1809: Joseph Haydn Dies in French-occupied Vienna

1809: Joseph Haydn Dies in French-occupied Vienna
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons/ Joseph Haydn playing quartets, painting from the Staatsmuseum in Vienna

Story Highlights

  • Historical event:
  • 31 May 1809
  • The forces of Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Vienna almost a month before Haydn's death and held the city even after the famous composer died.

On this day in 1809, the musician Joseph Haydn died. 

He was one of the most prominent composers of the Classical period, along with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven. Indeed, Haydn was in contact with both Mozart and Beethoven, as they all gravitated toward Vienna at one time.

Joseph Haydn composed a very large number of musical works – for example, as many as 106 symphonies (Beethoven, for comparison, composed only nine). It is interesting that today’s German national anthem is played precisely to Haydn’s melody from 1797. It is a well-known melody which used to be played to with the lyrics “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles”, but in Haydn’s time it was played to the words “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser” (God save Emperor Francis).

Haydn died precisely on this day in Vienna, at a time when the city was occupied by the French. Specifically, the forces of Napoleon Bonaparte occupied Vienna in early May 1809. Austrian troops withdrew to the north and Napoleon tried to strike them down once and for all at the famous Battle of Aspern-Essling near Vienna.

This battle took place just ten days before Haydn’s death, and Napoleon failed to defeat his enemies there. Bonaparte, still holding Vienna, struck again at the Austrian army five days after Haydn’s death at the Battle of Wagram, one of the bloodiest during the Napoleonic Wars, but one which ended in Napoleon’s victory.

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