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              Charles Rosen in his famous book, The Classical Style, pays tribute to Haydn by acknowledging that the greatest testimony of one artist to another is that letter of Haydn's, when Prague asked him to write an opera, and he said, "Unfortunately, the operas I've written for Esterhazy are too local, they wouldn't work for a big opera house like yours. After having heard the Marriage of Figaro, I don't really think I can compete with somebody like Mozart." That's the greatest tribute that one great composer has ever paid to another.1

If you want to think about the composers who were really very nice people, Haydn really comes out as much nicer than anybody else! Most of them are rather mean spirited about their colleagues, but Haydn was unbelievably generous. And there's a famous thing that he was told at the end of his life that Mozart had been saying nasty things about him, and Haydn just said, "I forgive him." Haydn led a much more pious life, “Although Haydn, like any other eighteenth-century gentleman, enjoyed his glass of wine" 2. It is generally agreed that Haydn led a prosperous, if not personally fulfilling, life throughout his adult years.

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1Rosen, Charles
2Landon, H.C. Robbins

Mozart was enormously original, and changed the structure of arias. He was the first composer who could actually write an ensemble in which every character is entirely different from the others. Handel could do that in Jephtha, but what Mozart does is that not only are the characters different, but the situation changes as the ensemble goes on. That's absolutely unique. It's the first time in the history of opera.
"[Mozart] was the first composer who could actually write an ensemble in which every character is entirely different from the others," notes Charles Rosen.3

In this report we will encompass the distinguishing features of the classical style, the music of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The period revolves round the three composers acknowledged then and now as its greatest exponents: Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. All three were innovators and contributed to the development of musical style.

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According to some musicians the classical musical style is a meticulous adherence to form, especially sonata form, with set modulations occurring at particular points in movements to lead up to the final resolution onto the tonic for the end of the movement. The same group believes that perhaps this form was developed by the sons of J.S. Bach and by Haydn, which later gradually broke down leading to the romantic style initiated by Beethoven.

3Rosen, Charles

According to Charles Rosen, to ascribe to the late eighteenth century a rigorous use of schemes not in fact formalized until the mid nineteenth is a ridiculous idea, soon exploded by seeing how frequently Haydn and Mozart fail to conform to the strict dictates of sonata form: the wrong number of themes, the wrong keys, tricks to deceive the ear into thinking the end is approaching, and so on.4
Haydn is undeniably recognized as one of the most creative and resourceful composers in history, yet he continues to be overshadowed by Mozart. Does that mean that Mozart had more talent or that he contributed more to the development of western music? Talent alone cannot account for the accomplishments and innovations of these two brilliant composers. The music they left us is a product of their natural ability combined with formal training and experience, personal inspiration and motivation, hard work, and a good deal of being in the right place at the right time.

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The most obvious differences between Mozart and Haydn occur as a direct result of their lineage and other circumstances surrounding their youth. By the age of six, Mozart and Haydn had both displayed considerable natural talent; however, their prospects for wealth and fame were vastly different.

Joseph Haydn’s father, Mathias Haydn, was a wheelwright in the Lower Austrian
4Rosen, Charles

village of Rohrau and, prior to their marriage, his mother, Anna-Maria, had been a cook for a local lord. Mathias had a good tenor voice and had learned to strum the harp on a trip to Frankfort am Mayn.5 The Haydns, though peasants, appear to have been a fairly musical family. In fact, two of Joseph’s siblings would later be quite successful in music, one as a composer and the other as a tenor.6
Mozart, on the other hand, was born to a well-respected family. His father, Leopold, a highly esteemed violinist and composer in his own right, recognized the potential in Mozart’s ear sophistication and musical memory. Leopold saw "a faint hope of achieving the desired social advancement that he had only partly fulfilled by his own efforts"7 and set young Wolfgang on an intensive curriculum of musical studies.

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Mozart’s travels with his parents exposed him to cosmopolitan range of influences, including meeting the greatest composers of his time. Haydn had never traveled more than eighty miles from Vienna until, at the age of sixty, he went to London. At least in Vienna, much of the world’s best music could come to him. Mozart and Haydn also influenced each other’s work. As early as 1770, Mozart’s compositions showed increasing evidence of Haydn’s influence. Sometimes it is apparent in "thematic invention, but more often in the

5 Griesinger, G.A.

6 Landon, H.C. Robbins

7Elias, Norbert.

development of his compositional technique" (Schmid 94).8 The warm relationship between the two gave impetus for "one of Mozart’s most glorious works, the quartet cycle of the years 1782-85, which he dedicated to Haydn" (Schmid 99).9 Though Haydn incorporated some of Mozart’s melodies into his own compositions, he must have been sensitive to comparisons with Mozart because "in 1787 he refused an opera buffa for Prague, partly to avoid comparison ‘with the great Mozart’, yet in the same year he was proposing to compose opera seria for London" (London 186).10 Haydn was also influenced by Handel and had a significant influence on Beethoven. Mozart was influenced by J.S. Bach.

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Contrasting Haydn’s music with Mozart’s, the book Haydn: His Life and Music states "Uniqueness is a clear sign of artistic maturity and, through features like the wider harmonic vocabulary owe something to Mozart, the end result is completely unlike anything in Mozart. Typically, in Haydn’s music of this period (1781-1790), harmonic sophistication does not produce melancholy, but reinforces the sinewy textures (Landon 202).11

From a harmonic point of view, the crucial development was that of equal temperament earlier in the century. This means that instead of one key on a keyboard being exactly in tune and the rest out to one degree or another (making distant keys almost unusable), all keys are equally nearly in tune. This strengthened the relationships between keys, and made the triad the dominant harmonic feature. Earlier harmony was based on the interactions of more or less independent lines of melody, as in a Bach fugue. Bringing in simpler, symmetrical rhythms, as were used in opera buffa, meant that this new type of harmony could be exploited on a large scale, trasting modulations as slowly moving dissonances. The ideas which were later codified as sonata form are basically to travel to the dominant as a source of tension, then resolve back to the tonic, and can be seen in many classical movements which it would seem strange to classify as sonata form - slow movements, minuets, rondos. Increasing chromaticism and the tendency to treat all keys as harmonies rather than long-term dissonances led to the break up of the classical and the establishment of the romantic style, with longer melodies not lending themselves to the kind of harmonisation fundamental to Beethoven, Haydn and Mozart.

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Charles Rosen places the first flowering of the style in Haydn's string quartet set, Op. 33, slightly later than would many historians (but then his definition of the style is slightly different, too). He points to the extra-musical evidence that Haydn described these quartets as new and revolutionary.12

Haydn was the classical composer par-excellence. I use the word composer in a very particular sense. His music is composed - constructed - built! Understand

12Rosen, Charles

this and you are half way there. Take any piece by Haydn. What do you SEE? Look carefully. It will be a marvelous example of the composer’s art. The material is laid out before you, clearly and without fuss. He then proceeds to take it through the twin process of creative examination and exploitation. One element at a time. First this way, then that, then into this key, then see what it does in that key: you weren't expecting that were you? And so it goes on. The perfect length, striking a perfect balance between the predictable and the unpredictable. The man was a genius! His material is always under perfect control. His treatment of it always appropriate. Nothing out of place.

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Mozart was perhaps the greatest of all musical craftsmen. Virtually everything that he wrote flows seamlessly forward, not a note too many or a note too few. Every phrase in perfect accord within its context. Every note a melodic gem. For this reason I feel that the current fashion to decorate his music with ornaments at every available turn is often harmful to the shape of the music and frequently downright tasteless. It detracts from the purity of the melodic line, melody being the crucial first principal of his music.

Mozart was first and foremost a melodist. If you treat every single note as part of a melodic line, you will avoid the machine-gun like delivery that so often mars the performing of the repetitive accompanying figuration that is typical of his style.

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The melodic lines of Mozart are cunning in the extreme. Do not allow yourself to be hypnotized into rattling them off as a series of even sparkling scales. To do this is to miss the point. The critical point of Mozart's music, the fundamental element that lifts him above his contemporaries and elevates his music to the very highest level is: Mozart's melodies are forever trying to escape from the gravitational pull of the underlying harmony.

They twist and turn, jump and dive, always trying to free themselves from the chains of conventional harmonic progression. It is this that gives his music that particular yearning quality. It is this that gives his music its incredible forward momentum. The harmony chases the melody trying to capture it, as indeed it does at the cadence points, only to see the melody surge ahead again and the chase to be continued into the next section of the work!  Referring to his piano sonata K.284, the Allegro is a deliciously brilliant composition of the fully self-confident musician Mozart. The Rondeau en Polonaise --Andante could easily be a hectic portrait of some aristocratic household. While the concluding Theme with variations that round up this sonata are nothing short of extraordinary in the way they build their range of emotional exploration from one variation to the next... from the delightfully playful to the grandiose, to the sneaky, to the utterly wild. 

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For both Haydn and Mozart, music was their escape hatch as well as a comfort and refuge. It was a means to an end, to leave to pain of their younger years. Music provided Haydn with an avenue to happiness and a better life. Once he left home, he almost never went back. For Mozart, it undoubtedly earned him long periods of much-craved love and admiration. Both saw opportunities to exploit their talents and better their lives. Both were men who actualized their potential and were acclaimed by those whose opinions they valued. Both had an unmistakable impact on the evolution of music and those who would create it.



  1. Elias, Norbert. (1993). Mozart: Portrait of a Genius. Ed. Michael Schroter. Trans. Edmund Fephcott. Berkely and Los Angeles: Univeristy of California Press. 1993.
  2. Griesinger, G.A. (1954). Biographische Notizen uber Joseph Haydn, Leipzig 1810; new ed. Franz Grasberger, Vienna 1954. Landon and Jones 23-24
  3. Landon, H.C. Robbins and David Jones. (1988) Haydn: His Life and Music. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 1988.
  4. Rosen, Charles (1971). THE CLASSICAL STYLE: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven.  (Faber and Faber 1971).
  5. Schmid, Ernst Fritz. (1963). "Mozart and Haydn." The Creative World of Mozart. Ed. Paul Lang. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 1963.

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