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Haydn and Mozart

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Haydn and Mozart

The composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Joseph Haydn were friends. Their relationship is not very well documented, but the evidence that they enjoyed each other's company and greatly respected each other's work is strong.


  • Background 1
  • Meeting 2
  • Playing chamber music 3
  • Haydn's view of Mozart 4
  • Mozart's view of Haydn 5
  • The "Haydn" quartets 6
  • Freemasonry 7
  • Haydn as Mozart's mentor 8
  • Form of address 9
  • Haydn's departure for London 10
  • Mozart's death 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13


Haydn was already a famous composer when Mozart was a child. His six string quartets of Opus 20 (1772), called the "Sun" Quartets, were widely circulated and are conjectured (for instance, by Charles Rosen[1]) to have been the inspiration for the six string quartets K. 168-173 that the 17-year-old Mozart wrote during a 1773 visit to Vienna.[2]

The two composers probably would not have had an opportunity to meet until after Mozart moved permanently to Vienna in 1781. Haydn was required to reside most of the time at the remote palace of Eszterháza in Hungary, where his employer and patron Prince Nikolaus Esterházy preferred to live. During the winter months, the Prince moved to the ancestral palace of his family in Eisenstadt, bringing Haydn with him. In these periods it was often feasible for Haydn to make brief visits to Vienna, about 40 km away.[3]


As Jones notes, there were various points in the 1770s and early 1780s when Haydn and Mozart might have met, Haydn visiting Vienna from his normal work venues of Esterháza and Eisenstadt, Mozart from Il ritorno di Tobia) and Mozart ("a new concert aria, probably 'Misero! o sogno!' [K. 431], and, on the first night, a piano concerto")[4]

At the time of this meeting, Haydn was the most celebrated composer in Europe. Mozart's own reputation was definitely on the rise. His opera The Abduction from the Seraglio had been premiered with great success in Vienna and was being produced in several other cities.[5] Haydn would have been about 52 years old at the time, Mozart about 28.

Playing chamber music

Jens Peter Larsen suggests that "quartet playing was central to the contact between Haydn and Mozart",[6] though the documentation of the occasions in which the two composers played or heard quartets or other chamber music together is slim. One report of such an occasion comes from the Reminiscences (1826) of the tenor Michael Kelly.

Storace gave a quartet party to his friends. The players were tolerable; not one of them excelled on the instrument he played, but there was a little science[7] among them, which I dare say will be acknowledged when I name them:

First Violin: Haydn
Second Violin: Baron Dittersdorf
Violoncello: Vanhal
Viola: Mozart.
I was there, and a greater treat, or a more remarkable one, cannot be imagined.[8]

Both Dittersdorf and Vanhal, though little-remembered now, were well-known composers of the time.

The composer Maximilian Stadler also remembered chamber music performances in which Haydn and Mozart participated: the two of them took the viola parts in performances of Mozart's string quintets, K. 515, 516, and 593.[9]

Haydn's view of Mozart

Haydn freely praised Mozart, without jealousy, to his friends. For instance, he wrote to Franz Rott,[10]

If only I could impress Mozart's inimitable works on the soul of every friend of music, and the souls of high personages in particular, as deeply, with the same musical understanding and with the same deep feeling, as I understand and feel them, the nations would vie with each other to possess such a jewel.

To the musicologist Charles Burney, he said "I have often been flattered by my friends with having some genius, but he was much my superior."[11] In a letter to his friend Marianne von Genzinger, Haydn confessed to dreaming about Mozart's work, listening happily to a performance of Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro.[12]

Mozart's view of Haydn

Mozart's early biographer Franz Niemetschek, who interviewed Mozart's wife Constanze, describes Mozart's esteem for Haydn. In one passage from his biography he says:

High esteem for true merit, and regard for the individual, influenced his judgment of works of art. He was always very touched when he spoke of the two Haydns or other great masters.[13]

By "Haydns", Niemetschek refers also to Joseph's brother Michael, who was Mozart's friend and colleague during his years in Salzburg.

An often-retold anecdote from Niemetschek is the following:

At a private party a new work of Joseph Haydn was being performed. Besides Mozart there were a number of other musicians present, among them a certain man who was never known to praise anyone but himself. He was standing next to Mozart and found fault with one thing after another. For a while Mozart listened patiently; when he could bear it no longer and the fault-finder once more conceitedly declared: 'I would not have done that', Mozart retorted: 'Neither would I but do you know why? Because neither of us could have thought of anything so appropriate."[14]

Niemetschek adds, "By this remark he made for himself yet another irreconcilable enemy."

The "Haydn" quartets

Mozart's "Haydn" quartets (K387, K421, K428, K458, K464 and K465) were written during the early years of their friendship, and were published in 1785. They are thought to be stylistically influenced by Haydn's Opus 33 series, which had appeared in 1781. Mozart's dedication of these six quartets to Haydn was rather unusual, at a time when dedicatees were usually aristocrats:

A father who had decided to send his sons out into the great world thought it his duty to entrust them to the protection and guidance of a man who was very celebrated at the time, and who happened moreover to be his best friend. In the same way I send my six sons to you [...] Please then, receive them kindly and be to them a father, guide, and friend! [...] I entreat you, however, to be indulgent to those faults which may have escaped a father's partial eye, and in spite of them, to continue your generous friendship towards one who so highly appreciates it.[15]

Haydn in turn was very impressed with Mozart's new work. He heard the new quartets for the first time at a social occasion on 15 January 1785, at which Mozart performed the quartets with "my dear friend Haydn and other good friends".[16] At a second occasion, on 12 February, the last three quartets were performed.[17] Mozart's father Leopold was present, having come from Salzburg to visit. At that time Haydn made a remark to Leopold that is now widely quoted:

Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name; he has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition.[18]

It is likely that Mozart would have appreciated the remark, in light of his father's frequently-expressed doubts about his career path.


It may have been Mozart who attempted to bring Haydn into Freemasonry. Mozart joined the lodge called "Zur Wohltätigkeit" ("Beneficence") on 14 December 1784, and Haydn applied to the lodge "Zur wahren Eintracht" ("True Concord") on 29 December 1784. Lodge records show that Mozart frequently attended "Zur wahren Eintracht" as a visitor.[19] Haydn's admission ceremony was held on 11 February 1785; Mozart could not attend due to a concert that night.[6]

Although Mozart remained an enthusiastic Mason (see Mozart and Freemasonry), Haydn did not; in fact, there is no evidence that he ever attended a meeting after his admittance ceremony,[6] and he was dropped from the lodge's rolls in 1787.

Haydn as Mozart's mentor

Mozart in many ways did not need a mentor by the time he met Haydn; he was already rather successful and for most of his life up to then had been under the very active tutelage of his father Leopold. However, two aspects of the historical record suggest that Haydn did in some sense take Mozart under his wing and offer him advice.

First, during the early Vienna years, when Mozart was influenced by Baron van Swieten to take up the study of Baroque counterpoint, Haydn loaned him his personal copy of the famous counterpoint textbook Gradus ad Parnassum, by Johann Joseph Fux, a copy heavily covered with Haydn's personal annotations.[20]

There is also the observation that, like many other younger musicians, Mozart addressed Haydn with the honorific term "Papa".[21] For details of this form of address, see Papa Haydn.

Form of address

The Georg August Griesinger.

Haydn's departure for London

Haydn last saw Mozart in the days before he departed for London in December 1790. The oft-retold tale of their last interactions can be found in the biography of Albert Christoph Dies, who interviewed the elderly Haydn 15 years after the event:[23]

[Haydn's patron] Prince Anton Esterházy granted permission for the journey at once, but it was not right as far as Haydn's friends were concerned ... they reminded him of his age (sixty years),[24] of the discomforts of a long journey, and of many other things to shake his resolve. But in vain! Mozart especially took pains to say, "Papa!" as he usually called him, "you have had no training for the great world, and you speak too few languages."
"Oh," replied Haydn, "my language is understood all over the world!"...
When Haydn had settled ... his household affairs, he fixed his departure and left on 15 December [1790],[25] in company with Salomon. Mozart on this day never left his friend Haydn. He dined with him, and said at the moment of parting, "We are probably saying our last farewell in this life." Tears welled from the eyes of both. Haydn was deeply moved, for he applied Mozart's words to himself, and the possibility never occurred to him that the thread of Mozart's life could be cut off by the inexorable Parcae within the following year.

Griesinger gives a different (and probably less romanticized) account of the same occasion:[26]

Mozart said to Haydn, at a happy meal with Salomon, "You will not bear it very long and will probably soon come back again, because you are no longer young." "But I am still vigorous and in good health," answered Haydn. He was at that time almost fifty-nine years old, but he did not find it necessary to conceal the fact. Had Mozart not hastened to an early death on 5 December 1791, he would have taken Haydn's place in Salomon's concerts in 1794.

Mozart's death

Haydn, still in London a year later when the news of Mozart's death reached him, was distraught; he wrote to their mutual friend Michael Puchberg, "for some time I was quite beside myself over his death, and could not believe that Providence should so quickly have called away an irreplaceable man into the next world."[27] Haydn wrote to Constanze Mozart offering musical instruction to her son when he reached the appropriate age, and later followed through on his offer.[28]


  1. ^ In The Classical Style, p. 264
  2. ^ See Brown 1992 for dates and K. numbers. Brown discusses the history of the conjecture that K. 168-173 were influenced by Haydn, and argues against it at length.
  3. ^ For a listing of occasions when Haydn visited Vienna around this time, see Larsen 1980, pp. 53-55.
  4. ^ Both quotations from Jones (2009:245)
  5. ^ Deutch 1966, various locations
  6. ^ a b c Larsen 54
  7. ^ Kelly uses the archaic meaning of "science", i.e. "knowledge, learning".
  8. ^ Quote from Webster 1977, p. 393
  9. ^ Jones 2006, p. 213
  10. ^ Webster and Feder 2001, section 3.iv
  11. ^ Webster and Feder 2001, section iii.4
  12. ^ The letter is printed in Geiringer 1982, pp. 90–92
  13. ^ Niemetschek 1798, p. 68
  14. ^ Niemetschek 1798, p. 69
  15. ^ Bernard Jacobson (1995) in CD#13 of the Best of the Complete Mozart Edition [Germany: Philips]
  16. ^ Webster and Feder 2001, section 3.4. Deutsch 1965, 234 suggests that on this evening only the first three of the quartets were played.
  17. ^ Deutsch (1965, 236) identifies the four players as having probably been the composer, his father Leopold, and two Barons: Anton and Bartholomäus Tinti, who were Masonic brothers of Mozart.
  18. ^ Leopold Mozart's 16 February 1785 letter to his daughter Maria Anna ("Ich sage ihnen vor gott, als ein ehrlicher Mann, ihr Sohn ist der größte Componist, den ich von Person und den Nahmen nach kenne: er hat geschmack, und über das die größte Compositionswissenschaft.")
  19. ^ Deutsch 1965, multiple listings
  20. ^ White 2006
  21. ^ Haydn noted this to Georg August Griesinger in 1797; Deutsch (1965, 489). See also the following section.
  22. ^ Jahn (1856, 315). "Auch dutzten sie sich ... -- das war damals bei solchen Altersunterschied ungleich seltner als heutzutage und hatte deshalb auch mehr zu sagen," "They also used 'du' with each other, that was at the time more unusual for such a difference in age than it is nowadays, and thus says more."
  23. ^ Dies (1810, 119-120)
  24. ^ Haydn was actually 58 in 1790.
  25. ^ The original reads 1791, an error.
  26. ^ Griesinger 1810, 22-23
  27. ^ Hughes (1970, p. 78). For Haydn's friendship with Puchberg see Webster and Feder 2001, section iii.4
  28. ^ Hughes, p. 78


  • Brown, Peter (1992) "Haydn and Mozart's 1773 Stay in Vienna: Weeding a Musicological Garden," The Journal of Musicology 192-230
  • Deutsch, Otto Erich (1965). Mozart: A Documentary Biography.  
  • Dies, Albert Christoph (1810) Biographical Accounts of Joseph Haydn, Vienna. English translation by Vernon Gotwals, in Haydn: Two Contemporary Portraits, Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Geiringer, Karl; Irene Geiringer (1982). Haydn: A Creative Life in Music (3rd ed.).  
  • Griesinger, Georg August (1810) Biographical Notes Concerning Joseph Haydn. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel. English translation by Vernon Gotwals, in Haydn: Two Contemporary Portraits, Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press
  • Jahn, Otto (1856) W. A. Mozart, vol. 3. Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel. 1858 edition posted at Google Books: [1]. (In German)
  • Jones, David Wyn (2009) "Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus". Article in David Wyn Jones, ed., Oxford Composer Companions: Haydn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Kelly, Michael (1826) Reminiscences of Michael Kelly. Cited in E. Kerr Borthwick (1990), "The Latin Quotations in Haydn's London Notebooks," Music & Letters
  • Hughes, Rosemary (1970) Haydn (New York: Farrar Straus and Giroux)
  • Jones, David Wyn (2006) "Haydn", in The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia, ed. by Cliff Eisen and Simon Keefe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Larsen, Jens Peter (1980) "Joseph Haydn," article in the 1980 edition of the New Grove. Republished 1982 as a separate volume, The New Grove: Haydn, by W. W. Norton. Page numbers refer to the separate volume version
  • Niemetschek, Frank (1798) Leben des K. K. Kapellmeisters Wolfgang Gottlieb Mozart, English translation by Helen Mautner. London: Leonard Hyman
  • Robbins Landon, H.C. (1976-1980) Haydn: Chronicle and Works, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. An extensive compilation of original sources
  • Schmid, Ernst Fritz and Ernest Sanders (1956) "Mozart and Haydn," The Musical Quarterly 42: pp. 145–161. Available from JSTOR
  • Webster, James (1977) "The Bass Part in Haydn's Early String Quartets," The Musical Quarterly. Available from JSTOR
  • Webster, James, and Georg Feder (2001), "Joseph Haydn", article in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (New York: Grove, 2001). Published separately as The New Grove Haydn (New York: Macmillan 2002, ISBN 0-19-516904-2)
  • White, Harry (2006) "Fux, Johann Joseph," in The Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia, ed. by Cliff Eisen and Simon Keefe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
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