In this Haydn Anniversary Year, the musical world has commemorated the death 200 years ago of the Austrian composer whose life and career extended from the era of Bach and Handel, through Mozart’s short life, and on to Beethoven’s 39th year. Haydn developed, perfected, and codified the genres not just of symphony and string quartet, but also the piano sonata and so-called piano trio (just one piano, of course, but allied with violin and cello). In fact, there are 45 piano trios by Haydn, and most are known only to scholars and collectors of recordings. (The same, sadly, is true of his other works, of which only a handful get performed.)
The tireless Haydn expert H. C. Robbins Landon places this A-major trio as the tenth of Haydn’s works in the form, and dates it somewhere between 1755 and 1760. This means that it was very likely intended for performance with a harpsichord rather than a piano, but the more significant factor is the remarkable level of accomplishment, the sheer joy that is communicated in this music by a composer still in his mid 20s. As a critic wrote in 1802: “The inexhaustible genius apparent in his masterworks is a source of wonder and admiration from Lisbon and St. Petersburg and Moscow, beyond the ocean to the shores of the polar seas.” Haydn was celebrated then, and we can be happy that, once again, attention is being paid.
Haydn was fond of varying his movement titles. This Trio opens with a colorful Capriccio, a title that aptly describes this engaging music. A fairly conventional minuet carries us along to a romping finale, which ends emphatically and decisively.
Dennis Bade is the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Associate Director of Publications.