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ClassicsOnline Home » HAYDN, J.: Piano Trios, Vol. 1 (Kungsbacka Trio) - Nos. 24, 25, 26, 31
The Piano Trios, written between 1784 and 1797, represent Haydn’s art at its most enjoyable and fresh. Three of the trios in this recording were dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter, who lived in London and was a close friend of the composer. Trio No. 26 includes a version of the Adagio of Symphony No. 102, which it has been suggested was a favourite of hers. And the G major sports the famous ‘Gypsy Rondo’ finale (Rondo all’ongarese), one of the most ebullient and best loved movements in the entire repertoire. The Kungsbacka is one of the world’s finest trios, and their Mozart trio set (Naxos 8.570519) received outstanding reviews; “authentically felt and absorbingly communicated.” (Gramophone).
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
Piano Trios, Hob.XV: 24, 25, 26 and 31
Born in 1732 in the village of Rohrau, near the modern border between Austria and Slovakia, Joseph Haydn was the son of a wheelwright. He had his musical training as a chorister at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna and thereafter earned a living as best he could from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard. During these earlier years he was able to learn from the old composer Nicola Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn’s first regular employment came in 1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin. This was followed in 1761 by appointment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, succeeded on his death in 1762 by his brother Prince Nicolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydn succeeded to his position, remaining in the same employment, nominally at least, until his death in 1809.
Much of Haydn’s service of the Esterházys was at the new palace of Eszterháza on the Hungarian plains, a complex of buildings to rival Versailles in magnificence. Here he was responsible for the musical establishment and its activities, including regular instrumental concerts and music for the theatre, opera and church. For his patron he provided a variety of chamber music, in particular for the Prince’s favourite instrument, the baryton.
On the death of Prince Nicolaus in 1790 Haydn was able to accept an invitation from the violinist-impresario Salomon to visit London, where he already enjoyed a considerable reputation. He was in London for a second time in 1794 and 1795, after which he returned to duty with the Esterházy family, now chiefly at the family residence in Eisenstadt, where he had started his career. Much of the year, however, was passed in Vienna, where he spent his final years, dying as the city fell once more into the power of Napoleon’s army.
Haydn’s keyboard music was at first written for the harpsichord, with later works clearly intended for the pianoforte, as dynamic markings show. His career coincided with changes in the standard keyboard instrument, as the fortepiano and then the pianoforte, with their hammer action and dynamic possibilities, gradually replaced the harpsichord and clavichord. At the same time there was a parallel change in instrumental forms, as the structure that has come to be known, among other titles, as sonata-allegro form, developed. Haydn’s Keyboard Trios, of which he left some thirty, are generally given the title of Sonata, whether for harpsichord or piano, with the accompaniment usually of violin and cello. The earliest work of this kind dates from 1784 and the last from 1797.
In England Haydn had developed a close relationship with a forty-year-old widow, Rebecca Schroeter. The daughter of a well-to-do Scottish businessman, Mrs Schroeter, after her father’s death, had married her German music teacher, in spite of objections from her family. Her husband, Johann Samuel Schroeter, died in 1788, so that, by 1791, his widow was free to pursue another relationship. Haydn, of course, was married, however unsatisfactory his domestic situation. This prevented another marriage, but still allowed Haydn a discreet liaison, evidence of which survives in copies he made of her letters. The three Piano Trios, Hob.XV: 24–26, were presumably completed by the summer of 1795, when Haydn was to return to Vienna, and dedicated to Rebecca Schroeter.
The third of the group, the set published in London as Op. 73, the Piano Trio in F sharp minor, Hob.XV:26, has been dated to 1794. The sonata-form first movement duly modulates from F sharp minor to the relative A major for a second subject, with its display of semiquaver triplet figuration. The central development moves from B minor to E flat minor with a further dramatic modulation and juxtaposed contrasts of dynamics, before the recapitulation. The slow movement offers an F sharp major version of the Adagio of Symphony No. 102, written for London in 1794 and first performed there at a Salomon concert on 2 February 1795. It has been suggested that the movement of the symphony was a particular favourite of Mrs Schroeter, its use in the Trio a tribute to her. The final Tempo di Minuetto presents a recurrent turn in its opening bar and makes particular use of dotted figuration. A passage in F sharp major leads back to the original key and the F sharp minor coda.
The Piano Trio in D major, Hob.XV:24, as elsewhere, makes considerable use of doubling, particularly in the case of the cello part, which often doubles the lower notes of the piano in these works. The first subject leads to unexpected changes of key as it moves towards the A major second subject, with its triplet figuration. The central development starts in A minor, moving to F major and G minor and then the dominant of C major. The return to the original key for the recapitulation is achieved, like the transition from first to second subject, by the use of a thematic element from the opening of the movement. The Andante is in D minor and makes use of dotted rhythms, leading to a final dominant seventh chord and a fermata, after which the Allegro, ma dolce begins, a movement that has a D minor section at its heart.
The second of the set dedicated to Mrs Schroeter, the Piano Trio in G major, Hob.XV:25, is probably the best known of all Haydn’s compositions in this form, famous for its final Rondo all’ongarese or Gypsy Rondo. The work starts with an Andante, a set of variations, alternating major and minor keys. The slow movement, Poco adagio, is in E major, with a moving violin solo at its heart, accompanied by piano quaver triplets, with the cello generally reinforcing the bass-line. In the final rondo Haydn makes use of melodies probably long familiar to him, suggesting the recruiting dances used to attract young men to military service, an element particularly of its two minor key episodes.
The Piano Trio in E flat minor, Hob.XV:31, was apparently written in Vienna in 1795, after Haydn’s return from England¹. It was published in Vienna in 1803 by Johann Traeg, with whom Haydn had been in earlier disagreement, with a dedication to Madeleine von Kurzbeck (Magdalena von Kurzböck), to whom he had dedicated the Vienna edition of his Sonata No. 62, Hob.XVI:52. He sent to Madame Moreau in Paris a version, without the cello part, which suggested that the work was a violin sonata, the form in which it came to be published in Paris. The second movement, it seems, was originally a separate work for Therese Bartolozzi, née Janson (Jansen), a pupil of Clementi in London, to whom Haydn had dedicated earlier piano sonatas and has been identified by some as the piece known as Jacob’s Dream, written to challenge the pretensions of a German amateur violinist in London, to cure his tendency to play notes in the higher register too near the bridge.
The first of the two movements is a set of variations deployed in a form of rondo. After the E flat minor opening section, the first episode is in E flat major, with the subject inverted. The main theme returns, to be followed by a section in B major, the melody entrusted to the violin. This leads to the return of the main E flat minor theme, in a variation. The E flat major second movement, marked Allegro ben moderato, takes the violin to new heights and includes some elaborate figuration in a relatively demanding piano part.
¹ qv. H.C. Robbins Landon: Haydn: the Years of ‘The Creation’ 1796–1800, pp. 72 ssq. et passim
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