The Music of Haydn: A Tour of His Famous Works

In today’s episode of PianoTV, we’ll be looking at the music of Haydn. Haydn had such a massive output of music – something to the tune of 1,000 songs – that picking a handful of “the best” seemed basically impossible.

So what I’ve decided to do is break his music down into categories – his sonatas, trios, concertos, string quartets, symphonies and vocal works. I’ll be picking one selection from each that I think is awesome, and that highlights his Classical style.

If you want to get up to dates on the life and times of Haydn, check out this history video.

The Music of Haydn: Solo piano/sonatas

Let’s start off with piano sonatas. Haydn wrote over 60 of them, but not all survived. Probably one of his most impressive sonatas was his last one, Sonata 62 in Eb major. In this one, Haydn gets adventurous with his chord choices and progressions, almost in a more Beethoven-ish direction.

On this manuscript, Haydn had written in Italian,

“Sonata composed for the celebrated Miss Theresa Jansen … by myself Joseph Haydn in my own hand, London 1794.”

Therese was an amazing piano player in London, and lots of composers dedicated their music to her. Shout-out to women in music!

Piano Trios

Haydn wrote nearly 50 piano trios, the best of which were written later in life. We’ll take a listen to his Piano Trio in G major “Gypsy”, performed by piano, violin and cello. We’ll listen to the final movement, the famous “Gypsy Rondo” which is very fast, fun and rhythmic.

Conertos

Haydn wrote a decent amount of concertos for a variety of instruments, like violin, cello, horn, trumpet, flute, oboe, keyboard, and some obsolete instruments like the baryton. Concertos are generally very difficult, and involve an instrumental soloist who also plays with an orchestra. It’s basically a “show off” genre.

Since this is a piano channel, I mainly like to focus on keyboard music, so I’ve picked a keyboard concerto to look at. It’s his 11th keyboard concerto in D. Written in the 1780s when Haydn was in his early 50s, you can hear the influence the younger Mozart had on his music.

String quartets

When discussing the music of Haydn, we have to talk about string quartets. Haydn wrote 68 string quartets, a genre that he basically innovated and developed, hence the nickname “father of the string quartet”.

We’re going to take a look at his set of quartets, nicknamed the “Erdody Quartets”, op. 76.

Again, this work written in Haydn’s golden years displays the pinnacle of his musical maturity. We’ll be listening to some of the sixth quartet in E flat major. It starts off nice and relaxing, but four-ish minutes in, we get a fugue. This was something Haydn used scarcely (and only previously in finales), but the newer generation of composers like Beethoven were embracing.

When the gentle intro is complete, listen to the 3 separate parts interweaving in this fugue, each instrument playing its own tune.

Scene 11 Symphony face

Again, like the string quartet, you can’t talk about the music of Haydn without talking about symphonies. With over 100 symphonies, and a nickname “Father of the Symphony”, it’s impossible to choose a “best” one.

But if I really had to, I would chose his 104th Symphony, nicknamed “London”. He wrote it in London (hence the name), and it also premiered there. It must’ve gone well, because Haydn wrote in his diary,

“The whole company was thoroughly pleased and so was I. I made 4000 gulden on this evening: such a thing is possible only in England.”

Ahh Haydn, always so eager about money. It’s a nice chunk of change though – with some math heavily based on James Boldin’s “How Much Did Haydn Earn” essay, that amount would be the modern-day equivalent of $12,000 American dollars.

The part of the London symphony I want to show you is the 4th movement, with a tune based on a Croation folk song. It’s just pure exuberance.

The Music of Haydn: Vocal Works

Haydn wrote a number of great vocal works, like masses and oratorios, but we won’t dwell on them too much here. We do have to talk about what is arguably Haydn’s masterpiece, though – his oratorio The Creation.

He wrote this massive work in the 1790s, toward the end of his life, after being inspired by Handel’s oratorios in London. It’s based on the biblical creation story, detailing the creation of the universe, planets, animals, and then Adam and Eve experiencing all of this.

We’ll take a listen to a clip from The Creation, but it’s also worth mentioning that Haydn followed this up by another, equally impressive oratorio called “The Seasons”, and they both represent the pinnacle of Classical oratorios.

This excerpt is from “In Splendor Bright”, the part of the oratorio where the sun is created and rises, illustrated by the rising notes of the scale and increased power.

conclusion

This post on the music of Haydn could easily be 100 songs, but hopefully that gives you a starting point on this very prolific composer from the Classical period.

Thanks for watching, and I’ll catch you next time!

xo,
Allysia

Allysia has been teaching piano in Canada for nearly a decade, and has her Grade 10 RCM certificate. She especially enjoys nerding out to music history and theory. When she’s not making videos or teaching, she’s reading, writing, and jamming in a rock band.