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Joseph Haydn, (31st of March 1732-31st of May 1809) was born in Rohrau, on the Austro-Hungarian border, to Mathias, and Maria Haydn.

Like many of the other Classical period Composers, Haydn wrote easy to remember melodies, flexible rhythms within the songs, repetitive structures, and helped introduce the first chorus, along with the first chamber groups.









Credited with being the first composer to write for string quartet, and a full symphony orchestra, Haydn had a unique sound, and style.

Hired as the court musician by the wealthy Esterházy family, he was isolated from other musical influences of the time until his later years. Although, most likely due to his employers wealth and connectedness, his music was widely distributed through much of Europe.

Haydn was unique, in that, in his time as music director he was for all intents and purposes isolated from many of his peers and as a result his music was refreshingly different than many of the other composers of the period.

In the 4th movement of his 4th String Quartet Op.20 one can hear the strains of Gypsy music.  In between the call and response of the upper and lower strings and contrapuntal movement of the two there’s a few seconds of raucous, foot-stomping goodness.

Although not uncommon to hear such influences in todays multi-cultural mashup of styles, there are a few standouts.

“Gypsy Punks”, Gogol Bordello, is a hybrid of reggae, punk rock, electronic, pop, and gypsy music. Combining accordion, fiddle, and acoustic guitar or mandolin, with drums, electric guitar, turntables, keyboards, and bass, they churn out a blend of styles that you can’t help stomping your feet to.

Also containing a gypsy-esque influence, Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love”, from 1984’s Various Positions, is very much inflected with the sound of Romani music.

Haydn’s individuality was a key component to his immediately recognizable style, and never failed to yield surprises regarding how much his sound changed over the course of his career. From his early, almost high-baroque works, into his light-hearted energetic forays into his middle period, through the “Sturm und Drang” era, and into his more mature works, such as Symphony No. 44 (Mourning). Haydn’s progression brings to mind that of another composer of more modern times who was also without  comparison, Duke Ellington.







Ellington’s metamorphosis from New Orleans “Hot Jazz”, such as “St. Louis Uptown Toodle-Oo” to his more raw, and difficult record with a young Charles Mingus, and Max Roach, “Money Jungle”,  show his maturity, and un-relenting tenacity as both a composer, arranger, as well as band leader. Able to both define a style, as well as push both himself, as well as those of the up-and-coming in the jazz world at the time.

Listening to Haydn’s first symphony with eyes closed, imagine being among the first audience to ever hear this piece performed live! Right out of the gates, it comes at you with Presto in movement 1, unlike many of his, as well as others compositions subsequent Allegro, exciting, lively,  and energetic, it almost seems as though he may spend all of his effort on the first movement, but follows it up with a brief respite in the Andante, and then another dizzying Presto to top it off.

The wall of sound that a symphony orchestra of the size needed to perform a piece of this nature might have been like going to an early rock concert. Chuck Berry’s “After School Session” might be a good example. With the first cut on the record being “School Days”, you can hear how the backbeat heavy driving drums, and electric guitars would have been akin to the experience of a full symphony orchestra. You can even hear the, at times, distorted mic and guitar from over-driven microphones.


Just as Haydn was a ground-breaking composer in the world of his day. In addition,  we have had ground-breaking musicians in our past few generations.

The Beatles weren’t just a great group of young songwriters, they also blazed a trail that few others have, in so many different arenas of music. They were the first self-contained pop/rock group.









Most groups before them were  just singers, and they had all of the instrumentation hired for them by their producer or record label, and/or, they did play their own instruments, but all the songs were written by other songwriters.

The Beatles were the first group to both play, sing, and write, all in one group.

Additionally, they were one of the first groups to have a cross-pollination of styles and instruments in their songs. They were one of the first to experiment with tape manipulation as part of the songwriting process. And they were one of the earliest groups to have a grandstand for just about anything they wanted to communicate to their audience.

Haydn’s 6th Symphony, “Le Matin”, opens the piece with two different feels. Starting out with an Adagio, with its suspended harmonies, on the upper strings and woodwinds, over the low strings, and brass, more ostinato lines, and then going right into the lively, shifting Allegro.

Although not wholly unique to Haydn, the setting up of the Allegro with the Adagio is a very effective technique.

Metallica’s sophomore effort opens up with a similar device. On Fight Fire with Fire, they start out with a very classical sounding intro using guitars, bass guitar, and harpsichord, before giving way to a punishing, fast-tempo riff that continues for the rest of the song.



Like many composers to follow him, Haydn used titles on many of his symphonies.  One of the titles was the well-known Symphony no. 94, or “Surprise” Symphony.

Written in 1791 for a concert series he gave in London, the piece is titled such, because of the sudden forté dynamic at the end of an otherwise quiet section of the music, and then returning to piano as if nothing happened. The following variations do not contain the dynamic jolt, which leaves the listener always on edge, expecting to hear it again.

When Haydn’s biographer, George August Griesinger, asked if this technique was to keep his audience awake, Haydn’s reply was:


 No, but I was interested in surprising the public with something new, and in making a brilliant debut, so that my student Pleyel, who was at that time engaged by an orchestra in London (in 1792) and whose concerts had opened  a week before mine, should not outdo me. The first Allegro of my symphony had already met with countless Bravos, but the enthusiasm reached its highest peak at the Andante with the Drum Stroke. Encore! Encore! sounded in every throat, and Pleyel himself complimented me on my idea.



One such “serious” musician of more modern times that used humor in his music, is Frank Zappa. A composer of everything from hard rock, to classical, modern electronic to jazz, his work covered a broad spectrum of styles. But one of the best parts about his work, much like Haydn is that he didn’t take himself too seriously. On his album “Apostrophe”, the opening song “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” tells the story of a fur trapper in the arctic who offended an Eskimo and found himself with yellow snow cones shoved in his eyes. All this taking place over a seriously funky blues riff and virtuosic instrumental “stabs” from guitar, xylophone and drums, and horns.



On the whole of the album Hot Rats, you can hear a multitude of comical sounds coming from everything from organ, to violin, to saxophone, and beyond, over top of thoughtful and complex arrangements.

Other contemporary music that Haydn has influence on, musically, or otherwise are groups like Led Zeppelin. They’ve cited Romantic era influence, and rightly so, but particularly within their lyrics the music owes more, in my opinion, to Haydn. Check out the recorders on Stairway to Heaven.



Jethro Tull’s sound, although not citing Haydn’s works clearly exhibits influence that Haydn had musically, albeit, possibly subconsciously on the writing style and instrumentation of Ian Anderson.

On the seminal album “Aqualung” much like the recorders from Led Zeppelin’s  Stairway, JT’s track Mother Goose, is a harken back to renaissance, but with a touch of Classical/ Haydn era composition. One could say that Haydn himself, was harkening back to the renaissance with his use of recorders.

Tull even went as far as covering a jazz inflected version of J.S. Bach’s Boureé for flute, and titling one of their albums “Minstrel In The Gallery”.

Another interesting group with a unique style all their own, much like Haydn, was a band called Gryphon. Playing off of the success of other “art-rock” groups, such as Genesis, Yes, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson. Their songs were intricately woven suite-like pieces with contrapuntal melodies, and a different instrumental line-up which involved guitars, electric and acoustic, drums, bass, synthesizers, as well as some traditional celtic percussion, crumhorn, recorder, and bassoon.

Their albums, “ Red Queen to Gryphon Three”, and “Raindance” were largely instrumental, with one piece flowing into the next. The latter album contains an interesting cover of The Beatles “Mother Natures’ Son”, making it more Renaissance sounding, than pop/rock.

Focusing on the latter, much like the early chamber groups, and continuing down to todays versions, drawing comparison to the symphony orchestra, the quartet was less about the individual players, as it was the sum of the parts.

The famous String Quartet No. 3 Op. 76 “Emperor” was used in The Beatles “A Hard Days Night”, “Bulworth”, “Casablanca”, “The Dirty Dozen”, and several others.

In the final movement, the formula of the driving, constant rhythm of the violin and viola, with the violin and cello trading melody parts, can be heard in songs like “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles.

In closing there are many marks that Haydn has left upon all of music history since his time. It can be a fun exercise to try to pick out the sounds, instrumentation, and writing styles that his music inspired in many artists and works since. I challenge you to find more of his sound in some of your favorites.

The Modern Classical, a series of blogs comparing, and contrasting different artists, composers, and musicians, of both our day, as well as of the past several centuries worth of music. This series will be focused less on detailing the lives of those featured as they are well documented elsewhere, and more on my perception of how they have influenced one another, as well as myself as a musician, music educator, writer, and consumer of music. I sincerely hope you enjoy these articles, and welcome any feedback you may have.



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