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Franz Joseph Haydn wrote some 51 sonatas for piano and several other short piano pieces. Most of these were written in his early years. He was not a pianist, and, as his career developed, he lost interest in the genre. Only three of his piano sonatas were written in the last twenty years of his life.
Haydn is best known for his string quartets and symphonies, but his piano sonatas, despite many of them following a rigid three-movement structure, show a great deal of experimentation. (He also wrote nine sonatas with just two movements, and two sonatas with four movements.) The vast majority of his sonatas were written in major keys (only seven are in minor keys), and their melodic development is magnificent. Nevertheless, not many of them contain virtuoso passages, and some of them sound relatively simple. This does not detract from their musicality, but it may explain why Haydn's piano sonatas are not performed very often.
Brilliant Classics has released a recording of all of Haydn's piano sonatas played on fortepianos. The fortepiano is the earliest form of the piano, and has a very limited relationship with today's Steinway. Its sound is sharper, with much less resonance in the low notes, and its decay is much faster. Close to the harpsichord in this respect, it is nevertheless built with felt hammers, and not plucked like the harpsichord.
Recent years have seen an upsurge of performances on this instrument, whether they be of sonatas by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. This is logical, because, as period practice becomes more common, both musicians and listeners are seeking to hear the music in a form much closer to the original. Yet were these works composed for the fortepiano, or, as Bart van Oort suggests, even for the clavichord or the harpsichord? He points out that the clavichord was the instrument of choice for amateur musicians in their homes, and that the Esterhazy sonatas were published in 1781 "for fortepiano or harpsichord" - when they were published in 1783, by another publisher, the score said "for harpsichord". (Robert Hill has recently recorded some of Haydn’s sonatas on the harpsichord; perhaps the early works sound better on that instrument). Even Beethoven’s Opus 2 sonatas were published with the indication "pour le Clavecin ou Piano-Forte" (for harpsichord or fortepiano). According to van Oort, only the last four sonatas were unequivocally written for the fortepiano.
In any case, the 10 CDs in this set feature a number of different fortepianos, and the listener can discover the wide range of instruments of this type that were played at the time when these works were first performed. For many, this may be an eye-opening experience - the music is different, new, fresh and lively. The instrument does not have the staid resonance of concert pianos; it sounds more homey, more intimate.
Describing Haydn's piano sonatas is very complex. They cover a vast amount of musical styles and material, ranging from short, simple works to more complex thematic developments and variations. Some of them, such as Sonata no. 16, contain very short movements; in fact, many of the early sonatas are less than eight or ten minutes long, and nos. eight and nine are less than six minutes long. Most of the later works are much longer, with some of them attaining 20 minutes or more. Yet there is no rule - Haydn clearly developed his works as he saw fit, avoiding any generalizations.
To examine a few of the pieces more closely, Sonata no. 46 in A flat major, written around 1768, is more of a virtuoso piece than most of the sonatas. The opening Allegro moderato contains many rapid runs along the keyboard, and a delightfully playful overall sound. The melody flies up and down, with an almost Mozartian lightness. The charming Adagio is slow and melancholy, and very lyrical. Its melodies float across the keyboard, livened by a series of trills. Yet this is an unbalanced piece; after a 7-minute first movement and a 9-minute second movement, the final movement, marked Finale: presto, is only about 2 and a half minutes long (but what 2 and a half minutes!). This does not detract from its musicality, but it does make the piece a bit top-heavy.
Sonata no. 5 in A major is typical of Haydn’s earlier sonatas. It contains three short, simple movements, the first two of which are neither technically nor musically demanding. Some of these early works recall the vigour of Scarlatti’s harpsichord sonatas, and the Allegro of this work, while simpler than Scarlatti’s pieces, contains a similar energy. The Minuet is even simpler, yet maintains the dance rhythm much more than in later works; it has almost baroque energy. The final Presto is much more demanding than the first two movements; one may wonder if the amateurs who were to play the first two movements could manage the third! It has bright passages that recall birds chirping, and some delightful runs and phrases.
The D major Sonata, no. 19, is one of the longer works at more than 21 minutes. The opening Moderato has some hints of early Beethoven; this is a delightful, buoyant movement, and is tastefully performed and ornamented by Stanley Hoogland. The second movement, the Andante, even longer than the first, has a pronounced rhythm and simple yet catchy melodies. The Finale: allegro assai is a much shorter movement, at 3.30, but its simplicity hides an interesting exploration of rhythmic melody. It is not played very fast, and as a counterpoint to the middle movement, comes as a delightful awakening.
One minor negative comment about this set is that the sonatas are not distributed in any apparent order across the ten CDs. I would prefer hearing them in chronological order, or, at least, have some of them grouped in this way. There are great differences between the early and later sonatas, and their similarities might be more apparent if grouped together.
This set is excellent. Not only are the performances by all the pianists very good, but the sound puts the instruments in a very flattering context. There is no excessive reverberation applied to these recordings, and the intimate nature of the fortepiano is very evident. While many listeners may be a bit hesitant about hearing these works on an unfamiliar instrument, the budget price of this set is certainly an incentive to check it out. If you like Haydn's piano sonatas, you owe yourself to buy this set - it will certainly change the way you consider these works.
Franz Joseph HAYDN
Piano Sonatas 45, 18, 38, 40, 48
Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI/45 (1766)
1. Moderato 7.10
2. Andante 5.50
3. Finale: allegro di molto 6.02
Sonata in B flat major, Hob XVI/18 (ca 1766/67)
4. Allegro moderato 5.00
5. Moderato 5.11
Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI/38 (1777/79?)
6. Allegro moderato 6.21
7. Adagio 4.01
8. Finale: allegro 2.47
Sonata in G major, Hob XVI/40 (ca 1782/84)
9. Allegretto e innocente 8.37
10. Presto 3.15
Sonata in C major, Hob XVI/48 (1789)
11. Andante con espressione 7.54
12. Rondo: presto 4.28
Total time: 66.38
Yoshiko Kojima, fortepiano
Piano Sonatas 21, 20, 26, 4, 31
Sonata in C major, Hob XVI/21 (1773)
1. Allegro 5.56
2. Adagio 6.01
3. Finale: presto 2.19
Sonata in c minor, Hob XVI/20 (1771)
4. Moderato 8.44
5. Andante con moto 6.02
6. Finale: allegro 4.34
Sonata in A major, Hob XVI/26 (1773)
7. Allegro moderato 6.47
8. Menuet al Rovescio 2.33
9. Finale: presto 0.47
Sonata in D major ('Divertimento'), Hob XVI/4 (before 1776)
10. (-) 4.24
11. Menuetto 2.32
Sonata in E major ('Divertimento'), Hob XVI/31 (1776)
12. Moderato 5.32
13. Allegretto 1.50
14. Finale: presto 2.40
Total time: 60.46
Riko Fukuda, fortepiano
CD10 Piano Sonatas 28, 36, 14, 6, 9, 8
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