The eighteenth century Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn is known today as one of the Viennese “classicist” composers, along with Mozart and Beethoven. They are so called because they all, in some ways, established and formulated such music genres and forms as symphonies, keyboard sonatas, and string quartets. Haydn, the eldest of the three, was a child prodigy especially in singing as he was invited to a church choir at the age of five, but he also studied keyboard instruments and the violin at the same time. As his voice changed, Haydn was discharged from the church choir at the age of seventeen. Haydn had to support himself by teaching and playing violin, while studying harmony and counterpoint. Soon after this hard time, Haydn was hired as an assistant to the Italian composer Nicola Porpora in exchange for lessons, and in 1761 he became a court musician at the palace of the Esterházy family (appointed assistant conductor in 1761 and became the music director in 1766). The Esterházys were one of the richest and most influential families of the Austrian Empire and were famous for housing its private orchestra with highly trained musicians. During his almost thirty-year service to the aristocratic family, Haydn provided music of all genres, including operas, music for church services, symphonies, string quartets, and keyboard sonatas.
His first cello concerto was written probably between the years 1761 to 1765, during this time as a court musician in the Esterházy orchestra. The piece was written for Joseph Weigl, a cellist in the court orchestra, which premiered the concerto probably under the direction of Haydn himself. The manuscript was presumed lost for two hundred years until 1961, when Czech musicologist Oldřich Pulkert found a copy of the score in the Radenin collection at the Prague National Museum. The rediscovered cello concerto was first performed on 19 May, 1962 in Prague, with the soloist Miloš Sádlo and Czech Radio Symphony under the direction of Charles Mackerras.
The concerto is in three movements: the vibrant first movement (Moderato), the graciously elegant second movement (Adagio), and the breathlessly exciting third movement (Allegro molto).