Monday, June 1, 2009

Haydn's Later Years

Sunday, May 31, 2009, was the 200th anniversary of the death of Franz Joseph Haydn. The Austrian composer is frequently called the "father of the symphony," but he wrote much more than just those 100 or so symphonies.

Joseph Haydn lived to a ripe old age of 77. The last 15 years of his life were spent back at the Esterhazy court. From 1794 on, there was a new prince, Nikolaus, who wanted Haydn to focus on church music. Six of Haydn's masses come from this period. His Mass in the Time of War referred to Napoleon's march on Vienna. The Nelson Mass celebrated Lord Nelson's defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile. The Theresa Mass was written in honor of the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. Haydn also composed his oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons in these years. In 1796, Haydn composed the Trumpet Concerto in E-flat Major, now a standard part of the trumpet repertoire. And then there was the hymn tune written to be the Austrian national anthem, which he then used in the Emperor Quartet.

Ill health forced Haydn to resign his court post in 1802. Haydn's health continued to deteriorate over the following years, but he is reputed to have joked about it. His last public appearance was at a concert in his honor in 1808, at which his friend Antonio Salieri conducted Haydn's The Creation. Haydn died May 31, 1809 in Vienna and buried there, later to be reinterred in 1820 at Eisenstadt somehow without his skull. The skull and body were finally reunited at Eisenstadt in 1954.

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