Celebrations mark 200 years since composer Haydn's death

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Celebrations marking 200 years since Joseph Haydn s death began Tuesday in the Austrian town where the composer, considered the father of the symphony, left his mark on music history.

A year s worth of events centered in Eisenstadt will recognize Haydn and his work, with all 107 of his symphonies set to be performed at the town s Esterhazy Palace.

On Tuesday evening, performances were held of four of Haydn s symphonies by maestro Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his period-instrument ensemble, Concentus Musicus.

The opening concert featured a symphony from the main phases of Haydn s oeuvre, the first, 59th, 95th and 100th symphonies.

Eisenstadt, with its population of 12,000, cobbled streets and ornate baroque architecture, is calling itself Haydn City.

The province where it is located, Burgenland, is known for its wine, and legend has it that Haydn was fond of a tipple himself and received part of his pay in liquid form.

Haydn and Eisenstadt go together like Mozart and Salzburg, said Hans Niessl, governor of Burgenland province.

But while Mozart was born in Salzburg, Haydn (1732-1809) is not strictly speaking a native of Eisenstadt, the regional capital of Burgenland, since he was born in Rohrau, a tiny village some 50 kilometers away.

Nevertheless, Eisenstadt forms the focal point of Austria s lavish year-long celebrations because it was here that he lived and worked for much of his career as court composer to the wealthy Esterhazy family.

And it was in the magnificent Esterhazy Palace that Austrian President Heinz Fischer officially opened Haydn Year 2009 on Tuesday.

The date for the opening was chosen because Haydn was born on March 31, 1732, even if the actual anniversary of his death is two months later on May 31.

Eisenstadt was more than just an episode in Haydn s life, it was the focal point of his artistic biography, said Franz Patay, managing director of the bicentenary celebrations.

He composed most of his masterpieces here. Many of the original locations where Haydn lived and worked – such as the Haydnsaal at Esterhazy Palace, a hall famed the world over for its outstanding acoustics – have been preserved until the present day, and serve as an elegant and authentic setting for musical life in Eisenstadt.

Haydn is credited with being the father of the classical symphony, the string quartet and even the piano sonata.

But his genius was universal and he wrote music for almost every conceivable genre.

Many of his sacred works, including all 12 masses, will be performed in the town s churches and Haydn lovers will also be able to hear much of the composer s vast output of chamber music, including a special series of concerts dedicated to his piano trios, baryton trios and string trios.

The list of performers includes some of the world s leading conductors, orchestras and soloists.

They include Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Ton Koopman, Jordi Savall, Christophe Rousset, Colin Davis and Adam Fischer; Concentus Musicus, the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Concerto Koeln, The Academy of Ancient Music and Il Giardino Armonico.

An ambitious exhibition entitled The Haydn Phenomenon also opened Wednesday, with more than 550 artifacts on display in four different museums in Eisenstadt, showing visitors how Haydn s life in the town influenced his personality and work.

Eisenstadt, which hosts a Haydn festival every year, has been preparing for the bicentenary celebrations since 2006.

There ll be something here for everyone, from the Haydn experts to the Haydn novices, and in every form, too, from the music and concerts and the exhibition, to cuisine, said Helmut Bieler, Burgenland s culture minister.

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