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Hyperion Records

CDA67710 - Haydn: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Portrait of Joseph Haydn engraved by F A Andorff by Carl Jäger
The Cobbe Collection Trust, UK / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Recording details: August 2008
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Andrew Keener
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: August 2009
Total duration: 152 minutes 42 seconds

'One of the outstanding releases of the Haydn celebratory year' (International Record Review)

'A marvellously polished collection of performances … he is a model of correctness, with enough wit, exuberance and the most exquisite lightness of touches to keep the music buoyant' (The Guardian)

'Hamelin is most associated with virtuoso fireworks for piano, but he can also miniaturise himself exquisitely to suit Haydn's wit and elegance … the spring in his fingers is delightful' (The Times)

'As always, Haydn's originality astonishes and delights in his piano music as much as in his symphonies and string quartets. Hamelin revels in the tongue-in-cheek high jinks of the finale to the E minor sonata (No 34) … and is especially compelling in the great C major (No 48) … works that rank with the finest creations of the Viennese Classical period. An unmissable bargain at two-discs-for-the-price of one' (The Sunday Times)

'The continuous outpouring of beautiful tone; it's mesmerizing … these performances are beyond criticism' (Fanfare, USA)

'They sound absolutely superb, in the right hands, on the modern grand piano. And Marc-André Hamelin has the right hands, as his first two-disc set showed … playing of crisp clarity and deep feeling, superbly recorded' (Dominion Post, New Zealand)

'This Hyperion double set contains some of the finest performances of Haydn sonatas I have heard. Hamelin's playing overflows with ardent lyricism and I especially enjoyed his naturalness of rubato. The close sound quality from the Henry Wood Hall is impressive and the booklet essay by Richard Wigmore is helpful too' (MusicWeb International)

Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2
Moderato  [6'54]
Allegretto  [3'10]
Finale: Presto  [2'16]
Vivace assai  [2'46]
Allegro con brio  [7'48]
Adagio  [7'11]
Finale: Allegro  [4'07]
Presto  [5'20]
Adagio  [4'32]
Allegro moderato  [8'24]
Finale: Presto  [0'45]
Allegro  [6'51]
Allegro  [7'51]
Adagio  [5'12]
Tempo di menuet  [4'21]
Allegro con brio  [4'11]
Adagio  [7'17]
Prestissimo  [4'30]
Rondo: Presto  [3'45]

Marc-André Hamelin’s first set of Haydn Piano Sonatas was Hyperion’s best-selling release of 2007, and had the critics jostling to acclaim his performances in the highest terms, in particular his expression of the ‘physical exhilaration of Haydn’s playful inspiration in a way unmatched by any pianist past or present’. His second volume, released in a year where new Haydn recordings are prominent, should surely match the critical and commercial success of the first.

Some of Haydn’s most alluring and appealing keyboard works are recorded here. The surprising (to some) emotional range of the composer is fully evident in the extraordinarily sensitive and intimate Sonata in E flat major No 49, written for Maria Anna von Genzinger, and the profoundly felt Andante con variazioni in F minor, the composition of which coincided with her death.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Although Haydn was no virtuoso à la Mozart and Beethoven, the keyboard always remained central to his creative process. As a pupil at Vienna’s elite choir school he had become more than competent on the clavichord, harpsichord and organ. In adulthood his strict morning routine would begin with him trying out ideas, for whatever medium, on the clavichord or, from the early 1780s, the fortepiano. Late in life he told his biographer, the landscape painter Albert Christoph Dies, ‘My imagination plays on me as if I were a keyboard … I really am just a living keyboard.’ Dies also relates how Haydn’s ‘worm-eaten clavichord’ was a profound solace for the young composer in his Viennese garret in the early 1750s.

Haydn composed prolifically for the keyboard throughout his career. While his sixty-odd solo sonatas give a less complete picture of his artistic development than the symphonies and string quartets, they, more than Mozart’s slighter body of sonatas, chart and epitomize the evolution of the classical sonata: from the slender divertimenti and partitas (he only used the term ‘sonata’ from around 1770) written for young female pupils in the 1750s, modelled primarily on the harpsichord style of the Viennese master of galanterie Georg Christoph Wagenseil, through the more individual works of the late 1760s and early 1770s, several influenced by the Empfindsamkeit, or ‘sensibility’, of C P E Bach, and the carefully cultivated popular idiom of the sets published between 1773 and 1780, to the two masterpieces, Nos 48 and 49, from the late 1780s, and the magnificent works inspired by the new, sonorous Broadwood instruments Haydn encountered in London.

With most of the autographs lost, the exact dating of Haydn’s sonatas is often speculative. Although it was first published (without Haydn’s knowledge) by the London firm of Beardmore & Birchall in 1783, the D major sonata No 33 was circulating in manuscript copies several years earlier, and could even date from as early as 1773. While modest in its technical demands (a contemporary reviewer remarked that Haydn seemed to have taken special care to make it easy), it is a thoroughly delightful piece. Its opening Allegro, launched by a ‘rocketing’ arpeggio figure, begins in prompt, no-nonsense style, but later develops a vein of waywardness with its whimsical hesitations and pauses. The second movement is a gravely eloquent D minor Adagio that combines the outlines of sonata form with the spirit of a free fantasia. As with many of C P E Bach’s slow movements, the music never comes to a full close but dissolves into the finale, a minuet that varies in turn a pair of related themes, one in the major, the other in the minor.

Contemporary with the D major sonata is the A major No 26, composed in 1773 (a fragment of the autograph survives) and published in a set of six sonatas the following year—the first official publication of any of Haydn’s works—with a judicious dedication to his employer Prince Nicolaus Esterházy. The expansive first movement offsets its mock-military opening theme (horns are evoked at the outset) with rhapsodic excursions into the minor key. In the development Haydn makes something romantically expressive out of an extended chain of Baroque-style sequences. The second movement recycles, a tone higher, the charming palindromic Menuet al rovescio from Symphony No 47 of 1772. In both the minuet and the trio the music is played twice forwards, then twice backwards (for the player’s convenience the reversal is written out in the printed score). The finale is a disconcertingly brief (26-bar!) frolic, sounding like a rondo theme lopped off from the main body of the movement.

No 31 in E major is one of a heterogeneous bunch of six sonatas (Nos 27–32) issued privately in manuscript copies in 1776, though it probably dates from two or three years earlier. The first movement contrasts a lyrical theme in three-part counterpoint, expressively varied in the course of the movement, with cascading sextuplets that generate a powerful climax in the central development. The most striking part of the sonata is the second movement, a neo-Baroque E minor Allegretto that suggests both a chorale prelude and a three-part invention. As in No 33, the finale—a dashing theme and variations with a contrasting E minor episode—follows without a break. Haydn was to remember the strangely haunting Allegretto two decades later in the middle movement of the great E major Piano Trio, No 28.

Sonatas Nos 35 and 39 were both published in 1780, in a set of six (35–39, plus No 20 in C minor) that 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 go overboard about fellow-musicians—and Haydn himself. Whereas all Haydn’s earlier sonatas were conceived essentially for harpsichord, the ‘Auenbrugger’ sonatas carried the designation ‘Per il Clavicembalo [harpsichord], o Forte Piano’, and call for the dynamic flexibility only possible on the newer instrument. By far the easiest of this disparate group, technically and expressively, is No 35 in C major, Haydn’s equivalent to Mozart’s famous C major ‘Sonate facile’, K545. In all three movements the material is simple in the extreme. Though shorn of Haydnesque surprises, the first movement has an insouciant charm, and characteristically evolves entirely from its tripping opening theme. After a decorous F major Adagio underpinned by rippling Alberti figuration, the sonata ends with a jocular minuet enclosing a brief C minor episode.

For the opening Allegro con brio of sonata No 39 in G major, Haydn resorted to a spot of self-borrowing, recycling the perky tune of the Scherzando second movement of sonata No 36 from the same, ‘Auenbrugger’ set. To deflect ‘the criticism of various half-wits’ (even as late as 1780 he could be surprisingly touchy and defensive), Haydn got Artaria to add an explanatory note on the reverse of the title page: ‘Among these six sonatas are two movements that use the same idea for the first few bars … the composer wishes it to be known that he has done this on purpose to demonstrate different methods of treatment.’ This is one of Haydn’s favourite rondo-variations designs, with embellished reprises of the theme interleaved with two episodes, one in G minor (in effect a free variation of the theme), the other, in E minor, taking the dotted rhythm in bar two of the theme as a cue for a swaggering Hungarian-style march. The C major Adagio, typically of Haydn’s sonata slow movements, lives more from florid, ruminative figuration than from cantabile melody, à la Mozart, while the finale is a playful, featherweight 6/8 Prestissimo with a delightful whiff of Scarlatti.

The E minor sonata, No 34, was one of three sonatas (including No 39) published in London in 1783, though it probably (that word again) dates from the late 1770s. The superb 6/8 opening Presto worries at its laconic main theme with cussed obsessiveness, rising to a splenetic climax in the coda before the opening phrase vanishes into thin air. Only the G major second theme, sounded in dulcet thirds and sixths, offers momentary relaxation. The G major Adagio, extravagantly embellished with rococo arabesques, leads via a passage of quasi-operatic recitative into the finale, whose folk-like theme lives up to its innocentemente marking. This is another Haydnesque amalgam of rondo and variations, with a recurring E major episode closely related to the main, E minor, theme.

Published in 1784 by the firm of Bossler, the sonata triptych Nos 40–42 was dedicated, perhaps as a wedding gift, to the sixteen-year-old Princess Marie Hermenegild Esterházy, who the previous year had married Haydn’s future patron Prince Nicolaus II. For all their surface lightness, all three sonatas—later published in arrangements (probably not by Haydn) for string trio—are sophisticated, subtly wrought works. No 42 opens with a set of increasingly florid variations on a gracious theme punctuated by rhetorical silences. The effect here is of heightened speech. Despite its air of insouciance, the quicksilver finale is another of Haydn’s tightly concentrated movements, developing the two phrases of its theme in sinewy imitative textures, right down to the witty, throwaway end.

Five years later, in 1789, the Leipzig publisher Breitkopf announced that Haydn was writing ‘six Clavier sonatas’ for publication by subscription. Breitkopf evidently failed to attract sufficient subscribers, and in the event only one sonata appeared, the C major No 48. Although in two movements only, like the sonatas for Marie Esterházy, it is far grander than they are, and exploits the fortepiano’s whole range with unprecedented power and flamboyance. In the sonata-rondo finale the keyboard even becomes a surrogate orchestra. The second half of the contredanse theme evokes bantering repartee between bassoons and oboes, while just before the end a rousing tutti, complete with timpani rolls, is comically deflated by timidly stuttering violins. Just as original in its sonorities is the opening Andante con espressione, music both elevated and capricious that crosses Haydn’s favourite double variation form (the minore theme is both a variation and a development of the rhapsodic opening) with the spirit of a free fantasia.

In March of the same year Haydn wrote to Artaria: ‘In a moment of great good humour I have completed a new Capriccio for fortepiano, whose taste, singularity and special construction cannot fail to receive approval from connoisseurs and amateurs alike. It is … rather long, but by no means too difficult.’ The work in question—harder to play than Haydn implied—was the one we know as the Fantasia in C major. Based on an Austrian folksong, Do Bäuren hat d’Katz valor’n (‘The farmer’s wife has lost her cat’), this madcap 3/8 Presto is a work of scintillating virtuosity, full of quasi-orchestral effects (such as the horn calls in a prominent cadential phrase) that recall the finale of sonata No 48. It is also one of Haydn’s zaniest essays in comic deception, repeatedly leading us to expect one key and then leaping or slinking off in a quite different direction.

In 1789, too, Haydn composed an Allegro and minuet for keyboard, perhaps intending them to stand as another two-movement sonata. The following spring he added an Adagio e cantabile to create a three-movement work, No 49. Although the autograph carries a dedication to Maria Anna (‘Nanette’) Jerlischeck, Esterházy housekeeper and future wife of violinist-entrepreneur Johann Tost, Haydn intended the sonata for his close friend and confidante Maria Anna von Genzinger. ‘This sonata is in E flat, entirely new and forever meant only for Your Grace’, he wrote to her, adding that the Adagio was ‘somewhat difficult, but full of feeling’. Though delighted with the sonata, she did indeed find the Adagio ‘somewhat difficult’, asking Haydn to simplify a passage involving crossed hands in the rolling, romantically impassioned B flat minor central episode. (Whether or not he obliged is unknown.) If Haydn was in love with Maria Anna—and we can guess that he was—his feelings might be divined from this extraordinarily sensitive, intimate music.

Despite its nonchalant opening, the sonata’s initial Allegro is a dramatic, closely wrought movement that evolves virtually all its ideas from the main theme. The far-reaching development culminates in a tense modulating passage on a four-note ‘drum’ rhythm, with extreme contrasts of register. Remarkable, too, is the expansive coda, musing first on the gentle cadential theme and then on a lyrical ‘transitional’ idea that had immediately followed the opening. The minuet finale, a free rondo with two episodes (the second in E flat minor), relaxes the tension after two such highly charged movements—though it is surely no coincidence that its first episode recalls the opening movement’s cadential theme.

Haydn composed the latest work on these discs, the Sonata ‘Un piccolo divertimento’ (Variations in F minor), in Vienna in 1793 for the talented pianist Barbara (‘Babette’) von Ployer, for whom Mozart had written the concertos K449 and K453. This profoundly felt music vies with the Andante of the ‘Drumroll’ Symphony as Haydn’s greatest set of alternating minor–major variations. After the stoic melancholy of the F minor opening, with its gently insistent dotted rhythms, the ornate F major theme exudes a kind of whimsical, abstracted playfulness. Haydn originally ended with the second F major variation and a few bars of coda. He subsequently appended a reprise of the F minor theme and a long, disturbingly chromatic coda that draws unsuspected force from the pervasive dotted rhythms before dissolving in a feverish swirl of arpeggios. After a measure of equilibrium is restored, the dotted rhythms toll deep in the bass, like a funeral knell. Haydn was the least confessional of composers. But it is not far-fetched to suggest, as several commentators have done, that the tragic intensity of the coda may have been prompted by the sudden death of Maria Anna von Genzinger, at the age of forty-two, on 26 January 1793.

Richard Wigmore © 2009

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'Haydn: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3' (CDA67882)
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