Posted in Listening for Part 5: The Classical Era

Sonatas

This is a list of sonatas I’ve listened to. Before I start, I will mention that I have analysed most of Mozart’s and Beethoven’s sonatas a few years ago when I studied musical form in an extensive way. I will photograph my notes for the blog and add them at a later time. For now, I have decided to include sonatas I haven’t listened to and previously encountered.

Haydn – Sonatas No. 50 and 52

Although I have studied classicism, as I noted above, Mozart and Beethoven were the main course due to how syllabus is structured. As such, I have actually never listened to Haydn’s music other than just in passing, which is a shame since it was his model that the two have followed. I was really surprised to see his output in the genre, which is around 60 in number. Reading about them, I found that they range from being ‘popularist’ to ‘experimental’. While I plan to listen to more examples, for now I have chosen the famous No. 50 in C major and 52 in E flat major, which were the only two not written for his students, but for the virtuoso pianist Therese Jansen during his second visit to London.

The first movement in No. 50 is the mono-thematic sonata form, which I have mentioned regarding the Emperor quartet in the arrangement exercise. Having studied the multi-thematic sonata as the ordinary form, I find the mono-thematic type that Haydn preferred as a real refreshment and would like to spend more time analyzing these examples and even composed my own in the future.

On the other hand, although No. 52 is also mono-thematic, what really surprised me was its use of French Overture as the primary subject with dotted notes and march-like momentum. Similarly, the second subject is based on the topical connotation of ‘music box’ register, which I read signified the meaning of distance. This relates to the point I made about Haydn’s use of musical topoi established by previous traditions and how it is important to consider them when analyzing his works, which I believe to be more than pure absolute, abstract music. I hope to research this more in the future.

What is also important to consider is that these two sonatas were written for a different instrument – the English pianos, which were capable of many things that the pianos in Vienna couldn’t achieve at the time. In this sense, the practical possibilities of the instrument allowed Haydn to experiment with different sonorities and more distant keys, exploiting the available timbral and dynamic options. As such, I believe these two sonatas are a good example of concreteness of Haydn’s compositions, which both draw on, expand and defy the established tradition – all in the name of practicality.