Joseph Haydn is one of the most important composers to have lived, with his contributions to classical music earning him the nicknames ‘Father of the Symphony’ and ‘Father of the String Quartet’. Born in Rohrau, on the Austrian border with Hungary, Haydn had a very musical upbringing; neither of his parents could read music, but his father was a keen folk musician who had taught himself to play harp. The young Haydn was apprenticed in the home of Johann Matthias Franck, a relative of the family and choirmaster in Hamburg, where he received his first musical training on the harpsichord and violin.
Haydn soon embarked on a career as a freelance musician, and gained a reputation as a skilled composer for his opera Der krumme Teufel. He soon received aristocratic patronage, later gaining full-time employment as Kapellmeister at the court of Count Morzin and then with the immensely wealthy Esterházy family, where he was to remain for almost 30 years. Over his career, he travelled widely across central Europe and England, where he became a firm favourite in British musical circles. Haydn later remarked that he considered the days spent there ‘the happiest of his life’. He died in 1809, having become one of the most influential figures in music.