JOSEPH HAYDN PIANO TRIOS Volume V
True to its commitment to present the trios as they might be programmed for a concert, the Mendelssohn Trio does not honor chronological order in the five trios on this fifth disc of its recording of the complete Haydn piano trios. The Mendelssohn looks instead to the musical impact of each work. The five trios included span only six of the some 37 years during which Haydn produced his 40 confirmed masterpieces in the form. Three of the five were composed before Haydn’s two influential trips to London (1791-95) after which his music would take new directions.
Piano Trio in F Major, Hoboken XV: 17
The Mendelssohn Trio welcomes us into the recording with the cheerful Trio in F Major, Hob. XV:17 of 1790. This Trio and the fourth on the disc, Hob. XV: 15, were composed just before Haydn’s departure on the first of his London trips that would change the course of his music. Originally conceived as a piano sonata with flute or violin accompaniment for his Viennese friend Marianne von Genzinger, Haydn later made the translation for piano trio. In light of the earlier format, it would seem that the piano would take precedence over the other instruments, but in this case the violin challenges that predominance. The cello holds firm its important role of rhythmic and harmonic grounding. Charm prevails in this work, but do not discount its strength or its forward glances to works of greater complexity. We might speak of only the good cheer of the first movement, but that would ignore its many subtle harmonic shifts to the minor that suggest another side of Haydn. The piano offers an elaborate introduction to the second movement but is soon joined by the violin and cello. The Menuetto of the second movement does not include the expected trio section but turns instead to a suggestion of variations.
Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Hoboken XV: 22
While only four years separate the E-flat Trio, Hob. XV: 22 from the earlier F Major Trio, Hob. XV: 17, there is a major leap forward in sophistication and depth with the E-Flat Trio of 1794. Part of this may be due to Haydn’s second visit to London where he was exposed to greater musical freedom. Prior to this, however, his music had already taken on new emotional depths as a result of the Sturm und Drang movement, a philosophical influence that stressed the importance of faith and the senses as opposed to the logic and reason of the Enlightenment. What also comes to mind in the E-Flat Trio is what Haydn scholar Elaine Sisman calls in her essay “Haydn, Shakespeare, and the Rules of Originality,” (Haydn and His World, Princeton University Press) the “Shakespearean Haydn,” that is, “the capricious juxtapositions of high and low, serious and comic, that reflect his deepest proclivities…the casting aside of rules in original ways.” Indeed, rules are cast aside in this Trio that is startling in its simultaneous strength and sweetness. The E-Flat Trio is one of a set of three trios dedicated to Princess Maria Josepha Hermenegild Esterhàzy, née Princess von Lichtenstein to whom Haydn had also dedicated three of his piano sonatas. She and her husband, Prince Nikolaus I Esterhàzy, would later commission Haydn’s six late masses.
Dramatic rolled piano chords and a poignant violin song open the Trio but henceforward the beautiful melody is handed back and forth with equality among the instruments. The sheer beauty of the Poco Adagio may wear a veil of simplicity, but its dark underpinnings are still evident. The Finale returns us to the bright spirit we so often associate with Haydn, but it is a spirit marked by virtuosic demands.
Piano Trio in E Minor, Hoboken XV: 12
With Haydn’s E Minor Trio of 1788, we step back six years in time but not in excellence. Composed for the fortepiano rather than harpsichord, the work reveals Haydn’s experiments with the greater power of the newly-developed instrument. This is immediately reflected in the Trio’s sharply declarative opening statement. While Haydn explored new possibilities of the keyboard throughout the first movement, he certainly did not neglect the violin and cello. The second movement Andante is a lovely and elaborate song so operatic in quality that it could have inspired Mozart. Much in contrast, the final movement is straightforward and unmitigated brilliance with harmonic shifts subtly tucked in. Here, the piano is put to new tests.
Piano Trio in G Major, Hoboken XV: 15
In a concert, the G Major Trio, Hob. XV: 15 might be heard as a moment of relief from the challenges of the two previous trios on the disc and a proverbial “breather” before the final G Minor Trio. No more welcoming music could be conceived than the simple motto that opens and dominates the first movement of this Trio. Simplicity, however, transitions into complexity in the Andante, and we have a suggestion of the Haydn of later works. In the virtuosic Finale, Haydn casts all cares aside and employs his unfailing capacity to surprise us with harmonic shifts and pauses that add a note of humor. This Trio of 1790 is one of two that Haydn originally wrote for flute, cello, and piano but quickly translated for piano trio form with violin replacing the flute.
Piano Trio in G Minor, Hoboken XV: 19
The Mendelssohn Trio could give no better conclusion to this fifth disc than G Minor Trio, Hob. XV: 19 composed between 1793 and 1794 after, or possibly during, Haydn’s second London visit where he experienced a new freedom of expression. The G Minor Trio also brings the glory of Haydn in a minor key, something which he seems to relish but, in this case, without pervasive gloom. Seriousness, however, is immediately established in the first movement even with its contrasting tempo markings of Andante and Presto. Within both of those tempos, the piano offers great musical elaborations strongly supported by the strings. Despite all the elaboration, Haydn manages to exercise his unmatchable ability for harmonic modulation, going back and forth between major and minor and pulling at our emotions as he does so. The piano continues its elaborate ornamentation in the contemplative but warm Adagio but not at the expense of lovely support from the violin and cello. Sadness is dispelled in the brilliant display of the final Presto even though Haydn does not abandon the G minor key.
After 1794 and the G Minor Trio, Haydn returned to new duties as Kappelmeister in the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, successor to Prince Paul Anton, who restored music to the court and also set up two princely residencies in Austria, one in the original palace at Eisenstadt and a new one in Vienna where Haydn would spend much productive time in his later years.
© 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.