Release Date: 1992

Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Producers: Hanno Rinke / Hans Weber

Recording place: Beethovensaal, Hannover

Total playing time: CD [52:08]

Copyright: © 1992 Deutsche Grammophon



Haydn’s works are first and foremost the expression of a spirit at peace with itself… A life filled with love and happiness, as if sin were unknown, in a state of eternal youth; there is no suffering, no pain, nothing but a gentle, melancholic longing for some loved object which hovers far off in the glory of the setting sun but which neither comes close nor disappears.

E. T. A. Hoffmann

Having fully assimilated both the sunny forthrightness of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas and the brusque changes of mood in those of C. P E. Bach, Haydn seems to have spent the years from 1766 to 1772 in the grip of an intense and feverish creative urge. Perhaps the work on his employer Prince Esterhazy’s new palace, then taking glorious shape at Eszterhaza, influenced the two pieces included here, which are among the most crucial in the development of sonata form. What distinguishes the structure of the first movement of the A flat major Sonata is the unprecedented novelty of its development section, given its length and the poignant character conferred on it by being written almost wholly in F minor. The exposition, with its occasional foretastes of the development’s Sturm and Drang (“storm and stress”), and the recapitulation, where A flat minor bursts in, manage to maintain a Classical equilibrium only at the expense of numerous repeated tonic chords: there are no fewer than nine perfect cadences at the end of both the exposition and recapitulation! Several reversals and changes of register in the principal theme, as well as the reticent colouring of a four-flat key signature, prevent this insistence from being in any way aggressive or monotonous. On the contrary, it answers a psychological need, after the questions raised by so many silences and pauses.

Born in a village where Austrians, Hungarians and Slavs (particularly Croats) rubbed shoulders with one another, Haydn spent long periods at Eszterhaza where, “cut off from the world, there was nobody close to me who could make me doubt myself or persecute me so I had to become original”. Baron Riesback, too, speaks of this Hungarian Versallies as a forsaken spot, where not far off one could observe with fascination “Tartars, Huns, Iroquois and natives of Tierra del Fuego”. Can one not detect an influence from folk music, even something non-European, in the first movement of the D major Sonata? The Baron continues: “Prince Esterhazy often employs a company of actors and musicians for several months at a time and constitutes, some servants excepted, its sole audience. They have his permission to appear dishevelled, drunk and slovenly. The Prince is not fond of tragedy or gravity, and loves Sancho Panza figures who lay the humour on with a trowel”. The man who served as his Kapellmeister from 1766 on therefore provided amusing, cheeky finales, though not merely to order.

With hunting and fishing as his principal pastimes, Haydn is said to have declared: “Look at my compositions. You’ll often find something jovial in them, for that is what I am like: next to a serious thought comes a cheerful one, as in Shakespeare’s tragedies”. As for the slow movements, they are of unprecedented dimensions for a piano sonata. In the A major Andante of the Sonata Hob. XVI:19, which explores the instrument’s lower register, an expressive and unexpected modulation to A minor casts its shadow over the second part.
In spite of a resemblance to the slow movement of Bach’s Italian Concerto noted by many analysts, the Adagio in D flat major of Hob. XVI:46 is closer to the world of Mozart.

Indeed, until recently musicologists dated this sonata to 1788, some 20 years after its actual date of composition, feeling as they did that Haydn could never have attained such lacerating chromatic effects and such formal perfection without the influence of Mozart! While the first part of the movement is in impessable sonata form, the second demonstrates a remarkable power of invention, limiting itself to the second theme, which remains intact. The other sections are so expressively transformated that they demand an immediate second hearing, which composer logically stipulates. Pogorelich’s interpretation shows an imerturbable technical mastery which highlights the translucent and pure symmetry of the piece. The chromatic inflection of an inner voice is given relief, or transition receives an almost imperceptible rhytmic emphasis, as proof of the player’s sensitivity to a composer at the height of his expressive powers.

© Pierre Jasmin / Deutsche Grammophon