very different from that of Mozart or Beethoven.  Both Mozart and Beethoven were born into musical families.  Mozart’s father, Leopold, was the kapellmeister for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg.  Beethoven’s father was a court singer for the Prince-Elector of Cologne, also an archbishop.  Haydn did not, as did Mozart and Beethoven, grow up in the service of the court.  He was not a child prodigy, but he did show signs of musical talent. 

Born into a family in rural Austria, he might have followed the trade of his father, namely that of a wheelwright.  While he family was not rich, neither were they exactly impoverished.  His father, Matthias, was sort of like the village mayor.  Knowing that their son was talented, his parents sent them to live with a relative, a schoolmaster who taught him the rudiments of music.  The choirmaster of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Georg von Reutter was touring the provinces looking for talented young choirboys.  Haydn auditioned for him and he was accepted.  Reutter didn’t give him much formal instruction, though.  He later took some lessons from the Italian composer Nicola Porpora, but much of his musical technique was acquired through his own diligent study and hard work.  When his voice broke, he was no longer of much use to the cathedral, so he had to make it as a freelancer.  He eventually entered the service of Count Morzin.  Later, he entered the service of the Esterházy princely family.  He remained in their employ for the rest of his life.  After the death of Prince Nicolaus I, he was basically dismissed from his post and put on a pension.  This gave him the freedom to travel.  He twice journeyed to England where he took the country by storm.  Eventually, a later Esterhazy prince asked him to come back and perform some lighter musical duties for the family.  However, he never returned to full employment and spent a great deal of time in Vienna where his house is now a city museum.

Much like Bach, he left an absolutely vast number of works.  He composed sixteen operas, fourteen settings of the Mass, one hundred seven (!) symphonies, sixty-nine string quartets, one hundred twenty-eight trios for an obscure instrument known as the baryton (it was Prince Paul’s favourite instrument), and much, much more.  The Dutch musicologist Anthony van Hoboken eventually arranged all of Haydn’s work into a catalogue.  This is why when you see a piece of Haydn’s performed, the programme often has an abbreviation after the name of the piece, e.g. Trumpet Concerto, Hob. VIIe:1.  The Hoboken catalogue has thirty different categories of Haydn’s music and lists over 750 works.   

Haydn was not a virtuoso in the sense that Mozart and Beethoven were.  He did not give concerts as a child.  While he certainly could play a number of different musical instruments, he mostly concerned himself with composing and conducting.  Thus, Haydn’s concertos are not nearly as flashy as those of Mozart and Beethoven tend to be.  Some of them are more well known than others.  Here is his Piano Concerto No. 11, Hob. XVIII:11 played by the Austrian pianist Paul Badura-Skoda with the Dutch conductor Frans Brüggen conducting the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, an orchestra in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.

Haydn’s music always has a cheerful quality about it.  When he was reproached for the character of some his Mass settings, Haydn remarked that thinking of God always made him cheerful.



  1. That was a happy piece! And the pianist, even though his finders were flying he was cheerful playing it! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thank you for posting this! And you have a so sweet mother who leave a comment on son’s blog. My parents rarely use internet to communicate with me.

    • Thank you for your kind words! You probably don’t live half way around the world from your son like I do from mine. And probably you call your mother on the telephone? Robert is so far away and I miss him!

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