JOSEPH HAYDN PIANO TRIOS
Haydn’s voluminous output alone does not explain his powerful musical and cultural influence. His some forty-five piano trios, though daunting in number, are also overwhelming in their stylistic breadth and ingenuity. They move across the boundaries of the Baroque and the Classical and even lick the edges of Romanticism. The move to a freer, more emotional expression came with the end of Haydn’s 29-year tenure (1761-1795) as Kapellmeister in the court of the Hungarian Prince Paul Anton Esterházy and his two highly successful visits to London between 1791 and 1795.
Members of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio have noted that the works on each disc of their recording of the complete Haydn piano trios were chosen not to honor chronological order but to create an effective concert program.
Piano Trio in B-Flat Major, Hoboken XV: 8
We are warmly welcomed into this recording by the brave and cheerful opening statement of the Allegro moderato of Hob. XV: No. 8. Typical of Haydn, however, we take a dark minor turn before a return to the happy mood with its skipping rhythms. This return also reflects Haydn’s major contribution to the development of sonata form.
Haydn keeps his 18th century wig and pantaloons in place for the elegant and gracious Menuetto but not at the expense of his creativity or his continuing exploration of the keyboard which here, as in the first movement, is assigned the most elaborate part. Certainly Haydn was tempted by the new developments of the pianoforte which would lead to the modern piano as we know it today. He also teases us with repeated phrases displaying the art of repetition and with syncopation, one of his favorite devices.
Hob. XV: 8, composed between 1784 and 1785, was the last of three trios dedicated to Countess Grassalkovic, niece of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy.
Piano Trio in F Minor, Hoboken XV: f1
This elaborately beautiful work, composed probably before 1760 and listed as No. 14 in H.C. Robbins Landon’s chronological listing, is an early example of Haydn’s genius with the piano trio form. Beneath its decorations lie darker implications, indicated by his choice of the key in which he would write his profound and masterful F Minor Variations for piano of 1793.
In the first and longest of the three movements, Allegro moderato, the piano offers ornamentations and variations on a motto, a daring feat in its own right. These variations coupled with a persistent return of the motto give the whole movement at once both a variety and a consistency remarkable in its sophistication and beauty. The second movement Menuet honors the traditional dance form but is not slave to it. The minor key persists, giving the elegant dance a certain solemnity. The mood brightens in the Trio section before a gentle conclusion. Haydn’s gift for the Gypsy spirit, identified in his famous Hob. XV: 25 Trio, is clearly heard in the final Allegro of this much earlier work.
Piano Trio in E-Flat Major, Hoboken XV: 36
Despite its higher Hoboken number, the E-Flat Trio of about 1760 is considered the twelfth in Haydn’s magnificent exploration of the form. Nothing, however, is behind the times in its musical concepts. In fact, much about the work is elusively modern, as first indicated by the free-form opening piano statement. Haydn further challenges us with startling harmonic shifts and a remarkable use of repeated notes that form a motto throughout the movement. The vibrant Polonese expands the notion of the traditional dance form, putting it somewhere between a dance and a march with strong unison playing that somehow does not negate the conversational quality we associate with Haydn. The Finale continues the spirit of the Polonese but with development and a suggestion of the variation form in which Haydn so excelled.
Piano Trio in D Major, Hoboken XV: 24
The D Major Trio of 1795 is one of three dedicated to the young widow, Rebecca Schroeter, with whom Haydn fell in love during his London visits. To view this relationship as affecting the Trio is irresistible since the work is fraught with both tenderness and tension.
The first movement Allegro opens in typically bright Haydensque fashion, but beneath that lies a tension which becomes increasingly evident. Sudden harmonic shifts, descending chromaticisms, and dramatic pauses mark the movement, but perhaps more important than any of those devices is Haydn’s insistent use of a motto and his brilliant conclusion.
The brief second movement Andante doubles the tension with its sad, almost funereal, sense. Here is music well ahead of its time in its expression of emotion. Technically it is advanced in both its balance of instruments and the virtuosic light in which the piano is cast. After a dramatic long note, the movement ends inconclusively in mid-air.
The “sweetness” of the Allegro ma dolce lies in its gently fugal quality with the three voices closely bound together. Sweetness abates, however, when Haydn turns forceful and almost angry in tone. After a brilliant section with staccato playing by the piano, the gentleness returns before the movement ends abruptly—much like Haydn’s romance with Rebecca Schroeter when he left London in 1795 and returned to Vienna.
Piano Trio in A Major, Hoboken XV: 35
Before members of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio plunge into Haydn’s famous “Gypsy” Trio of 1795, they turn to a much earlier one, Hob. XV: 35, composed somewhere between 1755 and 1760 when Haydn was still in his twenties. Chronologically, Hob. XV: 35 is listed as No. 10 in Haydn’s forty-five piano trios composed over a period of some thirty-five years. By this choice we experience a trio that gives momentary relief from the complexities of the later trios. Complexity, however, is relative in Haydn, and to view the A Major Trio as simple is foolish. It is both as sophisticated and technically challenging as Mozart’s piano trios and anticipates Beethoven’s.
The first movement, for example, is much more than cheerful. It is a thorough exploration of sonata form, the use of kernel phrases or mottos, and a study in harmonic shifts. The second movement Menuet is an elegant example of Haydn’s ability to take that dance form to new heights, and the energetic third movement marks an historic development in the balance of instruments.
If this Trio does not have the anguish of later ones, it is only because it is a brilliant example of a young and relatively untroubled spirit whisking his way through a piece with great ease. This Trio can give so much pleasure that one is tempted to overlook it complexities.>
Piano Trio in G Major, Hoboken XV: 25
Variation form dominates both the opening Andante, with its many elaborations on a theme, and the Finale of Haydn’s most famous piano trio of 1795 dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter. Its subtitle, “Gypsy,” comes from the rousing Rondo all’ Ongarese (Gypsy Rondo) of the last movement which employs the spirit of Magyar folk music. Brahms, Dvořák, and Bartók would also bow to this spirit but never in the sense of imitation. Those composers all put the individual stamp of their complex compositional techniques on the folk music that inspired them, but, again, it was Haydn who led the way to that process. Despite the fame of the last movement with its exciting minor episodes, it is the second movement, Poco adagio, that might most move a listener. Here the piano, despite the beauty of its part, allows the soloistic violin and the supportive cello their moments in the sun.
Placing this famous trio as the final work on this recording is another gesture in the Mendelssohn Piano Trio’s effort to honor effective programming rather than chronological order.
© 2011 Lucy Miller Murray (lucymillermurray.com)