Haydn Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2

Sonata in E Major, Hob. XVI/31


With its florid ornamentation and offbeat accents, this middle-period sonata (ca. 1775) is immediately recognizable as “Papa Haydn’s” work. It may not have the emotional range of the C minor sonata (Hob. XVI/20) or A major sonata (Hob. XVI/26) from around the same period, but what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in charm and spirit.

The first movement begins with a well-defined four-bar introduction evenly divided into a piano melody in thirds and its mezzo-forte restatement. In the restatement, the initial tone of coy circumspection is interrupted on the terminal set of IV–I chordal quavers and quarter rest that anticipate the assertive scales in triplets that emerge in measure 5. The pervasive use of triplets throughout this movement is nothing new for Haydn, though here they exhibit greater melodic contour than in many of the composer’s earlier sonatas. The highlight of the movement is the development, which commences expectantly with a fragment of the opening theme in the dominant key of B major before modulating to the relative minor of C-sharp. The latter half of the development displays Haydn’s keen senses of drama and architectural grandeur, as he swaggers through a series of robust bass octaves and employs inner melodic voices to wend his way back to B major and, ultimately, the tonic.

In the E minor middle-movement allegretto, classicism fuses with the high baroque: the theme resembles a stately dance from a Bach suite more than it does a Haydn slow movement. It is a tribute to Haydn’s universal genius that he is able to write such rich, natural polyphony while retaining his unique melodic style. As with the D major sonata (Hob. XVI/33), the end of this movement does not resolve but concludes with the dominant to segue into the finale attaca.

Like many other Haydn finales, the last-movement presto comprises a theme and variations with minore. The ornately ornamented texture at the beginning, with trillos that occur in practically every measure, gives way to fleet passagework in the first variation followed by a dainty permutation of the theme in variation two that again reveals Haydn’s fondness for melodic motifs in thirds. The minore contains wider spacings than we are used to hearing from Haydn, containing a succession of broken-octave figurations in the left hand; meanwhile, the portato thirds in the right hand display an aggressive energy that is almost Beethovenien. In the return to the maggiore, Haydn reprises the theme before proceeding to the third and final variation, which is similar to the first variation but more fluid, featuring straight scales in the right hand and Alberti basses in the left hand accompanied by effervescent staccato octaves in the right hand. The brief coda consists of four measures in which Haydn repeats the broken-octave figurations he had introduced in the minore. The movement ends with two resounding first-triad E major chords with octave doubling.


Haydn: Sonata in E Major, Hob. XVI/31, I: Moderato


 Haydn: Sonata in E Major, Hob. XVI/31, II: Allegretto

Haydn: Sonata in E Major, Hob. XVI/31, III: Presto

Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/35

This sonata is one of the best-known and most frequently performed of the Haydn sonatas. Its appeal is perhaps partly a result of its more regular rhythm, sparser ornamentation, and more immediately satisfying melodic phrases, in all of which respects it is more reminiscent of a Mozart sonata. In character, though, it is distinctly Haydnesque, conveying a buoyant exuberance and sanguine outlook on life.

The first movement, marked allegro con brio, is in a swifter tempo than many of Haydn’s other, more stately moderato opening movements. The broken-triad accompanimental triplets have the effect of a perpetuum mobile, since they are interrupted only by a few well-timed rhetorical interludes such as the brief pianissimo sequences in measures 45–50 and 135–140 and the dotted-rhythm motif—a repeat of the one he had used at the beginning but with one extra quaver— that starts the development. In the development, the composer switches the triplets to the right hand as he shifts from the major to the minor and ratchets through a series of modulations in typical Haydnesque fashion, beginning in F major, moving to G major and then to A minor (the relative minor). The pervasive key ambiguity is further emphasized in the vacillation between A minor and its dominant of E minor. The whole purpose seems to be to create a suspenseful tone to set the stage for the recapitulation, which Haydn announces is about to occur by returning to the dominant key with the G major seventh chord. The way in which the composer accomplishes this is particularly notable: a circle-of-fifths progression—D minor second inversion to G major seventh chord in root position, setting the stage for completion of the circle in the return to C major. Interestingly, the progression begins with a two-note melodic phrase in both hands, F-E, that is marked adagio. The tempo shift serves to tease the listener à la Mozart. Adding to the overall comic effect, the recapitulation restates the theme an octave lower, beginning on middle C, then uses a C minor variation on the theme to pass into the dominant before returning to the tonic. It is not until the final page that Haydn brings us back to a variation on his original theme, though even then, there is a notable harmonic difference: the triplet accompaniment begins in C major second inversion, a subtle variation that more naturally leads to the G major seventh and back to the root-position C major tonic—a novel conclusion to a delightfully witty and energetic movement.

The second and third movements may lack the structural ingenuity of the first, but they are no less appealing. The middle-movement adagio in F major contains one of Haydn’s more expansive melodies, a continuous line that in sentiment resembles the G major andante movement of the celebrated C major Mozart sonata, K. 545. Few classical sonata movements more skillfully contrast the serene with the tragic. The allegro finale is pointed and impish, marked by crisp dotted rhythms. It follows a fairly standard, rondo-like ABABC pattern with a middle contrapuntal minore and short coda. The movement concludes with assertive, yet playful, arpeggiations that underscore the sonata’s spritely quality.


 Haydn: Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/35, I: Allegro con Brio

Haydn: Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/35, II: Adagio

Haydn: Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/35, III: Allegro 

Sonata in E Minor, Hob. XVI/34

Among the fifty-five or so extant piano sonatas Haydn composed, only a handful are in the minor mode. This E minor work is the last minor-key sonata the composer wrote and, fittingly, is often seen as one of the first sonatas of Haydn’s later period.

With its syncopations, widely spaced Alberti basses, and double-note polyphony, the presto first movement is one of the more technically challenging movements in the Haydn sonatas. From the outset, its quasi-operatic dramatic intensity is established through the use of pithy phrases that are punctuated by fermatas. The first such phrase appears in the opening eight bars, in which rising E minor portato arpeggiations in the left hand alternate against descending legato double notes. Haydn’s purpose here seems to be to play with the listener’s expectations regarding the tonality; while the opening statement firmly establishes the E minor tonic, when the music resumes after the fermata, Haydn repeats the opening two measures before abruptly commencing the modulation to G major, the relative major. Though this transition is typical for classic-period sonatas in the minor mode, the rapidity with which the switch from minor to major occurs is surprising. In the similar five-bar fragment that begins the development, Haydn employs the same technique within a much shorter time frame, wavering back and forth from E major to E minor in each successive measure. The second pair of terse phrases that is set off by fermatas appears a little over halfway through the exposition and repeats in the recapitulation. It consists of four syncopated pairs of double notes, three of thirds and one of sixths. The intent here seems to be to give both the performer and the listener a breath before the headlong plunge to the concluding statement. The pause is especially effective before the fiery coda, which comes on with demonic relentlessness when the music resumes.

In the adagio middle movement, Haydn simulates the coloratura technique of a vocal virtuoso. The bassline accompaniment is sparse against the right hand’s aria-like phrases, which abound with filigree passagework in thirty-seconds, and drops out altogether in much of the development. Because of the relative independence of the treble line from the strictures of the bass, the performer is freer to experiment with judiciously timed rubato than is usual in Haydn. The movement ends rhetorically in the manner of a French ouverture, with sharp chords punctuated by rests. Like the allegretto from the E major sonata (see above), the tonality does not resolve, reverting to E minor in preparation for the finale.

The tempo marking of the last movement, vivace molto, is a strange one for Haydn, who normally would use presto for a quick finale with a 2/4 key signature. The innocentemente indication that appears beneath the tempo designation may be a clue to Haydn’s intentions, implying that though the mood is “very lively,” the performer’s overall focus should be on earnestly underscoring the melody rather than on pure speed. In form, the movement is a set of double variations, minore followed by majore, one of Haydn’s favorite structural devices that reaches its apex in the F minor variations (see below). In content, the treble briskly skips with childlike simplicity while the relentless Alberti basses impart a rustic energy.


Haydn: Sonata in E Minor, Hob. XVI/34, I: Presto


Haydn: Sonata in E Minor, Hob. XVI/34, II: Adagio

Haydn: Sonata in E Minor, Hob. XVI/34, III: Vivace Molto

Sonata in G Major, Hob. XVI/40

Unlike Mozart, Haydn composed a number of two-movement sonatas, predominantly later in his career. This G major piece is the first of a set of three such sonatas (the others being B-flat major, Hob. XVI/41, and D major, Hob. XVI/42) and illustrates the potential advantage of employing two movements as opposed to the customary three or four: to achieve a dichotomous juxtaposition of two contrasting styles.

The opening movement, marked allegretto innocente, comprises a set of double variations (majore-minore) in the style of a pastorale (6/8 meter). It is perhaps one of Haydn’s more satisfying melodies, which may account for its frequent appearance on concert programs in recent times. The tune calls to mind a light-hearted yet pensive stroll through the country. In the majore, Haydn experiments with Bach-like counterpoint. The note values are diminished from eighths in the theme to sixteenths in the first variation to allow for a more sophisticated flow of harmonic progressions. Haydn increases the rhythmic complexity in variation three with a pair of mercurial ascending scale passages and edgy arpeggiations in thirty-seconds. The minore is a strange combination of wistful sadness and dramatic outburst as a plaintive melody is punctuated by violent sforzandi.

The coda of this movement deserves special mention, for it might be one of the most imaginative pianistic effects in the Haydn sonatas. Leading into the coda is a succession of insistent repeated-note figurations in sixteenths. In the third measure of these, the note values revert from sixteenths to eighths, and Haydn marks a calando (a rare designation for this period) to indicate a slackening of the tempo and a dynamic tapering. Further, the repeated D’s in measure 88 become the first inversion of the D major dominant seventh in 89–90 as an additional component of the harmony is added one at a time for each sequential group of triplets. Haydn thus emphasizes the return to the primary theme in two principal ways: (1) the heightened emphasis on the V-I tonic-dominant relationship, evident in his repetition of the seventh chord (which is echoed an octave lower prior to the reprise of the initial theme), the termination of which he caps with a fermata, and (2) the reposeful smorzando tapering that winds down the nervous and offbeat rhythms Haydn had worked up to in the two previous variations. When the first theme finally returns, it initially appears exactly as it had at the outset before it is interrupted by yet another brief fragment of the maggiore variation: robust rolled chords and a glissando-like scale. The movement concludes with a serene modulation back to the tonic, a simple, portato, single-note tune that sounds as if it was played on a cello. Haydn uses his characteristic element of surprise when he indicates a sudden forte on the last G major rolled chord (though, in the opinion of this performer, it should be played piano to maintain the sense of bucolic serenity that is at the movement’s core).

In sharp contrast to the first movement, the presto second movement is a vivacious rondo in truncated ABA form, replete with crisp chordal accompaniments. Perhaps its most notable feature is the sforzato acciaccatura that concludes the first iteration of theme A in the dominant and its restatement in the tonic, a particularly salient example of Haydn’s mischievous wit. In the E minor middle section (theme B), the left and right hands bandy back and forth in a series of contrapuntal questions and responses. To segue back return to theme A, Haydn uses broken-octave fragments that chromatically modulate from E down to the dominant D, from which he ascends to the tonic. Interestingly, Haydn spaces these anticipatory measures out over five octaves, since the right hand twice leaps up to play the leading-tone progression from D#-E. The permutation on theme A that ensues in measure 53 is mostly in fluid sixteenths. The work ends abruptly sans coda, its terminal G major arpeggios to be played senza ritardando.  

Haydn: Sonata in G Major, Hob. XVI/40, I: Allegretto Innocente


Haydn: Sonata in G Major, Hob. XVI/40, II: Presto

Six Variations in C Major, Hob. XVII/5

Though Haydn frequently incorporated variations into his sonata movements, he didn’t compose many stand-alone sets and the only one that made it into the standard repertoire was the F minor andante with variations (see below). This C major set is also from Haydn’s later period (composed in 1790). Given its relative technical simplicity, the composer dubbed it the leichte variationen (easy variations), though on closer examination this moniker may not be entirely fitting since its ornate ornamental texture and passages in thirty-seconds require dexterous fingers. The most striking characteristic of this set may be its sound, which has a nacreous surface polish that is akin to that in Mozart’s Andante für eine Walze in eine kleine Orgel written around the same time.

Haydn: Six Variations in C Major, Hob. XVII/5


Andante With Variations in F Minor, Hob. XVII/6

The F minor andante with variations is probably Haydn’s single greatest composition for keyboard, challenged in stature only by a couple of the late piano sonatas such as the great C major (Hob. XVI/50) and the E-flat major (Hob. XVI/52). Composed in 1793 for the virtuoso pianist Barbara von Ployer, a pupil of Mozart’s, to play on tour, it may well be the most somber piece in Haydn’s vast keyboard output and is the best-known example of the form that Haydn so frequently employed in his later works: the double variation, a minore followed by a maggiore.

With their sharp dotted rhythms, measured pulse, mournful melody, and dramatic dynamic contrasts, the minore variations are suggestive of a dirge; the mood is a combination of mystery, brooding, and introversion à la Schumann. The maggiore, on the other hand, has a pastoral tone, a springtime awakening to cheer the soul after the opening lament.

In the first and second variations, Haydn becomes quite adventurous in his exploitation of piano technique. After the syncopations between melody and harmony in the first minore variation, he employs extended passages in trills for the maggiore, one of the more challenging passages in trills in the classic-period literature. Variation two features fluid passagework in thirty-seconds in addition to fiery broken octaves and diminished-seventh arpeggiations at the climax. The maggiore answers with fleet, closely spaced passagework, much of it in chromatic scales and Alberti basses. Interestingly, at the end of variation two before the finale, there is a short transition of five measures that appears only in a few editions of the work (it is reflected in this performance). One possible reason for this is that this maggiore variation is two measures shorter than the maggiore variation in the theme and variation one (18 vs. 20), which would make its four bars, including the repeat, roughly parallel to the five in the transition. Another possible reason cited by some sources is that the bars were mistakenly omitted because of a misplaced tempo indication. In any event, the transition is a nice segue back to the theme, providing a sense of conclusion to the variations before Haydn returns to the opening theme to start the coda.

The coda is written in the free form of a fantasy. Haydn leads into it with the same dotted-rhythm motif he employed in the theme, accompanied by chromatic legato thirds in the bass. The meter then becomes outright improvisatory as fleeting scales in A-flat major are set against sonorous, noble, bassline chords. To work back to the minor mode, Haydn uses diminished-seventh arpeggiations. The final measures are some of the most emotionally charged music Haydn wrote. Two pairs of passionate dotted chords give way to two pairs of mysterious thirds emphasizing the tritone. The work ends in F major, the final dotted rhythm of the piece a pair of broken octaves in the treble. Aptly, the composer penned the words fine laus deo (“the end—praise be to God”) underneath the final measure. This could be seen as Haydn’s humble homage to his maker for the gifts that made him capable of such sublime keyboard writing.


 Haydn: Andante With Variations in F Minor, Hob. XVII/6

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