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The popular image of the avuncular "Papa" Haydn is, of course, largely myth. Haydn was a shrewd businessman and a brilliant innovator who can at the least be credited with defining the string quartet, the symphony, and the keyboard sonata as high art forms.

Of the approximately 60 keyboard sonatas Haydn wrote, most were composed as favors for female students and patrons. By the late 1770s, the fortepiano had replaced the harpsichord as Haydn's keyboard instrument of choice, and we know that these compositions were intended for private performance, almost exclusively as a solitary expression for the amateur player alone.

The dating of the G minor Sonata, Hob. XVI:44, is uncertain. While it remained unpublished until 1788, it was likely composed as early as 1771 (Beethoven was born the year before). Giving lie to the idea that Haydn's keyboard works are largely decorative, this two-movement sonata is intensely expressive, moving poignantly from G minor to B-flat major and returning restlessly to the minor in the first movement in a way that precludes the composer's usual ebullience. The Allegretto second movement ends with a quiet retiring sigh.

    — Grant Hiroshima is executive director of a private foundation in Chicago and the former Director of Technology Development for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.