Haydn was born in the town of Rohrau, Austria, into a modest family. Recognizing the boy’s considerable musical talent, Haydn’s father sent him away to live with relatives at the age of six. Haydn’s early life was difficult, but he was able to begin his musical education. In time, he moved to Vienna and the choir of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. As a young adult, Haydn supported himself with varied work, such as being a music teacher, street musician, and accompanist to the Italian composer Nicola Porpora. His first steady employment was as Kapellmeister to a noble family.
In 1761, he became Vice Kapellmeister (and later Kapellmeister) at the court of the Esterhazy, one of the richest and most important families in the Austrian Empire. Haydn was an employee, akin to a servant, on the Esterhazy estates in Austria and Hungary. He remained with the family for nearly 30 years, during which time he composed an enormous number of works for the pleasure of his employers and their aristocratic circle. His fame spread beyond the Esterhazy estates. He even had the opportunity to become good friends with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who greatly admired Haydn.
At last, in 1790, Haydn was free of his obligations to the Esterhazy, and he accepted invitations to visit England. He found tremendous public success there.
Despite his humble beginnings and early difficulties, Haydn died a renowned composer. He also died a very wealthy man, thanks to the high income he had received while in England. His fortune was valued far in excess of any other composer at that time. Mozart’s Requiem was played at Haydn’s funeral mass.
Today, Haydn is recognized as the father of the modern symphony, as well as the father of the string quartet. He also played crucial roles in developing the piano trio and the sonata form.