Full Name: Franz Joseph Haydn
Years active: 1732-1809
Number of compositions: Frickin’ tonnes.
Number of symphonies: 104 (!)
Number of concertos: 35
Number of string quartets: 68
Style: Humorous, playful and precise, Haydn wins the award for “composer most likely to be mistaken for Mozart”. In fact, Mozart and Haydn basically make up the entire “Classical” era.
Isn’t all of this “Classical”? Only with a small “c”. Classical with a big “C” refers to the era of music between 1750-1800ish. Typical Classical music is light and elegant. A lot of it was commissioned for rich people’s parties, or coronations, or extravaganzas, so they didn’t want anything that would distract people from the main event, i.e., them. That means a lot of it sounds very samey, and stereotypically classical, and it’s also one of the reasons why both Haydn and Mozart wrote so many pieces.
So it’s all boring? Certainly not! Haydn and Mozart are both famous because they actually did a lot to push the genre forward, and were very good at it. In fact Haydn is actually known as both the “father of the symphony” AND “father of the string quartet”. That’s a lot of fathering. Despite this, there is still much less variation in his music when compared to the later composers.
How do I tell Mozart and Haydn apart? The best piece of advice I’ve heard is this: can you imagine someone singing it in an opera? If so, it’s probably Mozart, if not it’s Haydn. Haydn is more down to earth, and tends to have a bit more humor to his music. Although that can be hard to really appreciate without being pretty familiar with the music in the first place, which kind of defeats the purpose.
Anything else? Sure, here’s a fun fact: Haydn’s head was stolen. After he died of course. And he didn’t get it back for 150 years. Now he has two. No really.
Symphony Hob. 104 “London”, 4th movement
Here’s one of Haydn’s rollicking finales. Almost all of Haydn’s music is cheerful; he was an oddly well-adjusted composer. It’s the last of his last group of symphonies, known as the “London” symphonies which he composed while visiting — wait for it — London.
Symphony Hob. 94 “Surprise”, 2nd movement
This one has an apt name. Turn up the volume if you want to experience the full force of it. This piece demonstrates one of the key differences between Mozart and Haydn: while they are both witty, Haydn is more in your face, down-to-earth knee-slappingly funny. It must be his hearty, country upbringing.