Haydn composed 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.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2009