About this Piece
When Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy, died in 1790, Haydn had spent nearly 30 years serving the Esterházy family. Nikolaus’ successor fired most of the court musicians and released Haydn from his role as Kapellmeister, allowing him to travel. Shortly after, Haydn was approached to conduct a series of lucrative subscription concerts in London. He received a tremendous welcome, writing home, “My arrival caused a great sensation throughout the whole city, and I went the round of all the newspapers for three successive days. Everyone wants to know me.” One such figure was the music historian Charles Burney, who penned a 14-page pamphlet titled “Verses on the Arrival of Haydn in England.” Within Burney’s mawkish panegyric are the prophetic lines “Long may thy fountain of invention run / In streams as rapid as first begun.”
During the two London visits of 1791–92 and 1794–95, Haydn produced more than a dozen piano trios, works for solo keyboard, and, most notably, his 12 “London” symphonies. Haydn was surrounded by scores of gifted professional musicians, cultivated amateurs, and throngs of appreciative audiences. Therese Jansen, a pianist and teacher, was one of the musicians Haydn befriended. She was the recipient of dedications from several composers including Haydn, who dedicated his last three piano trios and some of his final piano sonatas to her.
The first movement of the present work opens with a delicate staccato bass in the piano beneath a tender melody, while the addition of pizzicato strings creates a harp-like effect. The harmonically adventurous and virtuosic development section revisits elements from the opening, including a chorale-like transformation of the main theme.
The Allegretto, a Baroque passacaglia (a form noted for its somber character and repeating bass line), contrasts sharply with the first movement. It opens with all three instruments playing the bass line in octaves before a solo piano passage. The strings provide harmonic support for the piano, which ends the movement with a short quasi-cadenza.
The finale is both warm and playful. Haydn inserts meandering measures that upset the sense of balance so prized in the Classical style (where one would expect the opening phrase to contain two four-bar sections, Haydn extends it for another four). After a stormy middle section, the movement concludes with a return to the sunny opening material, capped with two emphatic final chords. —Andrew McIntyre ©2023.