How Haydn’s Folk Music Influenced His Work

How did Haydn’s upbringing in the rural Austrian countryside influence his music? We explore the folk music of Haydn’s homeland and how it helped shape his compositions.


Born in the small Austrian town of Rohrau in 1732, Joseph Haydn grew up surrounded by folk music. He would often sing and play the folk songs of his homeland with his friends and family. These early experiences with folk music would have a lasting influence on Haydn’s work as a composer.

In his later years, Haydn began to incorporate elements of folk music into his own compositions. For example, the opening theme of his Symphony No. 94 (1791) is based on a popular Austrian folk song called “Alle Vögel sind schon da” (“All the Birds Are Here”). In this piece, Haydn takes the simple melody of the folk song and expands it into a complex symphonic work.

While Haydn was not the only classical composer to be influenced by folk music, he was one of the most significant. His use of folk melodies helped to make his music more accessible to a wider audience. It also helped to create a new sound for classical music that would be continued by later composers such as Ludwig van Beethoven.

Haydn’s Life

Joseph Haydn was born in the small village of Rohrau, Austria, in 1732. He came from a long line of craftsmen—his father was a wheelwright, and his grandfather and great-grandfather were both stonemasons. Music was an important part of Haydn’s life from an early age. He sang in the choir at the local church, and he learned to play the harp, the viola da gamba, and the violin.

Early Life

Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in Austria in 1732. His father, Matthias Haydn, was a wheelwright who also served as the village marktmeister, an office comprising the duties of judge and mayor. Matthias was also a violinist who liked to play Haydn’s older brother Michael an instrument called the German mandolin. As a child, Haydn wanted nothing more than to become a famous composer or singer.

Unfortunately, Haydn’s father disapproved of his son’s aspirations and instead apprenticed him to Johann Matthias Frankh, a relative of friend who was the schoolmaster and organist in Hainburg. Frankh introduced Haydn to music theory and taught him to sight-read; he also probably introduced him to the music of Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1749, when Haydn was 17, his mother Maria Koller died; two years later his father also passed away.

Later Life

In 1791, Haydn was summoned to Vienna by his old patron, Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy, who had died in 1790 and been succeeded by his nephew Anton. Haydn’s new duties consisted not only of composing but also of musical direction and supervision of the Princes domestic arrangements. He directed the music at official functions given for visiting foreign dignitaries, including three magnificent state occasions in May 1792 to celebrate the recovery of the Emperor Leopold II from illness. In August he suffered a riding accident, which caused him a good deal of pain for the rest of his life; he was never again really healthy.

In November 1793, while Haydn was working on The Creation, his beloved wife Maria Anna died; he was deeply affected by her loss. From this time on he seems to have lost much of his earlier drive and confidence; he even contemplated giving up composing altogether. But he persevered, and in March 1794 The Creation was premiered with immense success.

During the summer of 1794 Haydn made his first visit to England, where The Creation had been performed (in English) earlier in the year to great acclaim. He composed two new works specifically for performance in London: Symphony No. 94 in G major (Surprise), so called because of its sudden loud chord in the second movement; and Symphony No. 95 in C minor. Both works were warmly received, as were six “London” symphonies (Nos. 93-98) written for publication during the following winter in Vienna.

Haydn now embarked on what was perhaps the most important phase of his entire career: a series of 12 symphonies (Nos. 99-110) written for publication by Artaria in 1796-97 and known as the “London” Symphonies, even though Haydn never visited London again; these were closely followed by a set of 6 quartets (opp. 76-77), also for Artaria, known as the “Esterházy” Quartets because they were dedicated to Prince Nikolaus’s successor Anton Esterházy (who had recently moved his court from Eisenstadt to a new palace at Eszterháza).

Haydn’s Folk Music

Joseph Haydn, often called the “Father of the Symphony,” was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1732 and died in 1809. He was one of the most prolific and widely celebrated composers of his time. Though he composed in many genres, including opera, chamber music, and religious music, he is best known for his symphonies and string quartets.

What is Folk Music?

Folk music is the music of the people. It is music that has been passed down orally from generation to generation and has not been written down. Folk music is different from country music or pop music because it has not been “commercialized.” Folk music is usually about the lives of common people, and it often tells a story.

Haydn’s folk music influenced his work in many ways. He was able to bring the emotion of the folk songs into his classical pieces. He also drew inspiration from the stories told in folk songs. Many of Haydn’s compositions have themes that can be traced back to folk songs.

Haydn’s Folk Music Influences

Haydn’s folk music influences can be heard in his work, particularly in his early string quartets. These pieces were influenced by the music he heard growing up in rural Austria, as well as the music of other cultures he was exposed to later in life.

Haydn’s use of folks melodies and rhythms in his work helped to shape the sound of classical music, and his influence can still be heard in the music of today.


In short, Haydn’s folk music roots had a profound influence on his classical compositions. Through the use of modal harmony, rustic themes, and dance-like rhythms, Haydn was able to infuse his music with the down-to-earth sensibility of the Austrian people. This helped to make his music some of the most popular of his time, and it continues to delight audiences today.

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