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Franz Joseph Haydn the 'father' of the symphony and the string quartet
Commonly considered the 'father' of the symphony and the string quartet, Haydn was also an important opera composer, but this notable part of his activity is still less known today, in particular the corpus of the 13 Italian operas.

On March 31 289 years ago, in 1732, one of the greatest composers of the classical period was born, Franz Joseph Haydn.

Haydn was born in Rohrau in Austria, in a modest family in which, however, music was loved and practiced. The talent of little Franz Joseph was soon noticed and valued: in 1740 he joined the Choir of Child Singers of the Vienna Cathedral, where in addition to receiving singing lessons, he learned to play the violin and the harpsichord.

He remained in the choir until 1749, when he left it due to the mute of his voice. He faced some difficult years due to financial straits, but began to put his musical skills to good use, giving private lessons and playing at parties and serenades. He composed his first works, and expanded his musical knowledge.

Essential was the meeting with the famous composer Niccolò Porpora (Naples 1686 - 1768), one of the greatest opera and singing masters of the time, who was in Vienna in those years. From Porpora, who hired him as assistant and harpsichord accompanist for his singing lessons, he learned a lot, especially in the field of composition. In some autobiographical notes of 1776, the illustrious Maestro recalls this: "I did not compose correctly until I was lucky enough to learn the fundamental principles of composition from Mr. Nicola Porpora, who was then in Vienna".

Gradually Haydn made himself known in the circle of the Viennese aristocracy, and around 1757 he had his first assignment as choirmaster of Count Karl von Morzin.

Haydn's life experienced an important turning point with his appointment to the Court of the Esterházy, one of the richest and most powerful dynasties of the Habsburg Empire. In 1761 he assumed the post of Vice Master of the Chapel, taking over the main role in 1766, on the death of his predecessor Georg Werner.

Haydn was at the service of the princes Paolo II Antonio (1734-1762), and later of his brother Nicola I Giuseppe, called 'il Magnifico' (1762-1790), at their residence in Eisenstadt, following them in the various possessions, especially in the splendid castle of Eszterháza (in the city of Fertőd, now Hungary), where he carried out thirty years of activity.

As a choirmaster and court music director, Haydn was in charge of writing new compositions, playing chamber music for and with his patrons, conducting the court orchestra, and staging opera performances. The commitment and workload were considerable, but they were amply compensated by the prestige of the position he held, and by the importance and availability of means that Prince Nicholas, a cultured and refined patron, made available for musical activity.

The residence of Eszterháza, called the Hungarian Versailles for its magnificence, was equipped with a court theater of 400 seats, and the composer could count on one of the best singing companies in Europe and on an orchestra of excellent musicians. For the inauguration of the theater, completed in 1768, Haydn composed the opera 'Lo speziale' based on the adaptation of a libretto by Goldoni.

The musical activity that took place at the Esterhàzy theater for quality and magnificence could compete with the major European courts, including the imperial one in Vienna.

Haydn himself composed a corpus of 13 Italian operas, series, semi-series and buffe, and staged a large number of works by other composers. In the decade 1780 - 90 alone, 64 different operas were staged there under the direction of Haydn, for the incredible number of 1026 performances.

These are the Italian works written by Haydn:

  • Acide and Galatea 1763
  • The canterina 1766
  • The Apothecary 1768
  • The fisherwomen 1770
  • Disappointed Infidelity 1773
  • The sudden encounter 1775
  • The World of the Moon 1777
  • True Constance 1779
  • The uninhabited island 1779
  • Loyalty rewarded 1781
  • Orlando Paladin 1782
  • Armida 1784
  • The soul of the philosopher 1791
Partitura manoscritta di Haydn, conservata al British Museum
Haydn's handwritten score, preserved in the British Museum
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