Have you ever heard the “Surprise” Symphony? If you have, you’ve heard the work of a classical-era composer named Joseph Haydn. Haydn is best known for his influential chamber music and orchestral compositions. Read on to discover five interesting facts about Joseph Haydn.

#1 – Haydn was a friend of Mozart

Haydn and Mozart were good friends, despite the fact that Haydn was 24 years older. They thought highly of each other, and it’s likely that they influenced each other’s music. Mozart once wrote six string quartets that he dedicated to Haydn–an unusual move, since works in that day were usually dedicated to aristocrats. When Haydn heard them performed, he told Mozart’s father:

“Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name; he has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition.”

Haydn was greatly saddened when his young friend died at age 35 in 1791. He wrote to Mozart’s widow, offering to teach her son music when he was old enough. She accepted, and he followed through with his offer. When Haydn died in 1809, Mozart’s “Requiem” was performed at his memorial service.

#2 – Haydn was one of Beethoven’s teachers

When Ludwig van Beethoven was in his twenties, he became one of Haydn’s students. There was some tension in their relationship as teacher and pupil, largely due to Beethoven’s stubbornness and tendency to be suspicious of everything. However, in Beethoven’s later years, his respect for Haydn grew and he spoke highly of his former teacher.

#3 – Haydn was a father… of musical forms

Haydn fell in love with a girl whose parents insisted she become a nun, so he married her younger sister instead. It was a loveless marriage, and they had no children. Haydn is still considered a father, though, as he is often called the “father” of the string quartet and the symphony forms. His inspired symphonies resulted in a huge rise in popularity for the form, and he contributed greatly to the development of the modern string quartet. A complete recording of all Haydn’s string quartets adds up to 24 hours of music!

#4 – Haydn had a good sense of humor

Haydn’s sense of humor is evidenced in the musical “jokes” he worked into his compositions. The unexpected loud chord in the second movement of his “Surprise” symphony is the most famous of his musical pranks. In other pieces, numerous false endings and rhythmic surprises make teasing appearances. In addition, many of Haydn’s symphonies have whimsical nicknames such as “Farewell”, “Miracle”, “Clock”, “Drumroll”, “Bear” and “Hen”.

#5 – Even when ill, Haydn couldn’t stop thinking about music

Near the end of 1803, at age 71, Haydn’s health had deteriorated significantly. He suffered from painful, swollen legs, weakness, dizziness and the inability to concentrate. His condition rendered him unable to compose, a terrible fate for Haydn. In a conversation with his biographer, he said:

“I must have something to do–usually musical ideas are pursuing me, to the point of torture, I cannot escape them, they stand like walls before me. If it’s an allegro that pursues me, my pulse keeps beating faster, I can get no sleep. If it’s an adagio, then I notice my pulse beating slowly. My imagination plays on me as if I were a clavier. I am really just a living clavier.”

Haydn’s “Surprise” Symphony

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19 replies
  1. jodi
    jodi says:

    … and don’t forget the frog! we play haydn a lot in my chamber groups so we’ve played a lot of these that show haydn’s sense of humor. the frog is one of our favorites! very interesting stuff about haydn!

  2. Mona74
    Mona74 says:

    Interesting facts! I had heard his surprise symphony before several times in the past, but never knew the name until I got this great CD that puts words to some of the most popular classical music. It was given to me for my kids but I listen to it more than them 🙂 CD is called Beethoven’s Wig…having a hard time posting the link, but you can search it easy on YouTube

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