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Hyperion Records

CDA67882 - Haydn: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3
CDA67882

Recording details: August 2011
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: June 2012
DISCID: E3123911 C312B60E
Total duration: 156 minutes 39 seconds

'The playing is outstanding for its crystalline tone, springy rhythms, lively tempos and integral handling of ornamentation. Hyperion's recording of the modern Steinway is cleanly focused … Hamelin is often at his most brilliant where Haydn is at his most eccentric … a sparkling collection' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The most immediately striking feature of the set is the unfailingly superb, crystalline clarity of Hamelin's sound … the performances are next to flawless' (International Record Review)

Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3
CD1
Allegro  [5'53]
Menuet – Trio  [3'54]
Adagio  [3'36]
Allegro  [2'48]
Adagio  [3'46]
Menuet – Trio  [2'40]
Moderato  [6'56]
Largo  [5'38]
Menuet – Trio  [3'57]
Adagio  [3'39]
Allegro  [4'59]
Moderato  [8'29]
Allegretto  [4'00]
Moderato  [8'20]
Tempo di menuet  [2'42]
CD2
Moderato  [10'52]
Andante con moto  [8'02]
Finale: Allegro  [6'22]
Moderato  [8'35]
Menuet: Moderato  [3'45]
Allegro moderato  [6'48]
Andante  [6'18]
Moderato  [7'49]
Adagio  [5'17]
Tempo di menuet  [4'02]
Andante  [3'11]
Finale: Presto  [1'39]

Hyperion’s Record of the Month is the third double-volume release in Marc-André Hamelin’s much-praised series of Haydn’s keyboard sonatas. Haydn wrote around sixty keyboard sonatas and this selection of eleven focuses on those from the 1770s, including the great C minor sonata from the composer’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ period, with its dynamic contrasts and virtuoso demands. These are bookended by three from Haydn’s earliest output from the 1750s, most likely penned for his young female pupils to play, and the D major sonata written during the second of the mature composer’s triumphant London visits in 1794.

In all these fascinating, idiosyncratic works, Marc-André Hamelin wears his renowned virtuosity lightly, while playing with understated wit and the elegant, immaculate musicianship that has come to define one of the greatest pianists of our time.


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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
’I was no wizard on any instrument, but I knew the strength and working of all. I was not a bad keyboard player or singer, and could also play a concerto on the violin.’ Haydn’s self-assessment, late in life, to his friend and biographer Georg Griesinger, was characteristically modest. While he was no keyboard virtuoso à la Mozart and Beethoven, as a young man he composed organ concertos for his own performance at the hospital of the Barmherzige Brüder and the chapel of Count Harrach in Vienna. His appointment as vice-Kapellmeister to the Esterházy family in 1761 involved keyboard duties as well as playing the violin; and we can infer that he played harpsichord sonatas, trios, and perhaps concertos too, during the morning and afternoon chamber concerts demanded by the musically insatiable Prince Nicolaus. At the Esterházy court Haydn’s morning routine would invariably begin with him trying out ideas, for whatever medium, on the keyboard. Another biographer, Albert Christoph Dies, also relates how Haydn’s ‘worm-eaten clavichord’ had been a profound solace to the young composer in his Viennese garret in the early 1750s. While he later owned a harpsichord and, from 1788, a fortepiano by the Viennese manufacturer Wenzel Schanz, he would habitually compose on a clavichord—albeit one rather less ‘worm-eaten’ than in his early years—right through to old age.

If Haydn’s sixty-odd sonatas give a less complete picture of his artistic development than his symphonies and quartets, they, more than Mozart’s slenderer contribution to the genre, chart and epitomize the evolution of the classical sonata: from the unassuming divertimenti and partitas (Haydn only used the term ‘sonata’ from around 1770) written mainly for young female students in the 1750s, modelled on the harpsichord works of Galuppi and the Viennese master of galanterie Georg Christoph Wagenseil; through the more personal works of the late 1760s and early 1770s, several—including Nos 20 and 44, in the traditional Hoboken numbering used for this recording—influenced by the Empfindsamkeit, or ‘heightened sensibility’, of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (second son of J S), and the carefully cultivated popular idiom of the sets published between 1773 and 1784; to the three sonatas (Nos 50–52) inspired by the sonorous Broadwood pianos Haydn encountered in London.

More than any area of his output, Haydn’s earliest harpsichord partitas and divertimenti, as he called them (the titles are interchangeable), are fraught with problems of authentication. The autograph for only one of these sonatas survives—in G major, No 6 in Hoboken’s catalogue—and even here the finale is missing. Dating, too, is speculative. All we can say with fair certainty is that they were composed at various times between the early 1750s and the early 1760s. Many were probably designed for young pupils such as Marianne von Martínez, a Countess Thun, and Haydn’s first love, the wig-maker’s daughter Therese Keller, who entered a convent in 1755. (Five years later Haydn would marry her sister Maria Anna, possibly the greatest mistake of his life.) Griesinger gives us a charming glimpse of the young composer’s naïvety—a far cry from the shrewd negotiator Haydn became in later years: ‘Many of his easy Klavier sonatas, trios and the like fall into this period … Only a few originals remained with him; he gave them away, and considered it an honour if people took them. He did not realize that music dealers did good business with them, and he used to enjoy stopping in front of shops where one or another of his works was displayed in print.’ Griesinger obviously meant ‘in handwritten copies’: it was only in the 1760s that Haydn’s sonatas and trios began to circulate in printed editions, and another decade before he began to see any profit from them.

By far the slightest of all the early sonatas here is No 1, in three brief movements, with a final minuet enclosing a minor-keyed trio—a pattern found in many sonatas by Wagenseil and other mid-eighteenth-century Viennese composers. Some scholars have questioned Haydn’s authorship of this modestly charming work. Far more ambitious, technically and musically, are Nos 2 and 6. The crisp opening movement of No 2 in B flat major makes witty play with the skittish little triplet figure first heard in bar 2. The slow movement is a florid, often chromatic G minor Largo full of broken, sobbing phrases, the finale an elegantly proportioned minuet enclosing a haunting syncopated trio in B flat minor.

Most impressive of Haydn’s early sonatas is the four-movement G major, No 6. The opening movement deploys a diverse array of galant clichés with a confident swagger, while the final Allegro molto, spiced by irregular phrase lengths, shares the drive and dash of Haydn’s early symphony finales. There is a Baroque flavour to the trio of the minuet, with its chromatically falling bass (a traditional symbol of lamentation), and to the G minor Adagio, in which the right hand spins an expressive arioso over a steadily reiterated quaver pulse.

It was probably around 1765, during his early years at the Esterházy court, that Haydn first studied the writings and music of Emanuel Bach, beginning with his influential Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen (‘Essay on the true art of keyboard playing’). While the growing power and individuality of the sonatas from these years parallel developments throughout Haydn’s music, Emanuel Bach’s influence is revealed in their bold use of the whole range of the five-octave keyboard, their tendency to vary rather than simply repeat material and, above all, in their intricate and expressive ornamentation.

Three sonatas in this set, Nos 47, 44 and 20, date from between c1766 and 1771, years in which Haydn established himself as Europe’s greatest composer of instrumental music. Earliest and most unassuming of these three is No 47 in E minor, though even here the opening Adagio, a plaintive siciliano, features striking contrasts of lyricism and rhetoric. Like many of Emanuel Bach’s slow movements, it ends inconclusively. The sprightly contredanse theme of the E major Allegro sounds more typical of Haydn’s finales, while the finale proper is, again, a minuet, cast in condensed sonata form, without a central trio. Coincidentally or not, all three movements of the sonata begin with the same descending scale motif. (Capitalizing on Haydn’s prestige, the publisher Artaria later issued an alternative version of this sonata, transposing the first two movements up a semitone, prefacing them with an F major Moderato which doesn’t sound much like Haydn and almost certainly isn’t, and omitting the minuet finale. Despite its dubious provenance, this version became the better known and was the one catalogued by Hoboken as No 47.)

Roughly contemporary with the string quartets of Op 17 and Op 20, No 44 and No 20 are the earliest works Haydn designated ‘sonata’ rather than ‘divertimento’. Both recreate the spirit of Emanuel Bach’s Empfindsamkeit in terms of Haydn’s own more dynamic, ‘goal-oriented’ idiom. No 44 in G minor, in just two movements, exudes a melancholy intimacy unique among his sonatas. Its opening movement, permeated by the main theme’s initial triplet upbeat, rises to a magnificent, densely textured contrapuntal climax in the development; and the delicately ornamental G minor/major minuet sublimates galant gestures into pure pathos. Haydn embellishes the repeat of the G minor section, à la Emanuel Bach, and then introduces a truncated version of the G major trio (itself a variant of the G minor theme) as a coda.

Although the autograph bears the date 1771, Haydn withheld publication of the famous C minor Sonata, No 20, until 1780, when it appeared as the last, and by far the most challenging, of the set dedicated to the Auenbrugger sisters. With its abrupt dynamic contrasts, this is the first of Haydn’s keyboard works conceived essentially in terms of a touch-sensitive instrument—either the clavichord or the new fortepiano—rather than the harpsichord. Its expansive scale and virtuoso demands are unprecedented in Haydn’s sonatas before the 1790s, while its tragic intensity is matched in his keyboard music only by the F minor Variations of 1793. This is Haydn’s ‘Appassionata’. The first movement—whose elegiac main theme in parallel thirds and sixths Brahms perhaps subconsciously recalled in his song of a dying girl, Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer—combines soulful Empfindsamkeit, Sturm und Drang turbulence and argumentative rigour. Haydn enhances the music’s poignancy with passages of ‘speaking’ recitative, like heartfelt oratory.

The Andante con moto, in A flat major, unfolding over an expressive running bass line, is another Haydn slow movement with a distinct Baroque flavour. But with its textural complexity and wide harmonic reach it inhabits a different world from the earlier sonatas. Constant syncopations give the music a restless, yearning edge, rising to passion in the mounting sequences that sweep the music into the recapitulation. The finale, written against the background of a fast minuet, has a latent despairing fury that becomes manifest towards the end. Mingling violence and virtuosity, Haydn here expands a brief toccata-like sequence in an astounding crossed-hands passage, with the left hand touching the extremes of the contemporary five-octave keyboard.

Three years after this epoch-making C minor Sonata, the Viennese firm of Kurzböck issued a set of six very different sonatas, Nos 21–26. Carrying a diplomatic dedication to Haydn’s employer Prince Nicolaus Esterházy, this was the first authorized publication of any of his works. Haydn composed these sonatas—for harpsichord rather than fortepiano—with one eye on the amateur market, and perhaps also in deference to the taste and keyboard technique of the prince. Yet polished galanterie by no means precludes Haydnesque inventiveness, not least in the E major Sonata, No 22. Its first movement has something of Emanuel Bach’s ornamental, improvisatory manner, with abrupt contrasts of texture and tempo, the soulful E minor Andante is a wordless aria, and the minuet finale, like that in No 44, varies two themes in turn, one in the major, one in the minor. The European Magazine, and London Review of October 1784 found the first movement (and indeed the whole of Sonata No 23 in F major) ‘expressly composed in order to ridicule Bach of Hamburgh’, a judgement that would surely have astonished Haydn: ‘… the stile of Bach is closely copied, without the passages being stolen, in which his capricious manner, odd breaks, whimsical modulations, and very often childish manner, mixed with an affectation of profound science, are finely hit off and burlesqued.’

Alone among the ‘Esterházy’ sonatas, No 25 in E flat major has two movements only. Its march-like opening Moderato, texturally enriched by frequent octave doublings, is grand in aspiration, if rather discursive in effect. The finale, a sturdy Tempo di menuet, is written in strict canon virtually throughout, with the right hand taking the lead in the first half and the roles reversed in the second.

Haydn’s next group of keyboard sonatas, Nos 27–32, was published privately in manuscript copies in 1776, though No 29 in F major dates from two years earlier. More than anything in the ‘Esterházy’ sonatas, the first movement of No 29, with its comic false starts and wildly disparate textures and rhythmic patterns, might be dubbed a ‘burlesque’ of C P E Bach. Underlying its waywardness, though, is Haydn’s mastery of long-range sonata strategy, right through to a recapitulation that continues to develop the material of the exposition. Eccentric as the movement is, it never sounds like an agglomeration of random ideas, as superficially similar pieces by Emanuel Bach sometimes can. It is characteristic of Haydn’s keyboard slow movements that the ornate Adagio relies more on gesture and rhetorical flourishes than on lyrical melody. The finale, a minuet with variations, contains a beautiful syncopated F minor trio, akin to the minor-keyed trios in the early sonatas, but much subtler in the polyphonic weave of its textures.

Issued early in 1780 with the C minor, No 20, the five sonatas Nos 35–39 inaugurated Haydn’s long relationship with the Viennese publisher Artaria. They were dedicated to the talented sisters Franziska and Maria Katherina von Auenbrugger, whose playing drew the admiration of both Leopold Mozart—never one to dish out compliments lightly—and Haydn himself. Designated, for the first time, ‘for harpsichord, or forte-piano’, and often calling for the dynamic flexibility only possible on the newer instrument, these ‘Auenbrugger’ sonatas are as disparate in style as the 1776 set (Nos 27–32). The finest is No 36, in the rare and ‘extreme’ key of C sharp minor, though unlike the unremittingly serious C minor Sonata, No 20, it juxtaposes severe and ‘popular’ styles. The first movement develops the two limbs of its sole theme—a brusque forte unison and a soft, ‘pathetic’ response—with an almost Beethovenian trenchancy. Coming between this and the finale, a slow minuet of exquisite, refined melancholy with an assuaging C sharp major trio, the perky A major Scherzando (whose tune Haydn pilfered for Sonata No 39) seems like a facetious interloper.

With the D major Sonata, No 51, we leap forward some fifteen years to Haydn’s second triumphant London visit. Like its two companions of 1794, Nos 50 and 52, the sonata exploits the weightier sonorities of the new Broadwood instruments Haydn relished in London. But whereas Nos 50 and 52 are quasi-symphonic sonatas, written for the professional pianist Therese Jansen, No 51 is an intimate, two-movement work. Haydn perhaps intended it for his pupil and lover Rebecca Schroeter, to whom he dedicated three beautiful piano trios (Nos 24–26). Despite its modest scale and relative technical simplicity—which fooled an early reviewer into thinking it was composed near the beginning of Haydn’s career—the D major is as forward-looking as the two more imposing London sonatas. The first movement, in an idiosyncratic sonata form that varies rather than develops its themes, is a relaxed stroll that prefigures Schubert in its ‘open-air’ textures (right hand in octaves against rippling left-hand triplets) and piquant harmonic touches. The work’s tensions are concentrated in the syncopated scherzo-finale, with its pervasive chromaticism, irregular phrase lengths and aggressively disruptive offbeat accents: music it would be tempting to dub Beethovenian were it not also intensely characteristic of late Haydn.

Richard Wigmore © 2012


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'Haydn: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2' (CDA67710)
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