In 1789, 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.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2009