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ClassicsOnline Home » HAYDN, J.: Piano Trios, Vol. 3 (Kungsbacka Trio) - Nos. 14, 21, 22, 23
Joseph Haydn’s long-term employment as Kapellmeister at the palace of Eszterháza in Hungary is reflected in the dedication of his set of three Trios, Hob XV:21–23 to Princess Marie Ermenegild Esterházy, though these were published in London during the second of Haydn’s visits. These delightful works are notable for the dexterity required of the pianist, and all, including the Trio No 14, involve lively and innovative use of tonality. Previous volumes in this series have been acclaimed for their “taste and stylistic insight”. (Daily Telegraph on Volume 1, 8.572040)
By Jerry Dubins
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
Piano Trios, Hob. XV:14, 21, 22 and 23
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 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.
The three Piano Trios, Hob. XV:21–23, were published in London in 1795, before Haydn left England to return home in August that year. The three Trios were dedicated to Princess Marie Ermenegild Esterházy, wife of the new head of the family, Prince Nicolaus II. The first of the set, the Piano Trio in C major, Hob. XV:21, opens with a six-bar introduction, marked Adagio pastorale. This is followed by a sonata form movement, its first subject repeated in the dominant key before the appearance of a secondary theme, over a drone bass. The exposition is repeated before the central development, with a briefly dramatic interpolation, and final recapitulation. The violin introduces the principal theme of the G major slow movement, then taken up and embellished by the piano. This is followed by a minor key version of the theme, which returns in the major, before it is entrusted to the violin, now in E minor, with further modulations leading to the return of the original key and theme. The last movement, both halves of which are repeated, after a repetition of the first eight bars, is in a modified sonata form, its theme and opening suggesting a rondo.
The Piano Trio in E flat major, Hob. XV:22, is a more demanding and ambitious work. The repeated exposition makes use of semiquaver sextuplet figuration, the violin now playing a more important if still subsidiary rôle. The development, with its significant modulations, is duly followed by a final recapitulation. The second movement, marked Poco adagio, is, unusually, in G major, the mediant of the original key, and exists as a separate piano piece, so copied by Haydn’s amanuensis, Johann Elssler. With its hand-crossing in the piano part the movement explores a wide range of the keyboard. The final Allegro, in the original key, is of comparable dimensions, with elaborate modulating arpeggios in the central development section, leading to the key of C sharp minor and then A major, shifting skilfully to the original key in recapitulation.
The third of the set, the Piano Trio in D minor, Hob. XV. 23, starts with a movement in double variation form, the D minor theme, each half of which is repeated, alternating with a D major theme, each varied in turn. The slow movement is in B flat major, its main theme announced by the piano. There is an element of elaborate figuration before the main theme returns, transformed. The last movement is in D major, its main theme including chromatic notes and its exposition repeated. The piano writing, as elsewhere in this set of Trios, is effective and sometimes demanding.
Early in 1790 Haydn offered a new set of Trios to the publisher Artaria, presumably the group opening with the Piano Trio in A flat major, Hob. XV:14, which was ready to be sent to Artaria in January that year. The first movement, its sonata form exposition repeated, entrusts the principal theme, with its question and answer, first to the piano. The same theme returns in the dominant as a second subject. The central development brings various shifts of key, including a change to B major and the apparent return of the theme in recapitulation, before the music takes another turn. Eventually the original key is restored for the abbreviated recapitulation proper. The E major Adagio allows the violin the principal melody, each half of which is repeated before a central section, in E minor, with elaborate rapid piano figuration, accompanied by the plucked notes of violin and cello. The movement ends with the return of the first section. The last movement, which starts without a pause, is a sonata-rondo, its exposition repeated, one of those forms that Haydn knew so well how to handle, lively and innovative, and a fitting end to the work.
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