Passing the Baton: A Music Moment with Haydn and Beethoven

Joseph Haydn (left) and his most famous student, Ludwig van Beethoven (right). Wikimedia Commons.

What happens when the grandfather of the symphony takes on one of the brightest rising stars in classical music as his student? They shape history, of course!  

Joseph Haydn was already regarded as the finest composer of the era by the time he met a 22-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven. With 100 symphonies already under his belt, it was safe to say Haydn had *a lot* to pass on to the young composer. 

Beethoven was particularly keen to dive into writing for the string quartet and as Haydn was a master of the medium, it seemed like the perfect fit.  

On his way to London in 1790, Haydn made a stop in Bonn, Germany – birthplace of a then 20 year old Beethoven. This stop gave Beethoven the chance to show off his music and thoroughly impress Haydn. The master agreed to take Beethoven on as a student if he ever wound up in Vienna and in a short couple of years, that’s just where Beethoven ended up. He began his studies with Haydn almost immediately after moving to Vienna, learning all he could about not only quartets, but writing techniques that would influence all of his future music, including his symphonies.  

Haydn’s busy travel and work schedule interfered with lessons and after a misunderstanding about Haydn’s comments on one of Beethoven’s early works, the student decided to move on from his lessons with Haydn. Even though their relationship was a little tumultuous, Beethoven would not have been the composer he was without Haydn’s patient encouragement and teachings. What Haydn had started in shaping the genres of the string quartet and the symphony, Beethoven ran with and expanded into things the world had never seen before.  

Haydn gathered a lifetime of knowledge and he passed it on to the next generation through Beethoven and his other students, technique and enthusiasm flowing from one master to another.  

Music would not exist without teachers. At NWPB, we celebrate teachers every day through music. 

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