(Born March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria—died May 31, 1809, Vienna) Austrian composer.
Intended for the priesthood, he was recruited at age eight to the choir at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, where he learned violin and keyboard. On leaving the choir, he began supporting himself by teaching and playing violin, while undertaking a rigorous study of counterpoint and harmony. He came to the attention of Pietro Metastasio and through him became factotum to the composer Nicola Porpora in exchange for lessons. Gaining entrée to high society, in 1761 he became head of the musical establishment at the great palace of the Esterházy family, which would support him for most of his career. In this position of artistic isolation but with excellent resources, Haydn felt free to experiment and was forced to become original. By his late years he was recognized internationally as the greatest living composer. He composed important works in almost every genre, and his elegant and ingratiating works balance wit and seriousness, custom and innovation. The first great symphonist, he composed 106 symphonies, including the popular last 12 “London symphonies” (1791–95). He virtually invented the string quartet, and his 68 quartets remain the foundation of the quartet literature. His choral works include 14 masses and the oratorios The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801). He also wrote 47 piano sonatas and more than 125 beautiful works for the cello-like baryton. The principal shaper of the Classical style, he exerted major influence on his friend Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and on his student Ludwig van Beethoven.