JOSEPH HAYDN PIANO TRIOS Volume II
The five works included on this second volume of the Mendelssohn Piano Trio’s recordings of the complete Haydn piano trios span some forty years of the master’s compositional life and provide a full taste of his genius. Numbers 40 and 38, despite their higher numbers, were written probably before 1760 when Haydn was still in his twenties. No. 9 came in his fifties while he was still in his long service as Kapellmeister at the Esterházy court (1761-1790). Numbers 23 and 28 were composed in his sixties after he was freed of the Esterházy constraints and enjoyed two productive visits to London in 1791-1792 and 1794-95. Corresponding to all of this were the development of the piano which, after 1767, replaced Haydn’s earlier use of the harpsichord in his trios, and, perhaps more important, Haydn’s growing freedom of expression that did not bow to popular expectations.
Trio in F Major, Hoboken XV: 40
The gracious Moderato opening of this early Trio should not be perceived as merely simple. Haydn’s so-called simplicity is a complex matter as evidenced in this brief work. The complexity grows in the second movement Menuet with its elaborations for the keyboard, its gently surprising shifts to the minor, and its echoing between violin and keyboard. The energetic Finale again reminds us of Haydn’s complexities with its ravishing scales for the keyboard, its use of artful repetition, and its subtle chromatic ascents and descents.
The early date of this Trio (c. 1760) suggests that it was composed for harpsichord rather than pianoforte. If so, the harpsichordist was a mighty one since the keyboard part already suggests a freedom not widely evident in Haydn’s time.
Trio in B-flat Major, Hoboken XV: 38
Once again, graciousness prevails in the first movement Allegro of XV: 38, but complexity comes soon in this second early trio (c. 1760) included on the disc. Although the piano and violin predominate, there is an increasing balance among the instruments despite the violin’s many moments in the sun. A deceptive simplicity marks the second movement Menuet countered by increasingly dramatic minor shifts. Haydn does not hold back in the Finale with its fast tempo, wealth of surprises, and sharp chromatic descents. So, too, does the cello makes its imprint in this movement that is nothing short of brilliant.
Trio in D Minor, Hoboken XV: 23
In Hob. XV: 23 we leap to a trio written during the first of Haydn’s important stays in London (1794-95). No longer restrained by court demands, his emotional expression abounded. If we see a new face of Haydn in this work, it might well be a reflection of his life experiences including his love for the young widow Rebecca Schroeter. That love brings both joys and sorrows is clearly expressed in this Trio.
While elegance and propriety mark the opening Molto andante, so does serious intention. Sonata form is treated in its strongest sense with a lively development section contrasting to the opening minor statement. The resounding chords demanded of the pianist suggest an instrument more powerful than the harpsichord. After a curious outbreak of joyfulness, Haydn returns to the serious mood of the opening.
With the second movement we experience the first Haydn adagio on this recording with a moving violin solo under a solemn piano accompaniment. The cello grounds the ensemble.
Any hint of sadness is dispelled in the Finale with its vivace tempo and its virtuosic challenges. Those challenges might have surprised an 18th century audience looking for mere entertainment in this elaborate and complex work.
The D Minor Trio of 1794 was one of three dedicated to Princess Maria Josepha, wife of Prince Nicolas Esterházy. All three are noted by Charles Rosen in his Classical Style as “powerful, imaginative works,” and the D Minor as “having the most brilliant finale full of rhythmic ingenuity.”
Trio in A Major, Hoboken XV: 9
With Haydn’s A Major Trio, Mozart comes to mind. Indeed, by its composition date, 1785, Haydn and Mozart had met and become admiring friends. In a letter, Mozart said of Haydn, “No one else can do everything—be flirtatious and be unsettling, move to laughter and move to tears—as well as Joseph Haydn.” Such is the case in the A Major Trio.
The “move to tears” certainly applies to the beautiful Adagio with its dramatic opening that soon transitions into a beautiful song for the violin. A solo moment is given to the piano, and the cello goes well beyond its traditional accompaniment role. New ground is established also in terms of lyrical expression and dramatic gestures by all three instruments.
“Flirtatious” and “unsettling” might well refer to the second movement Vivace with its bright mood, strength, and virtuosic demands. The contrast it offers to the Adagio is, in itself, a compositional stroke of genius.
Trio in E Major, Hoboken XV: 28
In the E Major Trio of 1797, we are again reminded of Mozart’s comment that Haydn could be “unsettling.” Surely it is the many innovations employed in the Trio that cause this. In the first movement, we are surprised by the opening plucking of the strings and then by the virtuosic showcase offered by the piano. Furthermore, the rhythmic eccentricities, riveting chromaticisms, and inventive exploration of the main theme are astonishing.
The second movement Allegretto is no less disturbing with its solemn tempo established by the piano’s left hand while the right hand explores a beautiful melody in many permutations. Even the length of the opening piano solo is a surprise. Haydn is no imitator, but if he looked to Mozart in his Hob. XV: 28 Trio, it is Bach to whom he bows in this movement with its strong contrapuntal writing.
The quick pace of the Finale brightens the mood but does not alleviate the “unsettling” qualities of the work with is minor shifts, dramatic pauses, and continuing exploration of a single motif. To all these disturbances, Haydn gives a definitive conclusion, but we remain in amazement.
The E Major Trio was probably conceived during Haydn’s second visit to London. With its companion pieces, Hob. XV: 27 and 29, it was dedicated to Theresa Jansen, the virtuosic London pianist for whom he also wrote his last three piano sonatas. Charles Rosen speaks of these three trios as “the most difficult Haydn ever wrote and a formidable and intellectual achievement.” The E Major Trio he singles out as “even more extraordinary, in some ways the strangest of all Haydn’s late works.” © 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)