Friday, September 16, 2005

Haydn's Piano Sonata in E Flat Major, No. 62 (Hob.XVI_52)

From the earthiest of Corporeal American folk music to a sublime European artistic statement of the Enlightenment comes Franz Joseph Haydn’s Keyboard Sonata in E flat major. Composed for the pianist Therese Jansen, and intended (initially) for the ears of England’s upper classes, this is music miles away in purpose and composition from the simple folk melodies of the rural working man.

Listening to it today, beautifully performed by John McCabe[1] and completely out that original context, it comes across as music of the highest order of composition and supremely emotive and moving as well. Personally, it is my favorite work of the Classical era, finer to my ears than any work by Mozart or the early Beethoven. This is Partch’s Abstract music, and when I hear it I almost think that there is no need for Corporeal music at all! But I know that I would overdose on a diet of nothing but this, and a dip, for example, into Gypsum Davy (Jean Ritchie wonderful performance of The Gypsy Davy) would be the necessary restorative.

This sonata is followed on the same CD by Haydn’s Variations in F minor (Hob.XVII_6), a work that I hold in about the same esteem in relation to the compositional style of variation as I do the Sonata in E flat major to the sonata form. It does not aspire to the epic length and complexity of Bach’s preceding Goldberg Variations or the Beethoven Diabelli Variations that would follow, but it is perfect within its more constrained proportions. Working in Haydn’s favor is an extraordinarily moving and unrestrained (in contrast to the rest of the work) outburst towards the end of his work that seems to lift the piece into another world. As this dies away, and the measured manner of the rest of the work returns, it is hard not to consider that you have been on a great journey to return to the stability and comfort of your own home. And all of this is accomplished in about a minute and a half!

[1] Franz Joseph Haydn The Piano Sonatas, John McCabe, piano. London 443785

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