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Five things you (probably) didn’t know about Haydn

Sat Feb 23 2019

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‘They face away from the audience and the instrument is covered in felt. They play in the most tender and devastati……


Joseph Haydn (above, as he might look if he were alive today…) came from humble beginnings. He was the son of a wheelwright (a person who builds or repairs wooden wheels in modern terms), and born to musically illiterate parents in Rohrau, Austria. Despite this, his parents were enthusiastic amateur folk musicians and noticing his talent, they sent him away to receive serious training at the tender age of six.

From this period, life was difficult for Haydn as he was underfed and dressed in filthy clothing. First learning to perform, he played the harpsichord, violin and sung. His motivation for performing well was to receive invitations to perform to aristocrats, in order to sample their refreshments.

Despite these unfortunate beginnings Haydn went on to achieve success working exclusively for Prince Esterházy. There he worked in isolation for 30 years, which he claimed forced him to be original and inventive.  Many call him father of the symphony and string quartet because of his contributions to both genres.

His pieces are characterised by being inventive and varied. Not wanting to be outdone Haydn strived to surprise an audience, often through practical jokes in the music in order to keep them on their toes. His humorous approach to music was not always to the amusement of aristocratic audiences, who thought classical music should always be serious and about great tragedy, drama and majesty.

It’s fitting we’re playing his music in Walthamstow and Peckham – Haydn visited London twice, and was treated as a huge celebrity while here.

1) He taught the illustrious Beethoven. Their relationship was particularly difficult, owing to Beethoven’s suspicion of Haydn’s talent.

2) Many techniques and ideas used by later more well-known composers can be found originally in his music.

3) A prolific composer, he wrote 104 symphonies, over 30 duos and around 90 string quartets.

4) His musical jokes extended to teaching musicians who were notoriously arrogant and vain a lesson. To one particular violinist, he gave him music that at first was simple to sight-read, but became horrifyingly difficult after the first page.

5)  He was a sharp negotiator, and often bargained with publishers to receive higher fees for his compositions.

Hear us perform two of Haydn’s late string quartets next week, in Peckham and Walthamstow.



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