By Gabriel Prynn, cellist
Part 4/4 Haydn’s Trio in C major, Hob XV:27
Haydn’s life is representative of what could be seen as the ideal for a composer of his time, or indeed in the previous century. Haydn himself is almost symbolic of the peak of an era which was close to its end: soon musicians would no longer serve a king, a prince or a bishop, and would have to face both the advantages and the insecurity of independence, as Mozart and Beethoven, the first, would do. But in Haydn’s case, in his professional life at least, peace reigned!
In 1797, Haydn returned to Vienna from London to publish three trios composed in the English capital. The Trio in C major, Hob XV:27, the first, was dedicated to Therese Jansen, a pianist whom he had first met during his two London visits in 1795.
Unlike the amateurish pianists who were Haydn’s usual patrons, Jansen was one of Clementi’s most accomplished pupils, guided by a well-known teacher, even though she had no public career, as was the convention for ladies in those days. Haydn also dedicated two of his most important piano sonatas, those in E-flat and C major, to her.
The virtuoso pianistic writing of this particular trio suggests that she was an excellent performer.
The first movement is a substantial Allegro, with a piano part displaying incessant activity: elaborate figurations and grace notes, rapid octaves, sudden contrasts of mood, tone, register and dynamics. Here again, Haydn highlights all the capacities of the English grand pianos of the period, with their full sound and impressive bass register (Therese Jansen certainly had one in her possession).
In addition to the elaborate piano part, the violin is given much more independence than in most « accompanied sonatas » of the era, with frequent dialogues between the two instruments.
The same goes for the slow movement, an Andante that starts slowly, but becomes more and more decorated with flowery passages and much pianistic and violinistic ornamentation. Like the first movement, it abounds in surprising changes of atmosphere and colour. A central episode evokes the Hungarian folk music which was so often an inspiration for Haydn.
In contrast to these two rather densely-written movements, the finale is light as a feather. Haydn’s playful main theme is presented from many different angles and his witty interjections culminate in a deliciously sudden conclusion to the work.