JOSEPH HAYDN PIANO TRIOS Volume IV
In this fourth volume of the complete Haydn piano trios, the Mendelssohn Piano Trio offers a wonderful sampling of trios from the early, middle, and late periods of Haydn’s compositional life. The selected trios offer great variety not only because of their composition dates but because of Haydn’s infinite genius.
Piano Trio in B–flat Major, Hoboken XV: 20
By the time Haydn composed the B–Flat Trio in 1794–95, he was well into his maturity but not yet suffering the pains of old age. He had thrived for over thirty years as Kappelmeister of the wealthy Esterházy family on their remote estate in Hungary but had also made a highly successful trip to London where he experienced a new freedom in his music. A second visit in 1794-95 brought further positive developments for him. Perhaps it was this fine state of affairs that encouraged the good spirits of the B–Flat Trio.
The graciously happy first movement has nary a cloud until the development when things take a brief darker and more powerful turn before a return to the opening spirit. The second movement Andante cantabile is just as the marking suggests–songful–but with a certain peaceful solemnity marked by an opening piano solo soon picked up by the violin and supported by the cello. The piano further elaborates before the Haydn surprise of a lively ending. Good spirits return in the final movement but with a new take by the ever–inventive Haydn in waltz time and dotted rhythms. It should come as no surprise that Haydn later offered a piano arrangement of this last movement of the B-flat Trio, further spreading its utter charm and excellence.
Piano Trio in G Minor, Hoboken XV: 1
If the G Minor Piano Trio takes us back in time that is not to imply a lesser excellence. The rich ornamentation of the first movement suggests the 18th century and the harpsichord, but the modern piano does it no harm and in fact probably points to the universality of Haydn’s style. While the movement has a certain moderation and graciousness we associate with 18th century music, it still has a complexity and a balance of instruments that bear Haydn’s stamp. The second movement immediately brings to mind Beethoven’s Op. 1, No. 1 Piano Trio despite Beethoven’s irascible claim that he “learned nothing” from Haydn. The elegance of the early French dance, the menuet, also marks this movement. The daring final Presto is over in a flash but not before we are profoundly impressed with Haydn’s efforts at the age of 35 – efforts that point directly to his later accomplishments.
Piano Trio in F Major, Hoboken XV: 6
The opening Vivace of the two–movement F Major Trio is startling in the speed of its tempo and the virtuosic demands of the piano part. There is unmitigated merriness until the development section cast in a minor key but without any slowing of tempo. Haydn returns to the opening brightness for the conclusion of the movement but offers us the surprise of a quiet and gentle ending. The contrasting Tempo di Menuetto is introspective, expressive, and elegant. The piano moves momentarily to a secondary position as the violin gives forth a poignant solo. The cello keeps all in order but is also given its voice in this beautiful movement.
One wonders if the operatic quality of this Trio might stem from its composition date between 1784 and 1785 when Haydn was just emerging from the completion of his operas Orlando Paladino and Armida. The Trio was dedicated to Countess Grassalkovics, niece of Haydn’s employer Prince Nicolas Esterházy.
Piano Trio in E Major, Hoboken XV: 34
Experiencing the early works of Haydn has a special significance since they point so directly to his later genius. Despite its Hoboken number, the E Major Trio was written probably before 1860, making it one of Haydn’s first keyboard trios when he was still focused on the harpsichord rather than the emerging piano. The détaché playing of the opening Allegro moderato movement may suggest the simple charm and elegance of earlier times, but still it is not without Haydn’s innovative minor turns that hint of the future. The Minuet continues Baroque graciousness in its use of the traditional French dance form but breaks the rules in a trio section that offers challenging rhythmic syncopation. The lively Finale again offers surprising minor turns and a newfound balance of instruments. Haydn offers a bright and straightforward conclusion to this work that was also published as a Serenata for wind instruments.
Piano Trio in A Major, Hoboken XV: 18
The A Major Trio corresponds with the end of Haydn’s tenure as Kapellmeister of the Esterházy Court and the second of his visits to London (1794-95) when he composed a series of brilliant piano trios that seemed to go far beyond the earlier trios of 1785 in their impact. This is evidenced by the use of three movements rather than the two of earlier trios but, even more so, by the piano part that is especially elaborate and demanding but not at the expense of the violin and cello.
We are brought to attention by the opening chords of the A Major Trio. From there the movement might be defined in terms of surprise and humor, two elements that persist throughout. The surprise is based on dramatic pauses and the humor on a Haydnesque ornament that serves as a kind of returning “sound clip” or motto throughout. All three instruments vie for equal attention in a kind of humorous debate. The Andante is another matter with its soloistic moments for all three instruments. In this movement humor is replaced by what might be described as a lyrical pathos. We are left suspended in midair and then sent directly into the final Allegro where humor again exudes with variations on the motto of the first movement. Here we could enter a philosophical discussion on what makes music funny, but let it suffice to say that, in Haydn, it seems to be based on the unexpected and the extreme. While virtuosic demands themselves are not intrinsically funny, Haydn seems to make them so in this remarkable Trio.
Piano Trio in D Major, Hoboken XV: 7
Today we take a composer’s freedom in determining movement markings for granted, but at the time of the composition of the Hob. XV: 7 Trio in 1786, to open with an Andante was unusual and to follow with another one even more so. Yet the first two movements, both marked Andante, are far from similar. The first is disarming in its forthright opening which grows more complex as Haydn employs variation form. The violin hands its solo part over to the piano and then, surprisingly, the cello takes over, once and for all confirming that the cello is no longer an instrument of mere accompaniment. Haydn’s inventiveness is further revealed in the second movement Andante that bears much solemnity, despite its elaborations especially by the piano but enlarged upon by both violin and cello. We are suspended for a moment before being thrust directly into the merry chase of the Allegro assai where all dark thoughts are dispelled and virtuosic display seems in order. A brief cadenza is offered by the piano before the surprise of a simple but definitive ending.
© Lucy Miller Murray
Lucy Miller Murray is founder of Market Square Concerts in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and author of Adams to Zemlinsky: A Guide to Chamber Music published by Concert Artists Guild of New York.
©Lucy Miller Murray (lucymillermurray.com)