Reviewing the sonatas in 1785, Cramer’s Magazin der Musik
noted that they were ‘more difficult to perform than one initially believes. They demand the utmost precision, and much delicacy in performance.’ For all their surface lightness, all three are sophisticated, subtly wrought works. Allegretto innocentemente
is the marking for the first movement of No 40, a set of alternating major–minor variations (a favourite form in Haydn’s later works) in a lilting, pastoral 6/8 metre. But unlike the finale of No 37, the innocence is not to be taken quite at face value. Even at the opening Haydn disturbs the bucolic idyll with offbeat sforzando accents (smoothed out in most nineteenth-century editions); and there are further disruptive accents in the contrasting G minor theme, with its broken, sighing phrases and tense harmonies. The finale likewise trades on variations and major–minor contrasts, though here the mood is one of quixotic humour. The madcap opening theme, highly irregular in its phrasing, leaps absurdly down three octaves at its first cadences and then plunges to a surprise key (B flat after D major) for a miniature development of the theme (this whole first section has the outline of a miniature sonata form). After a syncopated contrapuntal episode in E minor, the main theme returns with renewed glee, elaborately, almost zanily embellished.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2007