Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Haydn - Piano Sonata No. 59 In E-flat Major Hob. XVI/49

Unlike Mozart and Beethoven, Haydn was not a virtuoso pianist. He could get around on the keyboard well enough, but most of his playing was with other instruments in chamber music or (as was the practice of his day) leading the orchestra from the keyboard and playing along to fill out the ensemble.  He did practically no solo playing in public. But the number of pieces he wrote for solo keyboard is substantial, with 62 sonatas (by modern reckoning) for the instrument alone, plus numerous other pieces.  Haydn not only saw the keyboard sonata evolve during his lifetime, he participated in its evolution.

Haydn played the harpsichord, clavichord, organ and later in his career the piano. Haydn wrote many of his early sonatas for harpsichord, a few for harpsichord or piano, but seven out of the last eight sonatas he wrote specifically for the piano. In the later sonatas for piano Haydn's style of writing changed to take full advantage of the dynamic capabilities of Viennese pianos and extended these changes after his introduction to the large 6 octave range and increased dynamic capabilities of English pianos during his two concert tours of the country. But the Sonata No. 59 in E-flat was written in 1789 before his trips to England. The expression markings are sparse (at least in the first edition, later editors added more) but they are there, especially sforzando markings that denote a sharp, sudden emphasis on a note.

The sonata is in 3 movements:

I. Allegro -  Haydn opens the first movement with a theme in the tonic of E-flat:

Not much of a theme perhaps, but Haydn makes much of the theme later. The second theme appears and is even more plain but it does 
manage to contrast the first theme enough to keep things interesting. The second theme leads to a repeat of the initial theme, but the theme has already gone through a change and is now more ornamented than before. After the decorated initial theme plays through there is a coda that offers up some new material, a theme that is played by crossing hands and a short section in thirds answered in the bass then the treble. After the repeat of the exposition, the development section grows out of the last notes of the coda to the exposition into counterpoint that leads to the first theme reappearance in changing keys. Material from the exposition coda returns and is developed.

After a short cadenza the recapitulation begins. The second theme returns, transformed to the home key, there is a short coda and the section comes to an end with a flourish. As with many sonatas of the time, Haydn directs the entire development and recapitulation sections be repeated. to my ears, the beginning of the repeat is rather jarring after hearing the close of the section the first time, but perhaps that is what Haydn intended. He wasn't above such things.

II - Adagio e cantabile - A tender adagio in B-flat that is interrupted by an impassioned section in a minor key. The alternation between the major and minor themes continues with both themes being decorated and expanded. The initial theme finally wins out and leads to a short coda that wraps up this gentle movement.

III. Finale : Tempo di Minuet - The minuet is in the home key, while the middle section is in the key of E-flat minor. The minuet returns the music to the home key and the sonata is finished with a short coda and a final cadence.

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