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Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI: 52


Haydn’s final piano sonata was written for the brilliant virtuoso pianist Therese Jansen -Bartolozzi. Its virtuosic, improvisatory style served as a showcase for her and Haydn must have been very fond of her because he also served as a witness to her wedding. Only published some three years after its composition, she presumably had exclusive access to perform it herself during this period. Haydn was the most influential musical figure in Viennese musical society, and his influence was felt by every composer who came after him -, not least among them his pupil Beethoven -, who dedicated his first three piano sonatas, Op.2, to his teacher. It is surely no coincidence that Haydn chose not to write another piano sonata after this. Beethoven took the adventurous and revolutionary features of Haydn’s pianistic style and made them truly his own. It is interesting to track the development of piano technique and style from teacher to pupil. For example, in this sonata, everything is designed to showcase the brilliant technique of the performer: the frequent and extended runs, the use of the extremes of the keyboard, very high to very low, the harmonic sequences and suspensions, the rhythmic momentum and the frequent changes of mood and idea. The first movement is extremely witty with sudden changes of mood, for example after a brilliant run, suddenly switching to a ‘chirpy-bird’ motif. Surprises are round every corner in the extreme dynamics and off-beat sforzandi  which Beethoven was to take to extremes. But most unexpected of all is the sudden key change from G major to E major in the development section, a moment which is so wonderfully surprising it is hard not to giggle.


Hear Haydn’s last and greatest piano sonata 1st movement live in concert on April 27th at 7pm ‘Music from Vienna’ with Eleanor Meynell. Book tickets here.

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