In celebration of the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death, I would like to share my thoughts on his piano sonatas as performed by Jeno Jando. This CD is a delightful recording of the earliest keyboard sonatas attributed to Haydn. The sonatas are "attributed" to Haydn because scholars have questions about the authenticity of at least some of them. In addition, the sonatas cannot be precisely dated. They are generally thought to be composed with 1766 as an outside limit. More likely, these works were composed in the late 1750s and early 1760s.
These types of questions should not deter you from enjoying these works. They are light, flowing, graceful, and accessible. The sonatas were composed at the beginning of the classical period and exemplify the galant style that developed as a reaction to the difficulties of the contrapuntal music of the baroque era. The sonatas were originally composed for the harpsichord, but they work well on the piano as this CD shows. Jeno Jando beautifully plays these early works as part of his recording of the complete Haydn piano sonatas on Naxos. Jando has recorded prolifically for Naxos over the years. He is at his best in Haydn.
The CD includes ten sonatas, all of which are in the major key. Each work is short, ranging from under five minutes for each of the first two sonatas to about nine minutes for the sixth sonata. Sonata no. 9 consists of two movements while the first sonata consists of four very brief movements. The remaining eight sonatas are in three movements.
The works include some interesting variations in structure. The four-movement sonata no. 1 is in the pattern allegro-minuet-andante-allegro. The sonatas typically open with a fast movement, but two works, no. 6 and 9 begin moderato. One of favorites of these works, no. 7 in D major, opens with a theme and variations. The second movement of most of the works is generally a minuet which ususally, but not always, includes a trio section. In sonatas 5 and 10, a slow movement appears rather than the minuet. The finale is almost always quick and lively. But here again there are exceptions. Sonatas 5, 9, and 10 end with a minuet while sonata no. 3 ends with a scherzo. Furthermore, Haydn cannabalized among these sonata, as he would do throughout his career. The final movement of sonata no. 4 becomes the opening presto of the next work, sonata no. 5.
The circumstances for which these works were composed also is obscure. Some of the sonatas were probably written for drawing-room performance. But several of them likely were composed as teaching pieces, either for Haydn's early young pupils or for family members or courtiers at the Morin or Esterhazy courts. Whatever the case, this is music to be enjoyed rather than to be over-intellectualized.
This CD is lovely to hear and makes an excellent introduction to the early classical style for keyboard. It offers an excellent lead-in to Haydn's mature piano sonatas or to his earliest symphonies that probably date from the time of these sonatas.