Chapter 16

Chapter 16: The Late Eighteenth Century: Haydn and Mozart

Composer Biographies

(Franz) Joseph Haydn

Born: March 31, 1732, Rohrao, Austria

Died: May 31, 1809, Vienna, Austria

In his own words . . .

"My Prince was always satisfied with my works. I not only had the encouragement of constant approval but as conductor of an orchestra I could make experiments, observe what produced an effect and what weakened it, and . . . improve, alter, make additions, or omissions, and be as bold as I pleased."

Austrian composer. Part of the so-called Viennese School and an important influence on both Mozart and Beethoven.

Our image of the composer as an "artist," concerned with doing only what he or she wants to, is rooted in the nineteenth century. Composers of previous periods did not often have that luxury, but Joseph Haydn did. Most of his creative life was spent in the service of the Esterházy family, writing pieces for his patrons' needs and desires. For example, he composed over 125 trios for the baryton, an instrument like a viola da gamba, simply because it was the instrument that Prince Nikolaus played.

Surprisingly, these seeming restrictions, compounded by his frequent sojourns to the Esterházy summer palace at Esterháza (far removed from the musical center of Vienna) did little to dampen Haydn's creativity. Instead, he stated that this isolation and his ability to work daily with the musicians he was writing for was a perfect situation. Nor did it diminish his fame. By the 1780s, his music had been published all over Europe, and he was well regarded in the music world. Because of this, he was invited to various cities and commissioned to write musical pieces for premiere. Most notable are the six symphonies he wrote for the Concert Spirituel in Paris (Nos. 82-87, called his Paris symphonies) and the twelve he wrote for the concert promoter Johann Peter Salomon in London (Nos. 93-104, called the London symphonies). His final works, mostly sacred music for his patron, culminated in two large oratorios, The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801), the former being one of his most famous works.

Haydn is often referred to as "Papa" Haydn, and there is some justification for this. Although he did not invent either the symphony or the string quartet, he was a central figure in their development. His symphonies (especially the Paris and London sets) show a complete mastery of form and substance, setting the stage for the works of Mozart and Beethoven. Haydn's "paternity" is just as clear in the string quartets. Here Haydn helped transform the genre from little more than a string divertimento (with the emphasis on the top voice) to a type of chamber music in which all parts play an equal role. These ideas directly influenced Mozart, who responded with six quartets dedicated to Haydn (1782-85). The influence of Haydn's style is detectable in the early music of Beethoven as well.


  • Orchestral music, including over 100 symphonies (6 Paris Symphonies, Nos. 82-87, 1785-86 and 12 London Symphonies, Nos. 93-104, 1791-95); concertos for violin, cello, harpsichord, and trumpet; and divertimentos
  • Chamber music, including some 68 string quartets, piano trios, and divertimenti
  • Sacred vocal music, including 14 Masses (Mass in Time of War, 1796; Lord Nelson Mass, 1798) and oratorios (The Creation, 1798 and The Seasons, 1801)
  • Secular vocal music, including folk song arrangements and choral music
  • Keyboard music, including about 40 sonatas

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Musical Examples

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  • A General Biography
    A biography from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. Includes images, sound files and a bibliography.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Born: January 27, 1756, Salzburg Austria

Died: December 5, 1791, Vienna, Austria

In his own words . . .

"People make a mistake who think that my art has come easily to me. Nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not studied over and over."

Austrian composer. One of the leading composers of the Classic era and a master in all genres.

Our picture of Mozart depends upon where we focus. Was he a brilliant, successful composer or a child prodigy who never grew up? Was he a facile composer who created nothing original or a composer of great emotional depth? He was all of these things and more. Many of us are guided by our exposure to Mozart's personality in the film Amadeus. But does the movie paint an accurate picture of the composer?

Mozart's life remains a complicated puzzle. As a child, he seemed gifted beyond all measure, playing at age six before the empress and composing at an even earlier age. By twelve, he had written an opera, and his talents seemed to know no bounds. From this auspicious beginning, one would have predicted a future filled with prestigious royal appointments, as a brilliant composer and performer constantly sought out by emperors and kings. But Mozart's career, which ended tragically with his death at age thirty-five, was a constant disappointment. When once asked about the meager court appointment he held, Mozart replied: "I get paid far too much for what I do, and far too little for what I could do." His music did not always please those in power: "Too many notes," Emperor Joseph II was reported to have said. And Mozart himself, who always felt that his talents were never adequately recognized, was often difficult.

The difficulties of Mozart the man, however, are eclipsed by the enormous power of Mozart the musician. His music was often joyous and almost raucous, and yet he could also write melodies of simple and haunting beauty. Like Haydn and Beethoven, Mozart was just as comfortable writing simple, direct melodies as he was writing complicated contrapuntal works. There seems to have been no genre in which he was not comfortable, and we can rightly point to his best work in any genre as the epitome of that genre.


  • Orchestral music, including some 40 symphonies (late symphonies: No. 35, Haffner, 1782; No. 36, Linz, 1783; No. 38, Prague, 1786; Nos. 39, 40, and 41, Jupiter, 1788), cassations, divertimentos, serenades, marches, and dances
  • Concertos, including 27 for piano; 5 for violin; and concertos for clarinet, oboe, French horn, bassoon, flute, and flute and harp
  • Operas, including Idomeneo (1781), Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio, 1782), Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro, 1786), Don Giovanni (1787), Cosí fan tutte (Women Are Like That, 1790), and Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute, 1791)
  • Choral music, including 18 Masses; the Requiem, K. 626 (incomplete, 1791); and other liturgical music
  • Chamber music, including 23 string quartets, string quintets, a clarinet quintet, an oboe quartet, a flute quartet, piano trios and quartets, sonatas for violin and piano, and divertimentos and serenades (Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525, 1787)
  • Keyboard music, including 17 piano sonatas and Fantasia in C minor (K. 475, 1785)

A Note: Mozart composed more than 600 works during his short life. In concert programs and recordings, each work is identified by a number preceded by the letter "K." The "K" stands for Ludwig Köchel, who cataloged Mozart's works in chronological order (so that a low "K number" indicates an early work). View a complete listing of Köchel's catalog.

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Musical Examples

Click on the songs to listen:
  • Ah, Son perduto, from Marriage of Figaro 03:39
  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik, first movement 05:52
  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik, second movement 06:04
  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik, third movement 02:19
  • Eine kleine Nachtmusik, fourth movement 03:01
  • Piano Concerto No. 17, K. 453, first movement 11:22
  • Requiem, excerpt 1 01:40
  • Requiem, excerpt 2 02:43
  • Requiem, excerpt 3 01:47
  • Symphony No. 40, first movement 07:31
  • Symphony No. 40, third movement 01:26
  • Symphony No. 41, Molto allegro 09:28
  • Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja, from The Magic Flute 02:58
  • Sonata, K. 331, Rondo alla turca 03:02
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    • A General Biography
      A biography from The Grove Concise Dictionary of Music. Includes a number of paintings of Mozart and his family.
    • The Mozart Project
      A wide-ranging site that provides information about the composer and his works. Includes a great deal of biographical information, along with many illustrations and musical examples (in RealAudio format). Also features essays by noted scholars, including one that discusses the real Mozart and the Mozart depicted in the film Amadeus.
    • Mozart's Musical Dice Game
      During Mozart's time, there was something of a fad for composing pieces by using dice to choose individual measures. This must have been time-consuming (rolling the dice, consulting a table, and recording the results). Fortunately, the computer has made this a much simpler task, and you can use this site to compose your own minuets. They won't be as good as Mozart's, but they may sound oddly like his.
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