Haydn: Variations in f minor, Sonata in C major

(Booklet text of CD "Portrait Erik Reischl, Volume 3")

Marianne von Genzinger who was a true friend of Joseph Haydns, died in 1793. It is possible that this painful loss prompted the composer to write the Variations in f minor in that same year (it was first titled "Sonata" but later renamed as "Un piccolo divertimento").

The source of inspiration however, will remain a matter of speculation as the work was originally written for Barbara von Ployer, a student of Mozarts and then in 1799 finally dedicated to Baroness Josefine von Braun. For Haydn on the other hand this work conveys unusually deep emotions right through to the dramatic and passionate outburst towards the end of the piece.

The formal structure is a so-called "double variation" in which two themes, one in f minor and the other in F major, are alternated in the differing variations. Whereas the theme in the minor key has a lamenting, mourning and tragic character, the theme in the major key is comforting and restful.

A few months later, towards the end of 1793 Haydn wrote an Adagio in F major which was first published as an independent piece. During his second trip to London (February 1794 – August 1795) he revised the work and added two fast movements. The result being the Sonata in C major which was dedicated to Therese Jansen Bartolozzi, a German-born pianist who lived in London. The C major Sonata, together with the Sonatas E flat major (Hob.XVII:52) and the D major (Hob.XVII:51) constitute the so-called "English" Sonatas. The name reflects not only the place of origin, but also points to the peculiarities associated with the local instruments. For example a typical continental "pianoforte" had a range of notes extending only to f’’’, whereas the English instruments offered four extra treble notes. Haydn used these for the first time in the 3rd movement of the C major Sonata. Also the thinner sounding board and stronger framework meant the sound gained in strength and volume and was more romantic .

The first movement is kept monothematic; the main theme is not, as is usual practice, contrasted with a side theme. Instead the simple broken triad motif of the main theme is varied in many ways. In two instances the theme is to be played pianissimo with an "open pedal" creating a hazy, almost ghost-like effect.

In the final movement Haydn also has several lighthearted surprises. In the 11th bar, as in 5 other places, the music comes to an abrupt halt. It sounds as though the pianist has made an awful mistake. Yet the thread is immediately picked up and spins itself off into a different space. Finally the work ends just as unexpectedly and unpretentiously as it began in the first movement.

(Erik Reischl, Translation Elisabeth Ann Krüger)