Token Creek Chamber Music

Program II

TCF 2020 Virtual Season · Music from the Barn

A Haydn Trio Teaser

2020 Virtual Season · Program II · A Haydn Trio Teaser


Piano Trio in A-flat major, Hob. XV:14 (1790) Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) Allegro moderato Adagio Rondo. Vivace
  • Rose Mary Harbison, violin
  • Parry Karp, 'cello
  • Eli Kalman, piano
  • from the 2006 Token Creek Festival
Piano Trio in E minor, Hob. XV:12(1789) Allegro moderato Andante Rondo. Presto
  • Rose Mary Harbison, violin
  • Parry Karp, 'cello
  • Robert Levin, piano
  • from the 2008 Token Creek Festival
Piano Trio in B-flat major, Hob. XV:20 (1794) Allegro Andante cantabile Finale. Allegro
  • Rose Mary Harbison, violin
  • Parry Karp, 'cello
  • John Harbison, piano
  • from the 2007 Token Creek Festival
Piano Trio in E-flat major, Hob. XV:29 (1797) Poco allegretto Andantino ed innocentemente Finale. Allemande. Presto assai
  • Rose Mary Harbison, violin
  • Parry Karp, 'cello
  • Ya-Fei Chuang, piano
  • from the 2008 Token Creek Festival

Program Notes

No music for violin, cello, and piano has more wit, variety, surprise, and audience appeal than the trios of Haydn, products of his in infinitely wise and inventive later years. They are, “along with the Mozart concertos, the most brilliant piano works before Beethoven” (Rosen, The Classical Style, 1997), “and are also among the most harmonically adventurous of [Haydn’s] works in any genre. . .challenging essays for both players and listeners” (Wheelock, in Piano Roles, 1999).

The Token Creek Festival began surveying Haydn trios in 2000, sprinkling them throughout most concert seasons thereafter. In 2007 and 2008 we programmed trio “extravaganzas”: entire concerts devoted to four trios, each featuring a different pianist. By 2015 we had presented 18 of them, three twice each, for a total of 21 performances. The works on this program, composed between 1789 and 1797, were performed at Token Creek over three seasons, 2006-2008.

We know from his own account that Haydn began each composing day by improvising at the piano. Out of these sessions grew pieces of every type, size, and shape. It stands to reason that at some point some aspect of his work would seize on both his performer’s attachment to the piano, and his gifts as an improviser. It is in the piano trios that Haydn is most present in both guises.

The piano trio would develop toward more equality of presence among the three players, as it flowered through the nineteenth century. But we can rejoice that at the moment of Haydn’s great interest in the medium, the pianist-improviser was in charge, discovering a wealth of ideas uniquely available to a free combination of hands and mind.

Although he wrote piano trios throughout his career, the greatest concentration on them occurs in his full maturity. You can almost hear him looking for things he has not done before, trying to surprise himself.

But it is not only the unusual stops and starts, the vivid contrasts, the playful toying with the motives that hold our attention. The trios, in their reflective moments, hold some of Haydn’s most beautiful melodies (often a chance for the violin to come forward) and most daring harmonic inventions.

At the Token Creek Festival we have presented many of these trios over the years. The chance of hearing such a collection only increases the listener’s gratitude, inspiring an attentiveness to the way they constantly reinvent their space.

The Trio in A-flat (HXV:14) is from Haydn’s Magyar side. It reminds us that he worked near, but not in, Vienna, that he heard and explored a great deal of music that is passionately non-aristocratic. The first movement begins by striking a decorous pose, but there are moments of excessiveness, the colorful broken-chord buildups, the sweeping downward scales, the long re-examination of the first material in a delightfully exotic key. In the second movement Haydn offers one of his most magnificent violin tunes, but against a Hungarian effusion from the piano, which seems to carry so much of what the tune does not say. An unusual transition serves both to return us from the remote key of the Andante, and to detach us from its lofty mode. There is not much loftiness in the Finale, a swinging, stomping sort of piece which stays well outside of the Austrian capitol.

The E-minor Trio (HXV:12) has a very appealing awkwardness about it, a movement between phrases that is deliberate, curt, and even harsh. The primary tune is square and confrontational, and it is deployed often, both coarsely and ingeniously. One has the impression of an address to the listener that is not friendly, but instead bracing and edifying. Haydn is unusual in often presenting an entire piece in one basic tonal world: the major and minor form of the same tonic. The second movement of this piece offers a new sonority in familiar ground, emphasized by maintaining, from the first movement, a very thoughtful and deliberate attitude to its themes and motives, shared and refracted with careful deliberation. Allegiance to the unusual through-thinking characteristic of this piece is evident in the final movement. The initial response to the jovial E major proposal that begins the movement is a quite rumbustious section in E minor, serving to recap the earlier tonal dialogue. The remainder of the movement becomes gradually less earnest, letting go, to some degree, of the lofty discourse of much of this challenging piece.

The Trio in B-flat (HXV:20) is not among the more often played Haydn trios. The aptly chosen Dover Press collection of twelve Great Piano Trios does not include it, and it appeared very rarely in the repertoire of the Beaux Arts Trio, the only ensemble regularly visiting these pieces in recent decades. It is nevertheless a charmer, light on its feet and somewhat reticent, but constantly concise, alert, and tuneful. The very first sound is unique, a confident wide-spread sonority which quickly leads to an unusual variety of rhythmic ideas, from deliberate to very fast. The most vivid moment in the first movement is perhaps the passage at the end of the working-out section, which eddies to a halt, then finds its way to the return of the opening with sly hesitation. The most unusual movement is the second. The poised, balanced theme for piano left hand alone is very discreetly varied, as if Haydn hardly wished to disturb its symmetries. The abrupt conclusion is another signal that this trio has no time for anything but the essentials. The subject of the last movement is droll, since it starts with a repeated cadence, then leaps on, away from it. This reversal sort of phrase, an abstracted conclusion that then continues, turns up in some of Haydn’s late quartets: punch-line first, then the joke.

The E-flat Trio (HXV:29) is one of the most treasurable compositions by this composer. Every movement is highly distinctive, exceptional. It is the misfit, sensitive partner of another Trio in E-flat, the much bigger, more serious, public, portentous Trio No. 30. The present one is much more lovable, peculiar, and intimate. From the first sounds, the sweet meandering tune punctuated by off-beat left hand octaves, it speaks to few intimate friendly terms. The first phrase structure is interesting: a four-measure phrase followed by a ten-measure phrase. It is not a “sonata” form movement, but is instead five equally distributed forays on the same initial material, not variations but essays on a subject. The second movement is unusual in quite another way. It is a brief and tender little song, sophisticated and childlike. (Robert Schumann later had his own version of this kind of musical character.) It is in a remote key (B major), the very musical existence of which we would hardly have experienced in the early 18th century without Haydn’s curiosity. The work ends with a very fast German dance, a piece that whirls rather than stomps. We should hope that you can still hear in the mountains of Austria rustic trios— clarinet, accordion, bass fiddle perhaps—playing music like this.

— John Harbison
Artistic Co-Director, Token Creek Chamber Music Festival