Born March 31, 1732 in Rohrau, Austria
Died May 31, 1809 in Vienna, Austria
“Surprise” Symphony, numerous symphonic, chamber, choral, operatic, and keyboard music
Haydn’s father was a wagon builder and repairer who loved music and played the harp for his friends and neighbors. Perhaps this is why three of his sons became musicians. The most famous, whose music is still played today, is Franz Joseph Haydn. As a young boy, Haydn was sent to live with his uncle, who was a schoolmaster in Hainburg. There he studied reading, writing, arithmetic, and singing. He learned to play the harpsichord, organ, violin, trumpet, and drums.
While on a talent-spotting tour, the Music Director of the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Vienna discovered Haydn. He had been in school in Hainburg for about a year. At age eight, Haydn went to Vienna and joined the choir there.
Throughout his life, Haydn had a great sense of humor. Although this helped him in many ways, it got him into serious trouble with the choir director in Vienna when he was a teenager. He cut off one of the pigtails of the boy in front of him (choir boys at that time wore their hair in pigtails), and his punishment was to be expelled from the choir and the school. For several years he struggled to find his way, and was finally able to make a living as a court musician and composer. His sense of humor is often shown in the music he wrote. For example, one of his most famous pieces, the Surprise Symphony, has very soft passages followed by sudden, very loud chords to wake up members of the audience who were sleeping.