"I would sit down at the piano and begin to improvise, whether my spirits were sad or happy, serious or playful. Once I had captured an idea, I strove with all my might to develop and sustain it in conformity with the rules of art."
- Joseph Haydn
Had Haydn's Sonata in C, Hob. XVI:50, acquired a fanciful nickname along the way, it might have earned a more prominent place both on the concert stage and in the hearts of music fans. Few works of the period re-create the breath of spontaneous inspiration as does this late masterpiece.
But the naming of pieces was still relatively uncommon, unless instigated by a zealous publisher, and the very idea that a piano sonata might be intended for public performance was unheard of. Compositions were written for specific performers, usually pupils or patrons, to be played in small private venues. Two of Haydn's final three piano sonatas, of which this is the first, were composed for Therese Jansen-Bartolozzi. All three were written in London in 1794-95.
The driving momentum of the opening Allegro, built up from the bare staccato notes which start the movement, is slowed twice by Haydn's instruction to employ an "open pedal." An indication to use pedal exists nowhere else in his piano literature, and the device itself was a fairly recent innovation to the instruments of the time. The modern pianist must draw attention to the mysterious wash of sound the composer calls for in these passages, something apart from the usual judicious use of the pedal required on a concert grand.
The Adagio preserves an assuaging improvisation, utterly vocal in nature - the calm before the darting starts and stops of the extrovert and vigorous Allegro molto.
- Grant Hiroshima is executive director of a private foundation in Chicago and the former Director of Technology Development for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.