Joseph Haydn Die Klaviersonaten
Christine Schornsheim on 14 CDs, Capriccio 49 405 - 418 (2005)
The collection comprises 14 CDs - one of which is given over to an in-depth interview with Christine Schornsheim in her native tongue. The interview is in eight parts and demonstrates the various instruments used. The comprehensive booklet includes photographs of the instruments, together with diagrams explaining the various keyboard actions. The instruments used in the recordings are given for each CD.
In addition to the sonatas (some of which are better known as divertimenti) there are recordings of all the important variations and other shorter pieces. Some may regret the omission of the keyboard arrangement of The Seven Last Words.
The great value of these recordings lies in the fact that Schornsheim uses a variety of instruments appropriate to the period. Thus, many early works are performed on harpsichord or clavichord. There is the opportunity to hear late Haydn on fortepianos by Dulcken and Broadwood.
These discs should fall as manna to the ears of Robbins Landon. In his monumental Haydn: Chronicle and Works: Haydn in London 1791 - 1795, Landon devotes several pages of introduction to the Sonatas (Trios) for Pianoforte with the Accompaniment of a Violin and Violin cello in which he discusses the fortepianos of the period. Near the end of his deliberations on the instruments he writes in respect of one aspect - "the sopra una corde device, known in England as the 'shifting pedal'": 'Unfortunately, the modern grand piano cannot reproduce this effect, nor does it even approximate to the overtone-rich, delicate, metallic sound of the late eighteenth-century forte piano, compared with which the Steinway and Bechstein are crude, clumsy pieces of Victorian pomposity.'
Although I can agree with much of what Landon has to say, I would draw the line at lumping Steinway and Bechstein together, even from the earliest times of these two manufacturers' work. I have played, owned and rebuilt a number of Bechsteins from an example given to Liszt to my present 1912 model "C" (7' 8"). These instruments differ in a number of ways from the modern, bright-toned over-resonant modern instrument. But don't just take my word for it. Arthur Hutchins in his A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos (1948) writes: 'I would pay more than I could afford to hear Fanny Davies play the big E flat concerto (K482) upon a good old Broadwood or Bechstein.'
Another aspect that has to be borne in mind with all recordings, especially where solo instruments are concerned, is the impact on the sound of the recording methods themselves. When at Aberystwyth I was frequently involved with this aspect of things, sometimes finding myself in disagreement with technicians over the placing of microphones. The insensitive location of a microphone (sometimes close to the strings) can alter the received sound dramatically from that heard by the audience or the performer. The overall sound from an instrument (remembering that keyboard instruments generate mechanical noise) can be adversely affected by badly sited microphones. The fall of the key to the bed produces, relatively speaking, considerable noise in most clavichords, which the performer may be able to overlook. Not so the recording engineer.
The works span nearly 30 years of the composer's creative life from 1766 to 1795. Their study offers a unique survey of Haydn's development, linking the Baroque to the early romantic. But there is another dimension to all this in the form of the metamorphosis of the keyboard instruments of the day from clavichord and harpsichord to the fortepianos of Broadwood and others. For these reasons the keyboard works of Haydn differ in their significance from those of Beethoven. Beethoven worked within idioms established by Haydn; and the fortepianos of his time for which he composed his music and on which he performed during his early career did not differ markedly from those available to Haydn in the mid to late 1790s.
Nor must we overlook the fact that Haydn's involvement with the keyboard was not confined to the solo works. His late piano trios demonstrate an altogether more advanced and experimental approach to piano writing than is to be found in the sonatas. (From 1789 to 1795 he composed 18 trios but only 5 sonatas.)
When Haydn was composing his early keyboard music both the clavichord and the harpsichord were in vogue. Haydn could not have known in 1770 that within thirty years the fortepiano would develop into an instrument of greater tonal range and compass. The situation is quite different with respect to stringed instruments. The instruments for which Haydn was writing his early serenades and quartets were essentially the same as those for which he wrote Op 77.
These recordings therefore offer the listener a great deal more than a comprehensive collection of Haydn's keyboard works. They are also a valuable demonstration in the application of the various instruments available to composers of the period.
The problem with having the works of a composer performed by a single artist, or group of artists, is that a few unsatisfactory renderings can taint one's approach to the rest of the collection. I can't say this has troubled me particularly with Schornscheim, though some of her interpretations are notably idiosyncratic to my ears. Some may find her approach at times verging on the aggressive. But humour is not lacking, and when she combines forces with Andreas Staier for the Variations Hob.XVIIa:1 she is not beyond a little light bantering.
A single disc is devoted to seven works performed on clavichord. It is interesting to compare John McCabe's (see below) recording of the Variations in E flat Hob.XVII:3 with the rendering by Schornsheim on clavichord. It takes a little time to adjust to the older instrument. The recording engineers are to be congratulated for minimizing extraneous noises when dealing with the comparatively small sound from the unfretted clavichord. Another gem is the fragment from the C minor Sonata No. 33 Hob. XVI:20 (1771) which is to be found in its entirety on a Dulcken fortepiano on a later disc. The latter is an altogether more robust interpretation as might be expected.
In his invaluable recordings of the Haydn piano sonatas, John McCabe sets down his reasons for using the modern instrument. Listening to the early works performed by McCabe alongside those played by Schornsheim is the best way to assess the merits or demerits of the modern piano for rendering these solo (as compared to the trios - see above) works. Many piano students of my generation were given a select number of Scarlatti sonatas to play. We had little or no experience of the harpsichord. Haydn's late Fantasia XVII:4 when performed on a fortepiano sounds a lot closer to Scarlatti than when it is performed on a modern piano.
Schornsheim records 21 works on harpsichord including three sonatas from 1776: No. 42 Hob.XVI:27, No. 45 Hob.XVI:30 and No. 46 Hob.XVI:31. After playing these works on harpsichord, I am left feeling the need for the fortepiano's greater flexibility. A slightly earlier work, Sonata No. 36 Hob.XV1:21 (listed erroneously as being in D instead of C) is an interesting case. The second movement has a short passage which reminds one of the first movement of Beethoven's Op. 2 No. 3. But the finale is a strange mixture of Haydn and Scarlatti. However, it would be wrong to play this piece on a harpsichord for the simple reason that the typical Haydn pauses (fermati?) would lose their impact.
The modern piano's greater resonance often lures pianists into taking a more leisurely tempo. (How often we hear nowadays a highly acclaimed pianist distort the shape of a simple Haydn or Mozart slow movement by the use of excessively slow tempi and eccentric rubato.)
Schornsheim takes her prestos quite literally. In the late D major Sonata No. 61 Hob.XV1:51, the finale is over in 1 min 44 secs., somewhat faster than McCabe yet considerably faster than Stanley Hoogland in one of his recordings (also on fortepiano). In the short finale of this sonata Schornsheim is not only fast but strident to the extent that at the end one feels somewhat beaten about the ears. There are many instances in these works where one can look forward to Beethoven. The minuet from No. 35 Hob.XVI:43, for example, is not a million miles away from the Hammerklavier's second movement scherzo.
There is still some uncertainty as to the order of composition of the three late Sonatas Nos. 60 - 63. The large-scale C minor No. 60 and E flat No. 62 tend to eclipse the short D Major No 61. This performance by Schornsheim of No. 61 leaves no doubt as to Haydn's Beethoven legacy.
This is a very informative and absorbing package. In my opinion it is essential material for those wishing to understand more thoroughly Haydn's contribution to the solo keyboard repertory. A minor thesis would be needed to do justice to these recordings. The best recommendation is to acquire them without delay.
John C Vetterlein 2006
(Music Dep. UCW Aberystwyth, 1983-90)