Joseph Haydn

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Franz Joseph Haydn
Haydn portrait by Thomas Hardy (small).jpg
Background information
Birth name Franz Joseph Haydn
Born March 31, 1732 Rohrau, Austria
Died May 31, 1809, Vienna, Austria
Occupation(s) Opera Composer, violinist, pianist
Notable instrument(s)
Opera Composer

Franz Joseph Haydn[1] (March 31 or April 1, 1732 – May 31, 1809) was one of the most prominent composers of the Classical music era, called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet."

A life-long resident of Austria, Haydn spent most of his career as a Noble court musician for the wealthy Esterhazy family on their remote estate. Being isolated from other composers and trends in music until the later part of his long life, he was, as he put it, "forced to become original."

Joseph Haydn was the brother of Michael Haydn, himself a highly regarded composer, and Johann Evangelist Haydn, a tenor.

Haydn's settings of the Catholic Mass remain among his most performed works. The emotions that are expressed in these masterfully realized works range from the deeply devotional and solemn, through the anguished and plaintive, to the glorious and triumphant, and are models of structural incisiveness as well. It has been suggested that his late masses are extensions of his symphonic ouvre, veritable symphonies with voices that proclaim God's glory and testify to a creative life dedicated to the highest ideals of humanity.



Joseph Haydn was born in 1732 in the village of Rohrau, Austria near the Hungarian border. His father was Matthias Haydn, a wheelwright who also served as "Marktrichter," an office akin to a village mayor. Haydn's mother, the former Maria Koller, had previously worked as a cook in the palace of Count Harrach, the presiding aristocrat of Rohrau. Neither parent could read music. However, Matthias was an enthusiastic folk musician, who during the journeyman period of his career had taught himself to play the harp. According to Haydn's later reminiscences, his childhood family was extremely musical, and frequently sang together and with their neighbors.

Haydn's parents were perceptive enough to notice that their son was musically talented and knew that in Rohrau he would have no chance to obtain any serious musical training. It was for this reason that they accepted a proposal from their relative Johann Matthias Franck, the schoolmaster and choirmaster in Hainburg an der Donau, that Haydn be apprenticed to Franck in his home to train as a musician. Haydn thus went off with Franck to Hainburg (ten miles away) and never again lived with his parents. At the time he was not quite six years old.

Life in the Franck household was not easy for Haydn, who later remembered being frequently hungry as well as constantly humiliated by the filthy state of his clothing. However, he did begin his musical training there, and soon was able to play both harpsichord and violin. The people of Hainburg were soon hearing him sing treble parts in the church choir.

There is reason to think that Haydn's singing impressed those who heard him, because two years later (1740), he was brought to the attention of Georg von Reutter, the director of music in Stephansdom (Saint Stephen's) Cathedral in Vienna, who was touring the provinces looking for talented choirboys. Haydn passed his audition with Reutter, and soon moved off to Vienna, where he worked for the next nine years as a chorister, the last four in the company of his younger brother Michael Haydn.

Like Franck before him, Reutter did not always make sure Haydn was properly fed. The young Haydn greatly looked forward to performances before aristocratic audiences, where the singers sometimes had the opportunity to satisfy their hunger by devouring the refreshments. Reutter also did little to further his choristers' musical education. However, Saint Stephen's was at the time one of the leading musical centers in Europe, with many performances of new music by leading composers. Haydn was able to learn a great deal by osmosis simply by serving as a professional musician there.

Struggles as a freelancer

In 1749, Haydn had matured physically to the point that he was no longer able to sing high choral parts. On a weak pretext, he was summarily dismissed from his job. He evidently spent one night homeless on a park bench, but was taken in by friends and began to pursue a career as a freelance musician. During this arduous period, which lasted ten years, Haydn worked many different jobs, including valet – and an accompanist for the Italian composer Nicolò Porpora, from whom he later said he learned "the true fundamentals of composition." He labored to fill the gaps in his training, and eventually wrote his first string quartets and his first opera. During this time Haydn's professional reputation gradually increased.

The years as Kapellmeister

Portrait by Ludwig Guttenbrunn, ca. 1770

In 1759 (1757 according to the New Grove Encyclopedia), Haydn received his first important position, that of Kapellmeister or music director for Count Karl von Morzin. In this capacity, he directed the count's small orchestra, and for this ensemble wrote his first symphonies. Count Morzin soon suffered financial reverses that forced him to dismiss his musical establishment, but Haydn was quickly offered a similar job (1761) as assistant Kapellmeister to the Eszterházy family, one of the wealthiest and most important in the Austrian Empire. When the old Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, died in 1766, Haydn was elevated to full Kapellmeister.

As a liveried servant of the Eszterházys, Haydn followed them as they moved among their three main residences: the family seat in Eisenstadt, their winter palace in Vienna, and Eszterháza, a grand new palace built in rural Hungary in the 1760s. Haydn had a huge range of responsibilities, including composition, running the orchestra, playing chamber music for and with his patrons, and eventually the mounting of operatic productions. Despite the backbreaking workload, Haydn considered himself fortunate to have this position. The Eszterházy princes (first Paul Anton, then most importantly Nikolaus I) were musical connoisseurs who appreciated his work and gave him the conditions needed for his artistic development, including daily access to his own small orchestra.

In 1760, with the security of a Kapellmeister position, Haydn married. He and his wife, the former Maria Anna Keller, did not get along, and they produced no children. Haydn may have had one or more children with Luigia Polzelli, a singer in the Eszterházy establishment with whom he carried on a long-term love affair, and to whom he often wrote on his travels.

During the nearly 30 years that Haydn worked in the Eszterházy household, he produced a flood of compositions, and his musical style became ever more developed. His popularity in the outside world also increased. Gradually, Haydn came to write as much for publication as for his employer, and several important works of this period, such as the Paris symphonies (1785–1786) and the original orchestral version of The Seven Last Words of Christ (1786), were commissions from abroad.

Around 1781, Haydn established a friendship with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose work he had already been influencing by example for many years. According to later testimony by Stephen Storace, the two composers occasionally played in string quartets together. Haydn was hugely impressed with Mozart's work, and in various ways tried to help the younger composer. During the years 1782 to 1785, Mozart wrote a set of string quartets thought to be inspired by Haydn's Opus 33 series. On completion he dedicated them to Haydn, a very unusual thing to do at a time when the recipients were usually aristocrats. The close Mozart – Haydn connection may be an expression of Freemason sympathies. Mozart and Haydn were members of the same Masonic lodge. Mozart joined in 1784 in the middle of writing those string quartets subsequently dedicated to his Masonic brother Haydn. This lodge was a specifically Catholic rather than a deistic one.

In 1789, Haydn developed another friendship with Maria Anna von Genzinger (1750–1793), the wife of Prince Nicolaus's personal physician in Vienna. Their relationship, documented in Haydn's letters, was evidently intense but platonic. The letters express Haydn's sense of loneliness and melancholy at his long isolation at Eszterháza. Genzinger's premature death in 1793 was a blow to Haydn, and his Variations in F minor variations for piano, (Hob. XVII:6), which are unusual in Haydn's work for their tone of impassioned tragedy, may have been written as a response to her death.

The London journeys

In 1790, Prince Nikolaus died and was succeeded by a thoroughly unmusical prince who dismissed the entire musical establishment and put Haydn on a pension. Thus freed of his obligations, Haydn was able to accept a lucrative offer from Johann Peter Salomon, a German impresario, to visit England and conduct new symphonies with a large orchestra.

The first visit (1791-1792), along with a repeat visit (1794-1795), was a huge success. Audiences flocked to Haydn's concerts, and he quickly achieved wealth and fame. One review called him "incomparable." Musically, the visits to England generated some of Haydn's best-known works, including the Symphony No. 94 (Surprise), Symphony No. 100 (Military), Symphony No. 103 (Drumroll), and Symphony No. 104 (London), the Rider quartet, and the Gypsy Rondo piano trio.

The only misstep in the venture was an opera, L'anima del filosofo, which Haydn was contracted to compose, and paid a substantial sum of money for. Only one aria was sung at the time, and 11 numbers were published; the entire opera was not performed until 1950.

Final years in Vienna

Haydn actually considered becoming an English citizen and settling permanently, as composers such as George Frideric Handel had before him, but decided on a different course. He returned to Vienna, had a large house built for himself, and turned to the composition of large religious works for chorus and orchestra. These include his two great oratorios: The Creation and The Seasons, and six Masses for the Eszterházy family, which by this time was once again headed by a musically-inclined prince. Haydn also composed the last nine in his long series of string quartets, including the Emperor, Sunrise, and Fifths quartets. Despite his increasing age, Haydn looked to the future, exclaiming once in a letter, "how much remains to be done in this glorious art!"

In 1802, Haydn found that an illness from which he had been suffering for some time had increased greatly in severity to the point that he became physically unable to compose. This was doubtless very difficult for him because, as he acknowledged, the flow of fresh musical ideas waiting to be worked out as compositions did not cease. Haydn was well cared for by his servants, and he received many visitors and public honors during his last years, but they cannot have been very happy years for him. During his illness, Haydn often found solace by sitting at the piano and playing Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser, which he had composed himself as a patriotic gesture in 1797. This melody later became used for the Austrian and German national anthems.

Haydn died, aged 77, at the end of May 1809, shortly after an attack on Vienna by the French army under Napoleon. During the attack, despite his own fraily, his concern was for those around him. It is said that some of his last words were an attempt to comfort his servants at the sound of cannon fire: "My children, have no fear, for where Haydn is, no harm can fall."

Character and appearance

Haydn was known among his contemporaries for his kindly, optimistic, and congenial personality. He had a robust sense of humor, evident in his love of practical jokes and often apparent in his music. He was particularly respected by the Eszterházy court musicians whom he supervised, as he maintained a cordial working atmosphere and effectively represented the musicians' interests with their employer. He was given the nickname "Papa Haydn," initially a term of affection bestowed by the musicians who worked for him.

Haydn was a devout Roman Catholic who often turned to his rosary when he had trouble composing, a practice that he usually found to be effective. When he finished a composition, he would write "Laus deo" ("praise be to God") or some similar expression at the end of the manuscript. His favorite hobbies were hunting and fishing.

Haydn was short in stature, perhaps as a result of having been underfed throughout most of his youth. Like many in his day, he was a survivor of smallpox and his face was pitted with the scars of this disease. He was not handsome, and was quite surprised when women flocked to him during his London visits.

About a dozen portraits of Haydn exist, although they disagree sufficiently that, other than what is noted above, we would have little idea what Haydn looked like were it not also for the existence of a lifelike wax bust and Haydn's death mask. Both are in the Haydnhaus in Vienna, a museum dedicated to the composer. All but one of the portraits show Haydn wearing the grey powdered wig fashionable for men in the eighteenth century, and from the one exception we learn that Haydn was bald in adulthood.

Portion of an original manuscript by Haydn, in the British Museum, from a biography of Haydn available from Project Gutenberg


Did you know?
Haydn has been called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet"

Haydn is often described as the "father" of the classical symphony and string quartet. In fact, the symphony was already a well-established form before Haydn began his compositional career, with distinguished examples by Carl Philip Emmanuel Bach among others, but Haydn's symphonies are the earliest to remain in "standard" repertoire. His parenthood of the string quartet, however, is beyond doubt in that he essentially invented this medium single-handedly. He also wrote many piano sonatas, piano trios, divertimentos and masses, which became the foundation for the Classical music style in these compositional types. He also wrote other types of chamber music, as well as operas and concerti, although such compositions are now less known. Although other composers were prominent in the earlier Classical period, notably C.P.E. Bach in the field of the keyboard sonata, and J.C. Bach and Leopold Mozart in the symphony, Haydn was undoubtedly the strongest overall influence on musical style in this era.

The development of the sonata form into a subtle and flexible mode of musical expression, which became the dominant force in Classical musical thought, owed much to Haydn and those who followed his ideas. His sense of formal inventiveness also led him to integrate the fugue into the classical style and to enrich the rondo form with a cohesive tonal logic. Haydn was also the principal exponent of the double variation form, known as variations on two alternating themes, which are often major and minor mode versions of each other.

Structure and character of the music

A central characteristic of Haydn's music is the development of larger structures out of very short, simple musical motifs, usually devised from standard accompanying figures. The music is often quite formally concentrated, and the important musical events of a movement can unfold rather quickly. Haydn's musical practice formed the basis of much of what was to follow in the development of tonality and musical form. He took genres such as the symphony, which were at the time shorter and subsidiary to more important vocal music, and slowly expanded their length, weight and complexity.

Haydn's compositional practice was rooted in a study of the modal counterpoint of Johann Fux, and the tonal homophonic styles which had become more and more popular, particularly the work of Gluck and Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Of the latter Haydn wrote, "without him, we know nothing." He believed in the importance of melody, especially one which could be broken down into smaller parts easily subject to contrapuntal combination. In this regard he anticipated Ludwig van Beethoven.

Haydn's work became central to what was later described as sonata form, and his work was central to taking the binary schematic of what was then called a "melodie." It was a form divided into sections, joined by important moments in the harmony which signaled the change. One of Haydn's important innovations (adopted by Mozart and Beethoven) was to make the moment of transition the focus of tremendous creativity. Instead of using stock devices to make the transition, Haydn would often find inventive ways to make the move between two expected keys.

Later musical theorists would codify the formal organization in the following way:

  • Sonata allegro form - Introduction: If present in an extended form, a slower section in the dominant, often with material not directly related to the main themes, which would then rapidly transition to the
  • Sonata allegro form - Exposition: Presentation of thematic material, including a progression of tonality away from the home key. Unlike Mozart and Beethoven, Haydn often wrote expositions where the music that establishes the new key is similar or identical to the opening theme: this is called monothematic sonata form.
  • Sonata allegro form - Development: The thematic material is led through a rapidly-shifting sequence of keys, transformed, fragmented, or combined with new material. If not present, the work is termed a "sonatina." Haydn's developments tend to be longer and more elaborate than those of Mozart, for example.
  • Sonata allegro form - Recapitulation: Return to the home key, where the material of the exposition is re-presented. Haydn, unlike Mozart and Beethoven, often rearranges the order of themes compared to the exposition: he also frequently omits passages that appeared in the exposition (particularly in the monothematic case) and adds codas.
  • Sonata allegro form - Coda: After the close of the recapitulation on the tonic, there may be an additional section which works through more of the possibilities of the thematic material.

During this period the written music was structured by tonality, and the sections of a work of the Classical era were marked by tonal cadences. The most important transitions between sections were from the exposition to the development and from the development to the recapitulation. Haydn focused on creating witty and often dramatic ways to effect these transitions, by delaying them, or by making them so subtle that it takes some time before it is established that the transition has occurred. Perhaps paradoxically, one of the ways in which Haydn achieved this was by reducing the range of devices used in harmonic transitions, so that he could explore and develop the possibilities of those he regarded as most interesting.

Perhaps this is why, more than any other composer, Haydn's music is known for its humor. The most famous example is the sudden loud chord in the slow movement of his Surprise symphony, No. 94. Haydn's many other musical jokes include the fake endings in the quartets Op. 33 No. 2 and Op. 50 No. 3, and the remarkable rhythmic illusion placed in the trio section of Op. 50 No. 1.

Haydn's compositional practice influenced both Mozart and Beethoven. Beethoven began his career writing rather discursive, loosely organized sonata expositions. With the onset of his "Middle period," he revived and intensified Haydn's practice, joining the musical structure to tight small motifs, often by gradually reshaping both the work and the motifs so that they fit quite carefully.

The emotional content of Haydn's music cannot accurately be summarized in a few words, but one may attempt an approximate description. Much of the music was written to please and delight a prince, and its emotional tone is correspondingly upbeat. This tone also reflects, perhaps, Haydn's fundamentally healthy and well-balanced personality. Occasional minor-key works, often deadly serious in character, form striking exceptions to the general rule. Haydn's fast movements tend to be rhythmically propulsive and often impart a great sense of energy, especially in the finales. Some characteristic examples of Haydn's "rollicking" finale type are found in the Symphony No. 104 "London," the string quartet Op. 50 No. 1, and the piano trio Hob XV: 27. Haydn's early slow movements are usually not too slow in tempo, nor relaxed and reflective. Later on, the emotional range of the slow movements increases, notably in the deeply felt slow movements of the quartets Op. 76 Nos. 3 and 5, the Symphony No. 102, and the piano trio Hob XV: 23. The minuets tend to have a strong downbeat and a clearly popular character. Late in his career, perhaps inspired by the young Beethoven (who was briefly his student), Haydn began to write scherzi instead of minuets, with a much faster tempo, felt as one beat to the measure.

Evolution of Haydn's style

Haydn's early works date from a period in which the compositional style of the High Baroque (seen in Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel) had gone out of fashion. This was a period of exploration and uncertainty, and Haydn, born 18 years before the death of Bach, was himself one of the musical explorers of this time. An older contemporary whose work Haydn acknowledged as an important influence was Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

When tracing Haydn's work over the five decades in which it was produced (1749 to 1802), one finds a gradual but ever increasing complexity and musical sophistication, which developed as Haydn learned from his own experience and that of his colleagues. Several important landmarks have been observed in the evolution of Haydn's musical style.

In the late 1760s and early 1770s, Haydn entered a stylistic period known as "Sturm und Drang" (storm and stress). This term is taken from a Sturm und Drang literary movement of about the same time, though some scholars believe that Haydn was unaware of this literary development and that the change in his compositional style was entirely of his own making. The musical language of this period is similar to what went before, but it is deployed in works which are more intensely expressive, especially in those written in minor keys. Some of the most famous compositions of this period are the Symphony No. 45 Farewell, the Piano Sonata in C minor (Hob. XVI/20, L. 33), and the six string quartets of Op. 20, "Sun," all dating from 1772. It was also around this time that Haydn became interested in writing fugues in the Baroque style, and three of the Op. 20 quartets end with such fugues.

Following the climax of the "Sturm und Drang," Haydn returned to a lighter, more overtly entertaining style. There are no quartets from this period, and the symphonies take on new features: the first movements now sometimes contain slow introductions, and the scoring often includes trumpets and timpani. These changes are often related to a major shift in Haydn's professional duties, which moved him away from "pure" music and toward the production of Opera buffa or comic operas. Several of the operas, such as Il Mondo della luna (The World of the Moon), were Haydn's own works which are seldom performed today. Haydn sometimes recycled their overtures as symphony movements, which helped him continue his career as a symphonist during this hectic decade.

In 1779, an important change in Haydn's contract permitted him to publish his compositions without prior authorization from his employer. This may have encouraged Haydn to rekindle his career as a composer of "pure" music. The change made itself felt most dramatically in 1781, when Haydn published the six string quartets of Opus 33, announcing (in a letter to potential purchasers) that they were written in "a completely new and special way." Charles Rosen has argued that this assertion on Haydn's part was not just sales talk, but meant quite seriously. He points out a number of important advances in Haydn's compositional technique that appear in these quartets, advances that mark the advent of the Classical music style in full flower. These include a fluid form of phrasing, in which each motif emerges from the previous one without interruption, the practice of letting accompanying material evolve into melodic material, and a kind of "Classical counterpoint" in which each instrumental part maintains its own integrity. These traits continue in the many quartets that Haydn wrote after Opus 33.

In the 1790s, stimulated by his journeys to England, Haydn developed what Rosen calls his "popular style," a way of composition that, with unprecedented success, created music having great popular appeal but retaining a learned and rigorous musical structure. An important element of the popular style was the frequent use of folk music or folk-like material, as discussed in the article 'Haydn and folk music'. Haydn took care to deploy this material in appropriate locations, such as the endings of sonata expositions or the opening themes of finales. In such locations, the folk material serves as an element of stability, helping to anchor the larger structure. Haydn's popular style can be heard in virtually all of his later work, including the twelve London symphonies, the late quartets and piano trios, and the two late oratorios.

The return to Vienna in 1795 marked the last turning point in Haydn's career. Although his musical style evolved little, his intentions as a composer changed. While he had been a servant, and later a busy entrepreneur, Haydn wrote his works quickly and in profusion, with frequent deadlines. As a rich man, Haydn now felt he had the privilege of taking his time and writing for posterity. This is reflected in the subject matter of The Creation (1798) and The Seasons (1801). These works address such weighty topics as the meaning of life and the purpose of humankind, and represent an attempt to render the sublime in music. Haydn's new intentions since both oratorios took him over a year to complete. Haydn once remarked that he had worked on The Creation so long because he wanted it to last.

The change in Haydn's approach was important in the history of music, as other composers soon were following his lead. Notably, Beethoven adopted the practice of taking his time and aiming high. As composers were gradually liberated from dependence on the aristocracy, Haydn's late mode of work became the norm in Classical composition.


Some of Haydn's works are referred to by opus numbers, but Hob or Hoboken numbers, after Anthony van Hoboken's 1957 classification, are also frequently used. Following are some of his well known works.


  • Cello Concerto No. 1 in C
  • Cello Concerto No. 2 in D
  • Trumpet Concerto in Eb
  • Symphony No. 13 (1763)
  • Symphony No. 22, "The Philosopher" (1764)
  • Symphony No. 39
  • Symphony No. 44, "Trauersinfonie" (1770)
  • Symphony No. 45, "Farewell" (1772)
  • Symphony No. 59, "Fire" (before 1769)
  • Symphony No. 70 (1779)
  • Symphony No. 82, "The Bear" (1786)
  • Symphony No. 88 (1787)
  • Symphony No. 92, "Oxford" (1789)
  • Symphony No. 94, "Surprise" (1791)
  • Symphony No. 96 (called "Miracle") (1791)
  • Symphony No. 98 (1792)
  • Symphony No. 100, "Military Symphony" (1794)
  • Symphony No. 101, "The Clock" (1794)
  • Symphony No. 102 (1795)
  • Symphony No. 103, "Drumroll" (1795)
  • Symphony No. 104, "London" (1795)
Vocal works
  • Missa in tempore belli (Mass in time of war)
  • Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser
  • The Creation
  • The Seasons
  • Acide
  • Armida
  • Der krumme Teufel
  • La canterina
  • La fedeltà premiata
  • La marchesa nespola
  • L'anima del filosofo
  • Le pescatrici
  • L'incontro improvviso
  • L'infedeltà delusa
  • L'isola disabitata
  • Il mondo della luna
  • Orlando Paladino


  1. Although he is still often called "Franz Joseph Haydn," the name "Franz" was not used in the composer's lifetime. Scholars, along with an increasing number of music publishers and recording companies, now use the historically more accurate form of his name, rendered in English as "Joseph Haydn."

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Clark, Caryl, (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Haydn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 0521833477 (covers each of the genres Haydn composed in as well as stylistic and interpretive contexts and performance and reception)
  • Geiringer, Irene. Haydn: A Creative Life in Music. University of California, 1982. ISBN 978-0520043176
  • Griffiths, Paul. The String Quartet. London, UK: Thames and Hudson, 1983. ISBN 050001311X
  • Hughes, Rosemary. Haydn String Quartets. London: BBC 1966. ISBN 978-0563068082
  • Hughes, Rosemary. Haydn. New York: Farrar Strauss and Giroux, 1962. ASIN B009KK9LC4 (gives a sympathetic and witty account of Haydn's life, along with a survey of the music)
  • Kavanaugh, Patrick. Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996. ISBN 0310208068
  • Landon, H.C. Robbins. Haydn: Chronicle and Works. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1976-1980. ASIN B00DGI74R0 (near-exhaustive compilation of the information we have about Haydn's life)
  • Rosen, Charles, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven (Expanded Edition). New York: Norton, 1998. ISBN 978-0393317121 (the essential work, covering much of Haydn's output, and explicating Haydn's central role in the creation of the classical style)
  • Schonberg, Harold C. Lives of the Great Composers. New York: Norton, 1970. ISBN 0393021467
  • Sutcliffe, W. Dean. Haydn String Quartets, Op. 50. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 0521391032 (covers not just Op. 50 but also its relevance to Haydn's other output as well as his earlier quartets)
  • Webster, James, and Georg Feder (eds.). The New Grove Haydn. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0195169041

External links

All links retrieved August 10, 2022.


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