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Length: c. 15 minutes

About this Piece

“How sweet is the taste of liberty,” Haydn wrote to his friend Marianne von Genzinger from London during his first tour there in 1791. London had been calling for several years, but it wasn’t until the death of his employer, Prince Nicholas Esterházy in 1790 that “sweet liberty” became a reality for the 58-year-old composer. He had finally accepted the last of many invitations from the violinist concert promoter Johann Peter Salomon to compose and conduct a series of concerts.

Not long after his arrival, Haydn received a letter from Rebecca Schroeter, a wealthy widow in her early 40s seeking his services as a teacher. What followed was a classic case of teacher and student entering into an intimate relation; Mrs. Schroeter wrote him 22 letters displaying her emotions, sent him gifts, and even copied music for him. Haydn was not only flattered, but was equally infatuated with his student. He made the statement to his first biographer that “Though I was 60  years old, she was still loving and amiable, and in all likelihood I would have married her if I had been single.” Upon his second sojourn to London in 1794, Haydn stayed in rooms near Mrs. Schroeter’s home, much to their mutual satisfaction. It was during this visit that he dedicated to her three piano trios, including the second, No. 39 in G major.

Like most piano trios of the time, the G-major Trio presents an imbalance between the strings and piano, the latter being the dominant sonority and carrier of motivic material. It’s no accident that Haydn’s English publishers labeled this set of three as “sonatas for the pianoforte, with an accompaniment of a violin & violoncello.” The first movement is a theme and variations, each variation alternating with one in minor mode. The Poco adagio in E-flat major brings the violin into relief with its sharing of melodic materials as well as accompaniment. The Presto Rondo all’Ongarese (Rondo in the Gypsy style) is a rapid-fire moto perpetuo alternating with earthy dance-like sections characteristic of a stylized Gypsy music. —Steve Lacoste