Great Masters: Haydn-His Life and Music

Course No. 751
Professor Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
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Course No. 751
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Course Overview

The music of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) is so technically superb, so widely imitated, and so rich in quality and quantity that almost since the moment of its creation it has exemplified the Classical style. More than any other single composer, it was Haydn who created the Classical-era symphony. And his 68 string quartets? They are the standard by which all other Classical string quartets were and are judged. No less an expert than Mozart wrote that it was from Haydn that he had learned how to write quartets.

And yet this gentle, creative dynamo, who penned more than 1,000 works over a 50-year career and remained musically vital well past middle age, is all too often thought of as an aged figure surpassed and overshadowed by Mozart and Beethoven.

A Father, Not a Fossil

Not so, as Professor Robert Greenberg shows. The musicians who worked for Haydn called him "Papa" not because he was a fossil, but because of his unfailing kindness to them in an age when professional musicians were often treated poorly.

In truth, Haydn is one of the most original and influential composers of all time. He was the only musical contemporary whom Mozart admired. You learn from Professor Greenberg about the artistically fruitful friendship that grew between Mozart and Haydn.

He taught Beethoven. You can learn about the more troubled dealings Haydn had with Beethoven—whose Ninth Symphony, nonetheless, would be unimaginable without the influence of Haydn's Creation, the towering 1798 oratorio in praise of God's generosity, that crowned Haydn's career.

The Beauty of The Creation

In the culminating lectures of the series, you'll learn how The Creation perfectly expresses Haydn's rich inner world and personality: His childlike wonder, purehearted sensual joy, and genial humor mix seamlessly with profound faith, great nobility of expression, and genuine religious devotion.

In Haydn's works, the demands of popular entertainment and lofty aesthetic theory blend smoothly. Each piece strikes a new and finely judged balance between limpid accessibility and the integrity of compositional craft.

To know the man behind such works is to see Haydn's extraordinary achievement not merely as a technical feat or a display of pure talent—though surely these are involved—but as the work of a whole person, a triumph of generosity and the human spirit.

Haydn: A Brief Biography

Haydn was born on March 31, 1732, in an ethnically diverse part of Austria, near the Hungarian border. His music expressed this ethnically diverse environment.

When he was almost six years old, Haydn's soprano voice attracted his first music teacher, Johann Franck, a school principal and choir director in the town of Hainburg.

Young Haydn was sent off to Franck's school at that tender age. He was subjected to a rigorous and harsh life (thrashings were common), but he was also exposed to an extraordinary amount of music. He was taught the rudiments of music theory, singing, and keyboard and string playing, for which he remained grateful to Franck for the rest of his life.

At age eight, Haydn's musical ability attracted the attention of Georg Reutter, choir master at the Cathedral of St. Stephen's in Vienna, the most important church in the most important city in German-speaking Europe. For the next nine years, as a choirboy at the cathedral, he was exposed to the best music in Europe at that time. He learned to compose slowly and painstakingly through practical experience and hard work.

After his voice broke, Haydn was turned out of St. Stephen's to fend for himself in the great city of Vienna. He eked out a living by teaching, accompanying, singing, playing the organ and violin, and composing dance music.

In 1758, Haydn hit professional and financial pay dirt. He was hired by Count Morzin to be court music director and composer. With an orchestra at his disposal, it was for Count Morzin that Haydn wrote his first symphonies, among many other works.

Unqualified Musical Success

Haydn's musical development was an unqualified success, but his marriage to Maria Anna Keller was not. Maria Anna was, we are told, an ugly, quarrelsome, bitter woman who could not have children. Haydn would regret his marriage for the rest of his life, and his ultimate estrangement from his wife led to discreet affairs with women.

Haydn worked hard for the Esterházy family, and the opportunities his position gave him were enormous. At the magnificent palace of Esterháza in the Hungarian countryside, Haydn had the time he needed to develop his craft. The court orchestra played virtually everything he wrote, and his employer, Prince Nicholas Esterházy ("the Magnificent"), who had succeeded his brother Paul Anton, encouraged Haydn to experiment in every genre.

Some critics disliked the mixture of the serious and the comic in Haydn's music. But as time went on, Haydn acquired an international celebrity that far outweighed any criticism. Among his admirers was the much younger Mozart, for whom Haydn had a mutual regard. The two became great friends. Haydn's six String Quartets, op. 33, inspired Mozart to write six quartets of his own, and he dedicated them to Haydn.

In 1790, Haydn's employer Prince Nicholas died, and Haydn found himself free to leave Esterháza. The impresario Johann Peter Salomon took him to London, where Haydn immediately became the toast of the town. For this visit and his subsequent visit in 1794, he wrote his greatest symphonies, the London symphonies.

When he returned to Vienna in 1795, it was a far more "Haydn-friendly" place. A new Esterházy prince, Nicholas II, came into Haydn's life, and he liked old-style church music. Haydn's great masterworks of these years are the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons.

After completing The Seasons in April 1801, Haydn's health began to fail. With characteristic generosity he wrote a will that included everybody from his closest relatives to a shoemaker.

The last great moment of Haydn's public life occurred on March 27, 1808, when The Creation was performed at the university in Vienna in honor of his 76th birthday. The illustrious audience included the composers Beethoven, Salieri, and Hummel, as well as the highest aristocracy.

Haydn's audience knew he was approaching his death, and the performance became an almost mystical event. In one touching moment, Princess Esterházy saw Haydn shiver and covered his shoulders with her shawl. Soon other ladies followed suit until he was completely covered.

Haydn never appeared in public again. He died "blissfully and gently" on May 31, 1809.

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Symphony no. 45 in F-sharp Minor (Farewell) (1772)
String Quartet in C Major, op. 33, no. 3 (The Bird) (1781)
String Quartet in E-flat Major, op. 33, no. 2 (The Joke) (1781)
Symphony no. 92 in G Major (1789)
Symphony no. 94 in G Major (Surprise) (1792)
Symphony no. 102 in B-flat Major (London) (1794)
Symphony no. 104 in D Major (final London symphony) (1795)
Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor (1794)
Trumpet Concerto (1796)
String Quartet, op. 76, no. 3 in C Major (The Emperor) (1797)

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8 lectures
 |  Average 45 minutes each
  • 1
    Introduction and Early Life
    Haydn's name is synonymous with the Classical style. No other single composer did as much to create and standardize the Classical symphony and quartet. This lecture describes his early years at school and as a choirboy at St. Stephen's Cathedral school in Vienna. In 1749, when his voice broke, he was expelled from St. Stephen's to begin a new life in Vienna at the age of 17. x
  • 2
    The Lean Years and the Pre-Classical Style
    Haydn eked out a living for years before his compositional career took off. He absorbed the musical traditions of his day: the high Baroque, and the new rococo music of the Enlightenment. This lecture discusses influences on Haydn: the Mannheim orchestra, Italian composer Sammartini as well as Viennese composers Reutter, Monn, and Wagenseil. In 1761, he got the opportunity of his life when he was hired by Prince Paul Anton Esterházy. x
  • 3
    Haydn’s Marriage and Esterháza
    Musically, Haydn's development was an unqualified success but marriage to Maria Anna Keller was not. Prince Paul Anton and his successor, Prince Nicholas Esterházy, were genuine music lovers. Haydn became the court music director with his own orchestra to conduct and write music for. Haydn was "forced to become original." x
  • 4
    Esterháza Continued
    Life at Prince Nicholas's court at Esterháza was exactly what Haydn wanted: predictable and calm. Ideas of the new Sturm und Drang cultural movement imbued his music with a greater emotional range. Haydn became famous and wealthy, and he developed a close friendship with Mozart. His music became the template by which we measure the Classical style, perfectly balancing head and heart, intellect and emotion. x
  • 5
    The Classical String Quartet and the Classical Symphony
    Haydn's string quartets and symphonies are models of the Classical style. He forged the notion of the string quartet as four individuals who collaborate to create a whole that is greater than its parts. As the years passed at Esterháza, Haydn's fame grew throughout Europe and England. When Prince Nicholas Esterházy died in 1790, he accepted the invitation of an English impresario to go to England, where his music was already worshiped. x
  • 6
    Haydn went to London at the invitation of Johann Peter Salomon, a violinist and impresario. The symphonies Haydn wrote for his London audiences are among his finest. He returned to Vienna in 1792, but his reception there was mild. Moreover, he had lost his great friend Mozart and was soon to lose his old friend Marianne von Genzinger. It could not have been a worse time when the young Ludwig van Beethoven arrived to begin his lessons with Haydn. x
  • 7
    Beethoven, London Again, and Breakthrough
    Beethoven's composition lessons with Haydn were disastrous. Beethoven was discourteous and even duplicitous toward Haydn, although he would later forgive the young and rebellious Beethoven. At his second visit to London in 1794, he was as enthusiastically received as the first time. His 12 London Symphonies, written during both visits, are the crowning achievements of his symphonic output. After his return to Austria, he wrote a series of masses for his new employer, Prince Nicholas II. His oratorio, The Creation is the capstone of his career. x
  • 8
    The Creation, The Seasons, and the End
    As he grew old, Haydn's health began to fail, but he still kept a strict daily routine. He lived in the Viennese suburbs, continuing to receive a steady stream of medals, awards, and honors. He wrote The Seasons, his last major work, which was another extraordinary success. In March 1808, a performance of The Creation was given to a distinguished audience in honor of Haydn's 76th birthday; he died a little over a year later. x

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles,...
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Great Masters: Haydn-His Life and Music is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 55.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable and Informative Though I was familiar with some of Haydn's music, I came to this course without much knowledge about the man. Professor Greenberg has hit another home run with me in his informative biography/introduction. Haydn lived a fascinating life, full of surprises. Unlike so many other "great artists," he may have been (as Greenberg suggests) one of the most well-adjusted and happy of the great composers. It is refreshing and encouraging to hear of Haydn's serenity, graciousness, and generosity of spirit. Other than his apparently unhappy marriage, he had a great life, and would have been a pleasure to know. Greenberg also does well in introducing an overview of his music. I look forward to sampling some of the pieces I have not heard before. I'm a huge Greenberg fan and have listened to many of his series. He is his usual self here (enthusiastic, humorous, engaging, occasionally corny), and always interesting to learn from.
Date published: 2019-07-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Master composer, master presenter Professor Greenberg has been called “The Elvis of music history and appreciation” (a designation that evidently pleases him greatly), and he certainly is. In this course he is enormously entertaining, but the content is also great—historical context, lots of biographical goodies, information about the music (but clearly at a freshman level theory-wise), and plenty of musical examples. This was an extremely enjoyable course.
Date published: 2019-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Hayden is one of my favorites, and i really enjoyed learning more of his life. His music seems so happy to me, and I found that he had a really happy nature- perfect match!
Date published: 2019-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Greenberg, is always fun I exercise in my basement during the michigan winter and Hayden and Greenberg do make things fun
Date published: 2018-12-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding This professor's courses are usually outstanding, and this one fits the mold. It would be very easy to make this type of course pretentious or unnecessarily erudite. As usual, the professor does not take himself too seriously, which makes the material very approachable, even for those who are not experts in classical music. It is hard not to like Hayden from both a personal and artistic perspective, and the professor makes you really appreciate Hayden both as a master composer and as a human being. The course perfectly blends personal with professional biography to create an interesting and informative course. This is well-worth the time.
Date published: 2018-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Anothe absolute delight Prior to hearing the course, I had next to zero acquaintance with the music of Haydn and zero knowledge of his life. The only time I got a bit familiar with him was when one of my daughters learned to play one of his piano sonatas – a piece that I found surprisingly beautiful and interesting. As I can say of all of the biographical music series courses given by Professor Greenberg, this one too was absolutely first rate. It explained why Haydn’s contribution is important, and in what sense. Further, it allowed us to follow Haydn’s career as he struggled to find a secure position as a musician, and then to get his independence from his overbearing patrons – the Esterase family. Finally, it acquaints us with his music, which ( as I have moted) I was only vaguely familiar with and foudn to be beautiful deeply intriguing. As in all the courses I have heard by Professor Greenberg, in this course too he was witty, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and fascinating. This allowed him to provide yet another course which I found to be an absolute delight.
Date published: 2018-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Terrific Introduction to Haydn This is one of many excellent courses by Robert Greenberg, who appears to be the Great Courses only expert in classical music. His delivery is passionate and enthusiastic. He drew me in with his revealing description of Haydn's character. Although Haydn died over 200 years ago, I believe that I have learned a good bit about Haydn and have received an introduction to the Viennese Classical Style. Some of the best parts of the course are the description of Haydn's invention of the String Quartet and Haydn's version of the Symphony. Greenberg also does a good job of describing the relationship between Haydn and Mozart and how Mozart influenced Haydn.
Date published: 2017-10-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wealth of Musical Knowledge I think the Professor Greenberg brings up interesting details about Hayden's life and also about his music. I sometimes wish he were not quite so casual in his approach and even a bit explicit about aspects of a composer's life.
Date published: 2017-07-03
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