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From Choirboy to Conductor

Joseph Haydn was born on March 31st, 1732, in Rohrau (Lower Austria), the second of twelve children of a coach-builder and a cook. His musical talent already became clear at a very early age.

Haydn Concert Hall in Esterházy Palace © Burgenland Tourismus
At the age of six, Joseph Haydn began receiving instruction in singing and instrumental music with a cousin in Hainburg, Lower Austria. One day, the conductor of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral noticed him, and brought the by then eight-year-old Haydn to Vienna as a choir boy.

For nine years, he enjoyed a - mainly technical - musical instruction. In addition, he was also much in demand as a solo singer in the mansions of the Viennese aristocracy. When his voice started to break in 1749, Haydn was all of a sudden forced to look after himself. He found employment as a valet with the celebrated conductor Nicola Porpora at Michaeler House, which exists to this day, right next to St. Michael’s Church where he played the organ. As an exchange, he received thorough musical instructions for five years. He was poor, but happy in his room in the attic: "I could work on my worm-eaten piano and did not envy any king for his happiness."

After a short employment at Wieselburg Palace in Lower Austria and as director of music for Count Morzin in Lukawetz near Pilsen (in today's Czech Republic), Haydn married Maria Anna Keller in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in 1760. She was the daughter of a wigmaker and was in truth his second choice - he would have preferred her sister. The couple had a childless marriage with not much happiness; rumor has it that Haydn had a few relationships “on the side.”