Tablet - Portrait

Tablet - Landscape


Franz Joseph Haydn

Unlike Mozart, Beethoven, Clementi, and a number of his other near-contemporaries, Haydn was not a virtuoso pianist. Haydn recognized this, once stating, "I was a wizard on no instrument, but I knew the strength and working of all." However, until Beethoven, the piano sonata was not composed primarily as a vehicle for virtuoso technique -- that was the domain of the concerto -- but as entertainment for amateurs in the privacy of their homes. Often, such pieces were directed toward women, who were expected to attain a moderate degree of accomplishment on a keyboard instrument in order to be "eligible for marriage." Also, many such pieces were written for students, often as something of an exercise.

Haydn composed piano sonatas for a number of different students, and the wide range of their ability accounts for the disparate levels of sophistication we find among the nearly 50 surviving sonatas, most of which were written before 1770; some of these works have been lost because Haydn gave the manuscripts to his students without making copies. A few of Haydn's sonatas, however, were not composed for his students; three of these, the Sonatas in C major, D major and E flat major (Hoboken 16: 50-52), were written for Therese Jansen, a leading pianist in London who had studied with Clementi. Haydn composed them in 1794-1795, during his second visit to the English capital. The last three piano sonatas give evidence not only of Jansen's formidable technique, but of the more powerful sonority of the English piano in comparison to its German and Austrian counterparts.

The Piano Sonata in E flat major, H. 16/52, is often described as Haydn's finest work in the genre. Forming more of a cohesive whole than either of its siblings, Haydn's E flat major sonata is exceptional in both size and scope and manipulation of tonal material.

An abundance of ideas floods the opening of the Allegro moderato, sonata-form first movement, which is a perfect example of Haydn's predilection for monothematic movements; although there are several themes in the exposition, they are all derived from the material of the first eight bars. The first genuinely new material appears at the very end of the exposition, and forms the basis for a long development.

The second movement, marked Adagio and in three-part form, is in E major, a half step above the tonic (a relationship generally referred to as Neapolitan). The dotted rhythm and general shape of the main theme create a strong relationship between this and the first movement.

Instead of the traditional rondo, Haydn chose to compose a fast sonata-form movement to close the piece. Again there is an abundance of material; we hear two themes in each key area. The development section visits just about all the material of the exposition, which, aside from transpositions and a few alterations to the transition, is restated in the recapitulation nearly note for note.

-- John Palmer