Franz Joseph Haydn and His Sonatas for Piano


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Franz Joseph Haydn was an Austrian who was one of the most important Classical composer during 18th century. He was born on 31 March 1732 and died on 31 May 1809. (Knapp & Robbins Landon & Geiringer, 2018). He wrote 104 Symphonies, 32 Piano Trios, 62 Piano Sonatas, and more than 90 String Quartets. His contributions to musical form have attained him the epithets ‘Father of the Symphony’ and ‘Father of the String Quartet’ (Rosen, Charles 1997). When he was young, he was sent for musical training when his musicality talent was discovered by his parents. He grew up to become a very talented singer and instrumentalist.

Haydn spent lots of his career as a court musician for the rich Esterházy family at their remote estate. In 1761, he started to serve the Esterházy family for almost 3 decades. Haydn composed symphonies, string quartets, chamber music and operas for the court. He frequently travelled to Vienna to work and met Mozart during the trip. The men developed a close relationship and found inspiration in each other’s works.

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Haydn was the most natural and lovable men. His legendary humour was combined with the true countryman’s sense of the realities of life. His optimistic character enabled him to accept the obstacles and frustrations of his life as a liveried servant without bitterness. In his later life, he accepted the honour which were heaped upon him with unaffected pleasure, and without a trace of vanity. (Bailie,1989)

Haydn wrote 62 sonatas for piano. Most of these were written in his early years. He was not a pianist, only three of his piano sonatas were written in the last 20 years of his life. Most of his sonatas were followed a rigid three-movement structure. He also wrote 9 sonatas with just two movements, and 2 sonatas with four movements. Most of those were written in major keys and only 7 of them were in minor keys. The melodic development is magnificent. However, only small amount of the sonatas contained virtuoso passages, and some of them sound relatively simple instead. This does not detract from their musicality, but it may explain why Haydn’s piano sonatas are not performed very often. (Rob Barnett, 2001)

In his early sonatas, some passages were inspired by the technique of the violin, there are some imitation of string instruments inside. It was stated that Haydn may have first conceived his early works in the context of the string ensemble and then subsequently, he adapted his ideas to the keyboard. (‘(Franz) Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) |,’ n.d.).

The “typical” Haydn first movement does not exist. In each he embarks on a new adventure in structure and style, encompassing every imaginable variety of mood, from the defiance of No.40 in E flat major and No.47 in B minor, to the refinement and expressive grace of No.54 in G major. The mood usually was switched wildly almost from bar to bar, between exuberance pathos and grandeur such as in the 1st movement of No.60 in C major.

His recapitulations are seldom mere re-statements, but demonstrate his irresistible urge to continue to “work” his material. Again, he used the formality of the minuet as a vehicle for all manner of textual experiment, and his minor trios are often finely expressive. Bailie (1989) said about Haydn’s ancestry, on the possibility that Haydn was Croatian rather than German extraction, and of the folk influences he naturally absorbed from the mixed races and cultures of his native region near the Austro-Hungarian border. These influences perhaps most obvious in his finales, which are typically full of spark and often of rumbustious “country” humour, abounding in his characteristically irregular phrase lengths, stomping, whirling or “churning” dance-like rhythms.

There are some matters of style for Haydn in writing his sonatas. In his early sonata works, as it was in the era of the harpsichord, there are no dynamic signs. The first use of dynamic markings appears in Hob. XVI: 35- 39 and XVI: 20 in C published in 1780, which were influenced by the fortepiano (Harrison, 1997). Later, when he had grown used to the capacities of the new instruments, the gradations of sound like crescendo or decrescendo were implied by the shape of the phrase in the sonata. The sudden forte or piano is indeed the characteristics of Haydn.

Haydn’s frequent sforzatos must be treated in a brisk forte passage, a sharp, firm, or indeed biting accent. Syncopated sforzatos sometimes occur in the late Sonatas with Beethovenian persistence. For example, this was found in the first movement of No. 60 in C major, bars76-80. Besides, a sforzato in the course of a melodic line in a piano context is more likely to indicate a gentle emphasis- a “leaning” upon, or slight “holding” of certain notes, important to the shaping and expressive sense of the phrase (Bailie, 1989). For instance, in the slow movement of Sonata No.60 in C major in bars 9-10, the stressed offbeat semiquavers in the left-hand, in the right-hand and again in the left-hand.

Haydn rhythmic figuration is complex. Breezy march rhythms and vigorous stomping figures abound are his styles. He preferred the use of dotted rhythms in solemnity, or in passages of high dramatic tension. Triplets are freely used especially in some of the early Minuets. For example in Sonata No.1 in G major, the dotted rhythm and triplets figures alternating throughout the first movement. To play Haydn’s rhythm, we have to walk, dance, wave the arms and do anything that has a physical rhythm in order to feel the right pulse. Haydn used the minuet structure to marvelously expressive effect. It is important to remember that a minuet is a dance rhythm whether the minuet or trio was vigorous, even stomping in character such as in Sonata No.47 in B minor.

Haydn was innovative and unconstrained, he frequently employed irregular phrase lengths. The rule of understanding the lengths of phrase is to sing out. Then, we will know how and when they begin and end, and how they are shaped. Feeling the onward movement over the subdivision of phrases is also important. For example at the beginning of the first movement of Sonata No. 2 in C major, 3 opening chords are played in a vigorous, rhythmic and “ongoing” manner, do not feel “stopped” on the chord on the 1st beat of bar 2.

The Sonata No. 62 in E flat major (Hob.XVI/52) is the most imposing and virtuosic of all Haydn’s Sonatas. The first movement, fantasia-like in the range of its rhythmic and pianistic figuration, of such grandeur and immutability of design. (Bailie,1989) The dotted rhythm was existed in the beginning of first movement, and it can be found throughout the movement. In order to execute this dotted rhythm in the style of eighteenth-century music, the dotted eighth-note should be lengthened beyond its notated value while the sixteenth note is shortened. (Treviranus, 2012). The practicing strategic for this dotted rhythm is to practice slowly, count out the dotted rhythm accurately, instead of double dotting and “tripletizing” to create more lively rhythm. After playing the dotted quarter, lift the hand slightly and let it bouncing forward and upward on the sixteenth notes. We can imagine that a stone was skipping and “going” forward over water. In bar 19, while playing the schneller, the practice strategy is using the hand and wrist movement of a two-note slur.

The second movement is in Adagio. Bailie (1989) suggested that its effusions of rhythmic and melodic figuration and ornamentation must be held together within a fundamental steady pulse. It is suggested that we set a slow and measured ¾ pulse, and help ourselves at first by counting in quavers within the crotchets. The finale (Presto) which Haydn is at his most wildly exuberant, and the pace is relentless, with hectic turns of mood and rhythm every few bars. (Bailie, 1989) Bailie suggested that taking a tempo from the maximum speed at which the pianist can manage the treacherous semiquaver passage from bars18-28, and let the crotchet pulse be as lively as is safe.

In conclusion, although Haydn was not a pianist and was not best-known for his piano sonatas, but he wrote his sonatas in his own styles and it also contribute some importances and uniqueness that should be appreciated by the performers as well as audiences today.

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