Hyperion Records

Piano Trio in E flat minor, Hob XV:31
first movement 1795; second movement 1794; first published in Vienna in 1803 with a dedication to Magdalena von Kurzböck

'Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 2' (CDA67757)
Haydn: Piano Trios, Vol. 2
Movement 1: Andante
Movement 2: Allegro 'Jacob's Dream'

Piano Trio in E flat minor, Hob XV:31
The Trio in E flat minor Hob XV:31 consists of only two movements, which were composed in reverse order. On a surviving autograph of this trio, the first movement is dated 1795, but the second movement is dated a year earlier. The opening Andante is in the unusual key of E flat minor, a sombre rondo with striking use of chords in the bass register of the piano—a region Haydn had come to appreciate on the sonorous English instruments he encountered in London. An episode in E flat major turns the theme upside down, decorating it into a charming fantasia. After the return of the opening, there follows a second episode which transports us surprisingly to the key of B major. Here the violin breaks loose from the piano and soars off into a Schubertian melody (it is partly the change of key, down a major third, which makes it sound Schubertian). Then, in a final reprise, violin and piano join forces again in a rather agitated version of the rondo theme, elaborated in a triplet rhythm.

After the liberation of the first movement, the violin never looks back. But the reason is partly to be found in the origin of the second movement, which Haydn wrote first. This jaunty Allegro in E flat major has in the autograph a heading which Haydn later scratched out: ‘Sonata Jacob’s Dream by Dr Haydn’. This refers to a story in the Book of Genesis, in which Jacob sleeps: ‘And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.’ Perhaps Haydn deleted the title because he feared that it might be thought inappropriate to give a religious reference to what was, in origin, a practical joke. Albert Christoph Dies, who interviewed the composer several times in his old age and published Biographical Accounts of Joseph Haydn in 1810, tells us that in London Haydn got to know a German violinist ‘who had acquired the technique almost of a virtuoso; but had the terrible habit of spending a lot of time stumbling about in the highest register. Haydn decided to make an attempt to put the amateur off his atrocious habit’. According to Dies, Haydn sent ‘Jacob’s Dream’ anonymously to Therese Jansen, who tried it out with the German violinist, with hilarious consequences. Haydn had peppered the movement with virtuoso violin writing, echoing the virtuosity of the piano part, and ending with passages that are both high and impossibly fast. The two movements of the Trio were unpublished for several years, but eventually appeared in print in Vienna in 1803, with a dedication to Magdalena von Kurzböck, an admired Viennese pianist and composer.

from notes by Robert Philip © 2009

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