Program Notes By Eric Bromberger
Andante and Variations in F Minor, Hob.VII:6
FRANZ JOSEPH HAYDN
Born March 31, 1732, Rohrau, Austria
Died May 31, 1809, Vienna
This extraordinary music is one of Haydn’s final compositions for piano. He wrote it in Vienna in 1793 between his two visits to London, and evidence suggests that Haydn himself was unsure just what form this music would take. The manuscript is headed “Sonata,” and it is possible Haydn intended it as the first movement of a sonata, giving up that plan when it became clear to the composer that this music should stand alone. He revised the score carefully, and its final form is unusual: it is a set of double variations–the first theme in F minor, the second in F major–which is then completed by a powerful coda 83 measures long.
The somber opening theme, marked Andante, is heard immediately and passes between both hands, extending through two strains. Haydn then switches to F major for the second theme, but this florid melody, full of swirls and arabesques, shows subtle harmonic relations to the subdued opening subject, so that there is already a unifying bond between these two themes before the variations begin. Haydn then offers two variations on these two themes. The variations on the F minor theme remain restrained, chromatic, and expressive, while the variations on the F major theme are more florid, full of trills and flowing triplets. Haydn begins the coda with a literal reprise of the opening theme, and suddenly this music takes off: over rising harmonic tension, the coda grows more powerful, more expressive, and more dynamic as it drives to a fortissimo climax. And then–in an equally original stroke–Haydn has the music fall back, shatter, and fade into silence on bits of the original theme.
Haydn dedicated the Andante and Variations to Babette (or Barbara) von Ployer, who had been one of Mozart’s students. Scholars, though, have been nearly unanimous in sensing another woman as the real inspiration behind this music. In 1789, Haydn had become good friends with Marianne von Genzinger, the wife of a Viennese physician, and their friendship took the form of a lengthy series of letters in which the older composer was able to pour out–after his own long and unhappy marriage–a depth of feeling and observation; these letters in fact remain one of the clearest records of Haydn’s character and thinking in these years. In January 1793, Marianne von Genzinger died suddenly at age 38, and many music historians regard the Andante and Variations, written shortly after her death, as Haydn’s response to that devastating event. Until more evidence is available, such a connection must remain conjectural, but this somber and expressive music–composed and very carefully revised in the months after Marianne’s death–has seemed to many to be Haydn’s homage to a friend he held very dear.
Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor, Hob.XV:26
Early in his career, Haydn regarded the piano trio as a “lighter” form, one intended as agreeable background music at social occasions or as music for amateurs to play at home. These early trios had descended from the accompanied keyboard sonata, and Haydn himself went so far as to describe them as “Sonatas for pianoforte with accompaniment for violin and violoncello.” But as Haydn matured as a composer, he began to see new expressive possibilities in this combination of instruments, and the trios he wrote during his final visit to London in 1794-95 offer some unexpectedly powerful music.
One of the most impressive of these late trios is the Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor, composed–as we shall see–at exactly the same moment Haydn was writing his Symphony No. 102 for London audiences. Few of Haydn’s piano trios are in minor keys, and all by itself Haydn’s choice of a minor key signals that this will be music of unusual intensity; he will heighten these tensions by excursions into unexpected keys along the way. And the form of this trio is remarkable: the opening movement may be in the expected sonata form, but the middle movement is constructed as a series of episodes, and the finale is a minuet.
The Allegro is dark and serious. We feel this mood from the first instant, and even the energetic secondary material, with its showers of racing triplets, does little to dispel this mood. The real surprise comes in the urgent development section. The key signature may indicate C minor, but the music is so full of accidentals that long passages are in the remote key of E-flat minor. One need not recognize all these key shifts to feel the tension in this music, and Haydn offers his performers the opportunity to repeat the development in its entirety.
The mood changes sharply in the central movement. Haydn’s marking Adagio cantabile makes clear that he wants a singing performance, and this movement takes its character from the piano’s ornate and elegant opening melody. There is a story behind this movement. While composing this trio, Haydn had a rare episode of writer’s block. Usually the most fluent of workers, Haydn found himself unable to compose a slow movement for this trio. At this same time he was writing his final series of grand symphonies for performance in London, and so he “borrowed” from himself: he took the slow movement of his Symphony No. 102 in B-flat Major and arranged it for piano trio, transposing it into the remote key of F-sharp major in the process. Haydn takes his elegant opening melody through a series of graceful evolutions.
Rather than concluding with the expected fast movement, Haydn makes some unusual decisions: he sets the finale at a moderate tempo and casts it as a minuet. At the same time, he goes back to his dark home key of F-sharp minor, and this “minuet” makes a fitting counterweight to the dramatic opening movement. It dances crisply along dotted rhythms, and–despite a sunny interlude in F-sharp major–the tone remains urgent as this trio drives to its fierce concluding chords.
The piano is the principal instrument in the Trio in F-sharp Minor. The violin and particularly the cello are for the most part cast in accompanying roles, and listeners will recognize this music as a descendent of the accompanied piano sonata. What is remarkable here is the tension and darkness of the outer movements. Haydn had clearly recognized that the piano trio need not be just an “entertainment” form, but could offer wide expressive possibilities all its own.
String Quartet in D Major, Opus 64, No. 5 “Lark”
This quartet takes its nickname from the first violin’s extended melody at the very beginning of the first movement: this music soars, sings, and trills, and for once a musical nickname seems accurate. This passage is also a good introduction to the entire work, for the first violin is the star of this quartet, introducing themes, dominating their development, and generally soaring high above the other three instruments. Haydn wrote this quartet–one of the group of six he published as his Opus 64–in 1790, at the very end of his thirty years’ service as kapellmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. During that time he had refined the art of the string quartet, liberating the lower voices and in the process turning the quartet into a great form. In a sense, the “Lark” Quartet–with the great prominence it gives the first violin–might seem to represent a return to an earlier conception of the quartet.
That is easy to forgive, however, when one is dealing with music as fresh as this. The opening Allegro moderato is built largely on the soaring “lark” theme, although Haydn incorporates two other ideas, and the second of these–a shower of triplets–figures prominently in the development. The Adagio cantabile is, as its name suggests, an essentially lyric movement. Again the first violin soars and sings as the other instruments accompany. Haydn lays out two main ideas, and the movement develops through the embellishment of these themes–by the end of the movement the first violin part has become ornately encrusted. The third movement is the expected minuet-and-trio, with the main theme of the minuet decorated with grace notes. The trio, though, brings a surprise: Haydn modulates into D minor, and the instruments descend gracefully through chromatic modulations. Haydn concludes with a finale marked Vivace. This movement is almost a perpetual-motion display for the first violin, which races along on a steady string of sixteenth-notes. The center section features a series of fugal entrances and some stunning syncopations as the two violins ascend ever higher. Even with its repeat, this sparkling movement races home in a blistering two minutes.
Violin Concerto in G Major, Hob.VIIa:4
Certain composers did not write concertos. Schubert and Mahler, for example, were uninterested in the conscious virtuosity at the center of the concerto. Haydn did write concertos, but he never felt wholly comfortable with the form. He was a capable performer on the violin and the keyboard but by no means a virtuoso on either instrument, and virtuosity held little appeal for him. A generation later Mozart, who was a virtuoso on both instruments, would transform the entire conception of the concerto and its possibilities, but Haydn wrote only a handful of concertos, and almost all of these came from relatively early in his career. He wrote six organ concertos in Vienna while still a very young man, and after he entered the service of the Esterházy family in 1761 he wrote a handful more, but over the last 45 years of his incredibly productive career Haydn wrote only one more concerto–for trumpet–in 1795.
The concertos of the Esterházy era were almost certainly written for members of the private orchestra the Esterházy family maintained in Eisenstadt, about thirty miles south of Vienna. That orchestra included some of the finest performers in Europe, and Haydn’s three violin concertos were probably written for its concertmaster, Luigi Tomasini. Tomasini (1741-1808), who appears to have studied briefly with Leopold Mozart, gave concert tours throughout Europe, but he remained with the Esterházy orchestra for over thirty years. During that time he studied composition with Haydn, and some of his chamber music remains in print today.
The Violin Concerto in G Major dates from sometime before 1769, which means that Haydn was still in his thirties when he wrote it. Listeners will feel that this concerto is in some ways closer to the baroque concertos of Bach and Vivaldi than to the classical concertos of Mozart. The Concerto in G Major is based on the ritornello structure of the baroque concerto, there is nothing consciously virtuosic about this music, and Bach and Vivaldi would have found nothing unusual about its form.
This does not prevent its being very attractive music, however, and it is beautifully written for the violin. The first movement is marked Allegro moderato, and it is a measure of Haydn’s conception of the concerto that this movement is not particularly fast: he wants to proceed at a moderate pace rather than at a blistering virtuoso tempo. The movement opens with the principal ritornello set forth by the orchestra, and the violin makes its entrance on this same theme. While the solo part is not consciously virtuosic, it does demand some wide skips, staccato playing, and modest double-stopping. Haydn offers his soloist the opportunity for a cadenza just before the final return of the ritornello.
The Adagio moves to C major, and the solo violin enters only after the orchestra has laid out the principal theme. Matters grow more complex as the movement proceeds, but the writing for violin is unfailingly melodic, and Haydn offers another cadenza before the close. The concerto is rounded off by an Allegro that returns to the home key of G major. In 2/4, this movement requires some vigorous playing from its soloist.
Symphony No. 44 in E Minor “Trauer”
Around the year 1770, Haydn’s symphonic style began to change. Now nearing 40, he had been in the employment of the Esterházy family for a decade, and his first thirty-odd symphonies had been composed for the court orchestra. They were very much in the manner of the early-classical symphony (in fact, they defined that manner): they were essentially grand orchestral sonatas, usually in a major key and designed for the entertainment of a musically-sophisticated court. But now Haydn suddenly seemed intent on finding new directions: he began to write a number of symphonies in minor keys, full of urgency, closely-argued counterpoint, and sharp dynamic contrasts. This period is referred to–for better or worse (mostly worse)–as his “Sturm und Drang” period, co-opting the name of the romantic literary period that would soon be defined by the young Goethe, Schiller, and others. Haydn was no reader, and in fact this period in his music actually predated the literary movement. Far better to let such labels go and to take these symphonies for the exciting and bracing pieces they are: there are many who think Haydn never composed finer symphonies than those of the early 1770s.
The Symphony in E Minor is one of the best from this period, marked by the energy of its outer movements, an expressive slow movement, and the somber coloring that rises from its minor tonality. It is scored for the standard early-classical orchestra of strings plus pairs of oboes and horns, and Haydn employs all these forces in the unison opening, which stamps out the movement’s seminal theme-shape. The marking for this movement–Allegro con brio–would be a favorite of the young Beethoven a generation later, and now it propels this music along blistering passages that are traded (and shared) by the two violin sections. The fierce manner of the opening continues relentlessly through the close, which remains firmly in E minor rather than opting for a major-key resolution. The second movement is a minuet, yet this is hardly a dance movement. The outer sections retain the dark coloring of the opening movement, emphasizing legato lines rather than the lightness of a dance, while the trio is full of contrapuntal ingenuity, set off by the wonderful sounds of the horns in their highest register as they trail the strings.
Haydn continues his exploration of different instrumental colors by muting the strings in the Adagio, which moves to E major. This binary-form movement is based on the lengthy and very elegant main idea, presented in unison by the two violin sections. Longest of the movements in the symphony, it offers an island of relief from the energetic movements that surround it. For with the Presto finale we are plunged back into the furious energy that drove the first movement, but this music is even more concentrated, even more driven. This is a monothematic sonata-form movement, and the opening theme–stamped out fiercely in octaves–drives through some complex counterpoint to a conclusion in E minor that relaxes none of the tensions that this symphony has unleashed.
Haydn lived to be an old man and was quite frail over the last years of his life. At the point when he knew death was approaching and was asked what music he would like to have played at his funeral, Haydn reached back 38 years and chose the Adagio of this symphony. It was at that point, long after it had been composed, that this symphony gained the nickname “Trauer-Symphonie” or “Mourning” Symphony.