Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn
Birth and death
1732 - 1809
Related place
Alistair Grant

Life beyond Elmbridge

Franz Joseph Haydn, usually known as known as Joseph Haydn, was an Austrian-born composer. He was one of the most prolific, famous, and innovative composers. His work is hugely influential in the development of the symphony, string quartet, and piano trio, and the sonata form. He was a life-long resident of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and spent much of his career as a court musician for the wealthy, aristocratic Hungarian Esterházy family.

After the death in 1790 of his patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, Haydn was relieved of his position and received a pension from the Prince's heir. He accepted a lucrative offer from the German impresario Johan Peter Salomon to visit England to conduct new symphonies with a large orchestra. Both of his two visits in 1791-1792 and 1794-1795 were a huge success, and important in the development of his career. The musical historian Charles Burney reviewed his first London concert: "Haydn himself presided at the piano-forte; and the sight of that renowned composer so electrified the audience, as to excite an attention and a pleasure superior to any that had ever been caused by instrumental music in England." London audiences flocked to Haydn's concerts, which added to his fame and made him financially secure.

The compositions he made in England are now among his best-known works. They include the Surprise, Military, Drumroll, and London symphonies, the Rider quartet, and the Gypsy Rondo piano trio. He was also commissioned to compose an opera, L'anima del filosofo. However, the opera's performance was blocked by intrigues, and it was performed for the first time in Firenze, Itlay in 1951 starring Maria Callas in the role of Euridice.

Life in Elmbridge

Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) recorded a 2-day visit to Oatlands Palace in November 1791 in his London Notebooks. He was the guest of the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales, playing music for four hours each evening: "The little castle, eighteen miles from London, lies on a slope and commands the most glorious view. Among its many beauties is a most remarkable grotto which cost £25,000 sterling, and which was eleven years in the building. It is very large and contains many diversions, inter alia actual water that flows in from various sides, a beautiful English garden, various entrances and exits, besides a most charming bath."

Shortly before he visited Oatlands, Haydn had begun a secret romantic relationship with Rebecca Schroeter. Rebecca Schroeter (nee Scott) (1751-1826) was the daughter of a wealthy Scottish businessman who lived in London. She became a passionate amateur musician and married the German composer Johann Samuel Schroeter, much against the wishes of her wealthy family. The family had employed Schroeter as her music teacher. Schroeter died in 1788. On 29th June 1791, the recently widowed Rebecca Schroeter wrote Haydn a letter, inviting him to give her a music lesson, and Haydn accepted the invitation: “Mrs. Schroeter presents her compliments to Mr. Haydn, and informs him, she is just returned to town, and will be very happy to see him whenever it is convenient for him to give her a lesson. James Street, Buckingham Gate. Wednesday, June 29th 1791." As with her husband, Rebecca Schroeter fell in love with her music teacher, and Haydn fell in love with her.

In his famous biography of Haydn, Albert Christoph Dies, who interviewed Haydn in his last few years recalls how he "...opened up [one of the London notebooks] and found a couple of dozen letters in the English language. Haydn smiled and said: "Letters from an English widow in London, who loved me; but she was, though already 60 years old, still a beautiful and charming woman and I would have married her very easily if I had been free at the time." Dies was mistaken; Haydn was about 60 at that time, whereas Rebecca Schroeter was only 40. Haydn however was married, although his marriage to Maria Anna Keller in 1760 was unhappy, but the church forbade divorce. Haydn had also recently ended a long-term relationship with the singer Luigia Polzelli. The fact that Haydn transcribed the letters to his notebooks is perhaps indicative that Rebecca Schroeter had at some point asked him to return them to her. Robbins Landon notes that "It is surprising that a love affair of these proportions, between the famous Haydn and a lady of London society, managed to escape the gossip hounds of the day; it must have been conducted very discreetly indeed."

Their correspondence ended after Haydn left England in 1792. Nevertheless, on his return in 1794, he rented lodgings in Bury Street, close to Rebecca Schroeter's house, and most of Haydn's biographers agree that they resumed their relationship. They remained friends when Haydn left permanently for his home in Austria in 1795, but the two never saw each other again. However, shortly before leaving England for the last time in 1795, Haydn wrote a set of three piano trios (H.XV:24-6), which are amongst his finest works, and were dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter. Albert Christoph Dies wrote that Mrs. Schroeter was "still living" when he wrote his famous 1810 biography, which suggests that Rebecca Schroeter and Haydn may have remained in contact until after 1800, but no other correspondence survives than that Haydn copied into his London notebooks.


H.C. Robbins Landon & David Wyn Jones, Haydn: His Life and Music, Indiana University Press, 1988.

Karl & Irene Geiringer, Haydn: A Creative Life in Music, University of California Press, 1982.

Albert Christoph Dies, Biographische Nachrichten von Joseph Haydn nach mündlichen Erzählungen desselben entworfen und herausgegeben, 1810, Vienna. Translated by Vernon Gotwals, Biographical accounts of Joseph Haydn, written and edited from his own spoken narratives, published in Haydn: Two Contemporary Portraits, Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press, 1963.

  • Top
  • Privacy and cookies