Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Haydn - Piano Sonata No. 53 In E Minor Hob. XVI/34

Only the later keyboard sonatas of Joseph Haydn were for piano, as the earliest ones were for harpsichord. Some of the middle sonatas were for harpsichord or piano, at the performers discretion.  But the transition from harpsichord to piano was inevitable, as the piano was capable of a much wider dynamic range, variety of tone color, and expression.

Haydn lived through a time of transition of forms of music as well. What modern listeners would call a sonata was derived from various multi-movement works of the Baroque era. Haydn himself did not begin to call his keyboard sonatas by that term until 1771. His early works were called partitas or divertimenti. Haydn was also influential in the development of the forms of the string quartet and symphony.

There are two numbering systems primarily used for the keyboard sonatas. The oldest is the one created Anthony van Hoboken, the other by H. C. Robbins Landon. The Hoboken system is categorized by genre, thus all of the keyboard sonatas fall under the heading of Hob. XVI. The Landon system was based on chronological order as much as possible, and is under the heading of L. Thus the sonata in this post is Hob. XVI/34 in the Hoboken system and L.53 in the Landon system. To add to the confusion, Landon lists 62 sonatas, but not all of them are extant while some are spurious.  Hoboken also has a total of 62 sonatas (including the lost ones), but his numbering system only goes as high as 52. He gives alternate numbers and letters to the lost or spurious ones. Many times, both numbers are given for a sonata in an effort to securely identify it.

The sonata is in three movements:

I. Presto - The first movement begins with a theme in the home key:
This theme goes through a short development and leads to the second theme in G major. This theme is in 5-bar phrases, and after 15 bars the exposition is repeated. The development section begins with the first theme, now in E major and transformed into one 5-bar phrase. After this theme is developed, the second theme is likewise, and leads to the recapitulation of the first theme. The second theme returns, now also in the home key of E minor. As is customary, (a holdover from the binary beginnings of sonata form) the entire second section of development and recapitulation is repeated.

II. Adagio - This slow movement in G major has the right hand playing a decorated melody with a simple accompaniment in the left hand:
Haydn varies the melody until the movement segues directly to the finale, something that happens infrequently in Haydn's sonatas.

III. Molto vivace - Marked by the word innocentemente (innocently), the final movement begins briskly with a theme in E minor that is accompanied by an Alberti bass in the left hand:
Haydn varies this material between repeats of the theme.  Unlike Mozart whose music could be a never ending stream of new melodies, Haydn could make the most of basic material heard at the beginning of a movement.


  1. My gratitude for this informative "note" of introduction to a true piano masterpiece. I have become an avid admirer of Haydn's string quartets and now, thanks to you, I will explore his piano music. This blog has proved such a treasure trove.

  2. This entire site, with its wealth of music to discover aided by the excellent, informative notes is a treasure!