Essential Composers: Haydn is the Most Underrated “Great” Composer

A life in music from age 6. Member of the Vienna Boys Choir until his voice broke. Respected as an innovator of the Symphony and the father of the String Quartet, but infrequently performed or given a dedicated festival.

Count Nikolaus Esterhazy

He wrote tons of music for all sorts of ensembles as court composers did, performing managerial tasks as court composers did, while henpecked. His second big gig and significant step up was working for Count Nicolas Esterhazy, an interesting dude in his own right; wealthy and extravagant.

Esterhazy had distinguished himself in one of the once-in-a-generation wars between German-speaking Prussians and German-speaking Austro Hungarians. He fashioned one of the best music set ups in Europe at his killer palace not far from Vienna, and helped establish Vienna in particular and Austria in general as the music center it remains today. 

Esterhazy Palace

Haydn write over 100 pieces for the Count’s own instrument called Baryton, an obsolete, dulcet stringed instrument with sympathetic stings that can be plucked while the mains are bowed. Clearly the Count was a multitasker. The palace became a major destination for music lovers and spread Haydn’s fame all over Europe.

His pieces were widely and eagerly performed. When the Count died and his frugal brother wasn’t as interested in continuing the expense, Haydn went back to freelancing and lucrative ventures especially in Paris and London and lived the rest of his life with a deserved living legend status.