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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Franz Joseph Haydn died 200 years ago today: May 31st, 1809. He was a prolific composer. In addition to the numerous string quartets and trios, piano sonatas and oratorios, he wrote more than 100 symphonies. You're listening to the first movement in his "Symphony No. 42 in D Major."

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 42 in D Major")

HANSEN: Now, if that sounds like just another symphony in the classical style, it helps to remember that composers who came after him used Haydn as a model. Here to talk about Haydn and his influence is WEEKEND EDITION's classical music commentator Robert Greenberg. Welcome back to the show.

ROBERT GREENBERG: Great to be here, Liane.

HANSEN: What is it about that piece of music we just heard that defines the classical era of style?

GREENBERG: With the understanding that what I'm about to say is grossly generalized, what defines the classical style, especially in Haydn's hands, is the predominance of vocally-conceived melody. This is a piece of music composed in 1771 during what we now call The Enlightenment, that great evolution of the middle-class. And there was a feeling about - a sensibility - that the ideal music of that time should somehow be accessible to the idealized every-person. So naturalness was the buzz word.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 42 in D Major")

HANSEN: Let's back up a little bit to baby Haydn. He was a small-town Austrian, and I gather he didn't come from a musical family, but he had a good voice. Was he a diamond in the rough?

GREENBERG: He was a diamond all the time, I think. He showed tremendous musical talent as a young child. His parents could not educate him properly in this small town Rohrau near the Hungarian border in Austria. So he was sent to a succession of schools so he could be trained properly.

HANSEN: But when Haydn left school, he didn't have many compositional skills, his voice had cracked and he wasn't even, you know, that attractive. What did he have going for him?

GREENBERG: When he left St. Stephen's Cathedral, where he was a choir boy in Vienna at 17, or when he was kicked out, we should better say - 'cause his voice cracked and his father wouldn't allow him to be castrated so that he could keep his soprano voice - what he had going for him at that age was determination, his energy and an amazing personality. He was cheerful. And the only person in his whole life that he didn't get along with was his wife.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GREENBERG: Now, he would refer to her as the infernal beast. When a guy grows up singing in church choirs and living basically a monastic existence until he's 17, he is not equipped to deal with women, and Haydn married poorly.

HANSEN: Tell us about the Esterhazy family, because he managed to score a pretty good gig with them.

GREENBERG: Oh, he scored a great gig. And this is a case of good things happening to good people eventually. He was snapped up by the Esterhazy family, one of the wealthiest families in all of Hungary. Having worked for Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy for one year, he died, his brother took over and that was the gig - 'cause his brother, Nikolaus the Magnificent, loved music and loved his Haydn. And he kept that job - he kept working for the Esterhazys until 1790, 29 years in the family's employ.

HANSEN: And what did he create during that time?

GREENBERG: Oh, he created a body of work and a style - a relaxed, cheerful, but still emotionally intense style that we generally refer to today as the classical style. After Haydn, no one could possibly write works in those genres without looking at Haydn.

(Soundbite of song, "Concerto No. 1 in C Major for Cello, Movement 3")

HANSEN: You wanted us to hear his "Concerto No. 1 in C Major for cello, movement 3." What's special about this one?

GREENBERG: Well, aside from the fact that it's a fabulous piece of music, it's also got a fascinating history. It was written for a cellist named Joseph Weigl. And the piece went missing in the late 1760s. It was composed around 1765, and it wasn't discovered until 1961. It was discovered in Prague - the parts were found. So it was first performed, since the 1760s, in 1962.

(Soundbite of song, "Concerto No. 1 in C Major for Cello, Movement 3")

HANSEN: Haydn, you said he's charming and he had a sense of humor - and one illustration of that is the "Farewell Symphony."

GREENBERG: It's just a wonderful piece. It was composed in 1772. This Prince Nikolaus, nicknamed The Magnificent, really did have a penchant for spending a lot of money. And among the many things Nikolaus did was build himself this huge castle, which he called Esterhaus(ph), in a swamp in Hungary. You'd spend the summer and late spring and early fall - roughly five or six months - at Esterhaus and then the castle would be packed up and everyone would return to Vienna for the winter season.

But in 1772, he tarried. September went into October and October went into November, and the musicians wanted to go home. They lived in a dormitory without their wives, without their children. It was time to go back to Vienna and be part of the family. And they appealed to Haydn, and Haydn didn't know what to do, 'cause he's a working man. He can't tell the prince, it's time for us to leave, prince.

So, in a typically short period of time, Haydn wrote this wonderful symphony that concludes with, one-by-one, the players stopping, blowing out the candle on their music stand, taking their music and walking off the stage one-by-one.

(Soundbite of song, "Farewell Symphony")

GREENBERG: Until finally, at the end of this so-called farewell symphony, there were only two violinists left on stage. The message being: It's time to go.

(Soundbite of song, "Farewell Symphony")

GREENBERG: The prince understood, being a smart man, exactly what was being told and he closed up shop the next day.

HANSEN: When Haydn bid his final farewell to the Esterhazy family, he was pretty hot. I mean, he went to London and he was very popular there.

GREENBERG: Yeah, he was very popular. Many countries, especially England, thought that he was being held prisoner by Count Esterhazy. But, you know, those were in the days when composers did have to be indentured to a family. That's just the way it was. Haydn had outstanding invitations to go to England, and particularly, London. And he took those invitations twice between 1790 and '92 and then again between '94 and '95.

And during these English residences he was feted and celebrated, he met the king, he met the queen, he met everybody, and at the same time, wrote some of the most extraordinary music ever written by anyone.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony 104 in D Major")

HANSEN: Twelve London symphonies.

GREENBERG: So-called, because six of them were written during the first visit to London and six of them were written during the second visit to London - his last 12 symphonies.

HANSEN: And the one we are hearing is his "Symphony 104 in D Major," the opening of the second movement, and that was 1795.

GREENBERG: Correct. This was the last of symphonies, his final symphony, and his final London symphony.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony 104 in D Major")

GREENBERG: If he had died at 35, the way Mozart did, we would never remember Haydn for having done anything, because he was a late bloomer and he appreciated his fame, I think in a way that many might not have, because he made it happen by himself.

HANSEN: Franz Joseph Haydn died 200 years ago today at the age of 77. Music historian Robert Greenberg is with San Francisco Performances and The Teaching Company, which markets recorded lectures in the arts and sciences, and he joined us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Robert, thank you so much.

GREENBERG: My great pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony 104 in D Major")

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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