When we think of Austrian composers, most minds tend to go directly to Mozart, and who can blame those brains? There is no denying the impact Mozart’s genius had on opera and the music community as a whole. Yet, there are other composers who hail from the European musical giant of Austria.
1. Joseph Haydn
Born more than twenty years before Mozart and living twenty years after him, this first Austrian composer on our list was born in the village Rohrau, which borders Hungary. His father was the Marktrichter, which is kind of like a mayor and his mother was a cook. His father loved and played folk music but was not trained in the arts enough to read notations. The elder Haydn was self-taught on the harp and the composer especially loved when his family would gather with friends and family to sing.
When his parents recognized his talents, they knew he could never reach his potential living with them in their small village. So, Haydn’s parents sent him to live as an apprentice in Hainburg to a choirmaster Johann Matthias Frankh, who was also a relative. So, when he was six, Joseph left his parents and this would end the only time he would ever live with them.
Haydn’s memories of his time spent living with Frankh were unpleasant and it was during this period where he learned to play several instruments and he sang treble with the church choir. Haydn soon left his apprenticeship when he auditioned for a choirboy position with St. Stephen’s Cathedral. At the age of seven, Haydn moved to Vienna, where he would remain for nearly a decade while singing with the choir.
This Austrian composer built a career not only in his homeland but also abroad and came to be known as the “father of the symphony” and his work was vital in the progression of a familiar type of work called the sonata. By the age of seventy-one, Haydn had grown ill and was not able to compose his music. At 77, Haydn passed on and his remains were entombed at the Hundsturm cemetery for eleven years, and then they were moved, yet, when they were, his head was stolen and was not reunited with the rest of his body until nearly a century later.
2. Franz Schubert
Born in Himmelpfortgrund in 1797, this Austrian composer’s gift was also revealed when he was a child. Before his teens, Schubert mastered the violin, organ, and piano, which isn’t surprising since his father was a schoolmaster who loved music and his older brother was a musician as well. Schubert had an excellent vocal quality when he was a boy and this talent gave him the opportunity to study with Stadtkonvikt and, at the young age of eleven, Schubert was given a spot on the court’s chapel choir.
Four years later, Schubert suffered some damage to his vocal chords, which forced him to focus on composing. He trained under Antonio Salieri, who dubbed Schubert a genius. Still, Schubert didn’t pursue music as a career when he reached seventeen. He chose to study teaching at a trade school mostly because his family persuaded him. The idea was Schubert would work for his father at the school he ran.
Yet, the pull of the music was too strong and he continued to compose despite what his parents wanted. By the time Schubert started his teacher’s training he had already finished a three-act opera, a symphony, a number of string quartets, and several pieces for a solo piano.
The success of his “Italian Overture in C Major” motivated Schubert to follow his own path and he quit teaching. He had two operas fail and this gave him a bad name, houses were reluctant to commission work from him. Besides, the Romantic Era was coming about, which he was a part of, and most companies were looking for a more traditional sound.
Some of his works include Adrast der Spiegelritter, and Der vierjährige Posten. He became ill in the beginning of his third decade on this Earth and it was unfortunate because he was hitting a prolific period. The cause of his death was a combination of syphilis and mercury poisoning.
There is a park named after this composer where his body was once buried.
3. Georg Friedrich Haas
Much more contemporary than the Austrian composers we have discussed so far, Georg Friedrich Haas was born in 1953 in Graz, Austria. Some of the notable instructors Hass trained under include Gösta Neuwirth, Doris Wolf, and Iván Eröd while attending the Musikhochschule in his hometown.
Haas went on to be an instructor at the music school in Graz himself in 1978 and has gone on to create a collective for Graz composers called Die andere Seite. While earning a postgraduate degree in Vienna at the Hochschule für Musik under that tutelage of Friedrich Cerha, Haas has taken part in Darmstädter Ferienkurse, which boasts an International Summer Courses for New Music. In the early 1990s he was given a fellowship by the Salzburg Festival while also winning the Sandoz Prize.
In the area of genre, Haas is a heavy contender in the spectral music world, which is a style that came about in the 1970s that use computers for sounds as well as traditional instruments. Besides composing, Haas also spends time writing scholarly articles for the music world. He currently has pieces he has written on Luigi Nono, Pierre Boulez, Ivan Wyschnegradsky Alois Hába, and, fellow Austrian composer, Franz Schubert.
4. Egon Joseph Wellesz
Our final Austrian composer for the day was born in 1885 and studied in Vienna with Arnold Schoenberg, an Austrian composer we will cover on another list, and Guido Adler, the founder of the Vienna musicological institute. These two educators had a great influence on the direction of Wellesz’s musical choices throughout his career.
In particular, Wellesz was interested in Byzantine music, which was originated in Greece and used songs and melodies for official court ceremonies, for religious purposes, and during festivals. When the Nazi’s took over Austria, Wellesz was lucky to be in Amsterdam hearing a piece he had composed conducted by Bruno Walter. Wellesz traveled to England but was sent to Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man because they believed him to be a spy.
He was finally set free after H.C. Colles, a writer and musical critic for The Times, jumped in to help. Wellesz composed works like concertos for the piano and violin, and a musical suite for a full orchestra featuring the violin. He also composed operas, one of which is titled Die Bakchantinnen.
Yet, his legacy is his work with Byzantine music, for which Oxford University presented him with an honorary doctorate in music. A portrait of the composer is at the University. It was commissioned by their Lincoln College and painted by Jean Cooke. Other works include the ballets Das Wunder der Diana, Persisches Ballett, and Achilles auf Skyros.