About this Piece
Length: 18 minutes
Orchestration: 2 oboes, 2 horns, strings, and solo piano
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performance: August 23, 1935, Jose Iturbi, conductor and pianist
Another legacy of the 19th century, well underway by the end of Haydn's life and almost completely fixed by the time of Liszt's death in 1885, was the absolute distinction between the musical amateur and the musical professional. Haydn's published music was consumed for performance at home, by accomplished members of society. Even Chopin taught the daughters of the wealthy with his nocturnes and waltzes as sophisticated exercises. Mendelssohn too, straddled the line, but by the time of Liszt, composers were writing for a virtuoso professional elite, publishing scores only a handful could play.
Haydn's D-major Piano Concerto comes to us from a tradition that valued taste above virtuoso display. A look through the score shows the very minimum of dynamic and expressive indications in the solo part, the expectation being that the performer would already understand the style of the day, and that ornamentations and details of execution were properly entrusted to the soloist's imagination. András Schiff, in his performance, provides his own cadenzas (unaccompanied passages for the soloist to be heard in the first two movements of the concerto) in keeping with this tradition.
Of the 14 pieces for keyboard and orchestra in the generally accepted list of the composer's works, only three can confidently be authenticated as the work of Haydn, either by specific reference to the work in the composer's own musical notebook or by the appearance of a published score during the composer's lifetime, as is the case with this Concerto. The keyboard concerto did not play a large role in Haydn's output over a long career, and misattributions are likely in the murky area of posthumous publications.
The D major Concerto, however, was published in 1784 with a title page that proudly proclaimed it to be "the only Piano Concerto of Haydn which so far has appeared in print." The Concerto opens with a bright Vivace in the strings, quickly joined by the winds, and later by the piano's cheerful contributions. The second movement Adagio, scored primarily for strings alone in accompaniment of the piano, reminds us of Haydn's melodic adherence to an intrinsically vocal line - an elaborate melancholy aria for keyboard. The rousing final movement, headed Rondo all' Ungarese, actually finds its inspirations in a Croatian rather than a Hungarian folk-tune. But the popular musical craze for anything "Turkish" was not discriminating and anything originating even remotely east or south of Vienna satisfied a happy public.
- Annotator Grant Hiroshima is the executive director of a private foundation and the former director of Information Technology for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.