HAYDN Joseph, Piano Trio in E flat minor Hob XV:31

Haydn’s autograph manuscript of this trio is in the British Library, part of the extraordinary music collection assembled by the writer Stefan Zweig which was later bequeathed to the nation by his heirs. The first page of music is signed and dated ‘Haydn, 1795’. The most striking aspect of this work is the key of the first movement: E flat minor (with its key signature of six flats). This was very rarely used in the eighteenth century except in works like Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier which deliberately explored all 24 major and minor keys. The Andante cantabile is rather an austere rondo, which includes some remarkable harmonic excursions (including an episode in B major) and a generally serious mood which is only lightened by a contrasting episode in E flat major. At the head of the last movement, the manuscript has a line in Haydn’s writing which has subsequently been scratched out (presumably by the composer himself): ‘Sonata: Jacob’s Dream’, a reference to Jacob’s vision in the Book of Genesis where he sees a ladder reaching from earth up to an angel-filled heaven. But Haydn’s use of the title was a joke: a violinist he knew liked to show off his playing in the highest register (apparently none too well) and Haydn peppers his cheery movement (in E flat major) with moments where the violin has to play extremely high and fast.  


© Nigel Simeone


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