Haydn: Sonata Hob. XVI: 37 in D major


How representative of the classical era is this sonata?

So some background information first:

This was published in 1780 in a set of six sonatas, dedicated to the aristocratic Franziska and Maria Katherina von Auenbrugger, who were both talented and held the admiration of both Haydn and Mozart (who was not one to compliment others frequently). At this time, Haydn had already gained fame and could now gain commission from publishers.

As is conventional, there are three movements, lasting just over 10 minutes, as these pieces were often light entertainment for the aristocrats, much shorter than the compositions of later periods, such as Liszt’s Sonata in B minor which lasts approximately 3 times as long. The first movement, Allegro con brio, fast and cheerful, is in sonata form like many other contemporary pieces of the time, such as Mozart’s Sonata in C major K.545 (1788). This is followed by a slow second movement, Largo e sostenuto, in binary form in the tonic minor (D minor), which is rather like a stately French sarabande from the Baroque era, with its triple meter, long held notes and demisemiquaver triplets, Haydn having been exposed to Baroque suites as a young chorister. The lively mood returns with the third movement, Finale, Presto, ma non troppo, which is a rondo (another conventional form).

Not only does the overall structure follow contemporary conventions, the notes are predominantly diatonic, using mainly the notes from the triad, the sonata beginning and ending with full D major chords in root position.  Haydn also uses functional harmonies with clear-cut cadences, such as the imperfect cadence (b.15-16) from D (Ia) to A (Va), and frequently using sixths and thirds when harmonising the melody. The melody itself is simple and often scalic and nimble, with mostly balanced phrases, such as in the second theme (b.17), the first bar complimenting the second bar, and then the following phrases repeated. To add interest where a dynamic range was not possible on the harpsichord, acciaccaturas and mordents, as in the first and second opening bars, are used, also typical of the classical era.

Furthermore, the texture is completely melody with accompaniment, complying to the ideals of simplicity in the classical era, using mostly quavers and crotchets.  When there are semiquavers used to accompany, they are often as part of a conventional technique known as alberti bass, or are ascending thirds. However, both the accompaniment and melody do not use the full range of today’s piano, as the notes simply were not there when Haydn composed this on a harpsichord or clavichord.

Yet this piece does not always comply with the expectations of the classical era; in the first movement, the transition (b.9-16) between themes does not modulate to a the dominant key as expected but remains in the tonic key.  Furthermore, in the second movement the first phrase is 4 bars long, but the next phrase is 5 bars long, not adhering to the typical balanced phrasing of the time.

Hence whilst this sonata does not follow all the conventions of the classical era, it is not ahead of its time and does represent the classical era fairly well, whilst also showing Haydn’s experimental nature, with interesting harmonies: some crunchy chords with a Neopolitan sixth (b.30) and diminished seventh (b.32), as well as a descending chain of suspensions in the lower part in the right hand, which is prepared and then resolved on the next beat. Thus this shows how whilst Haydn is viewed as ultimately in the classical era, he does also push the boundary forward.

Here’s a performance that I think portray the playfulness and light-hearted nature of this sonata:



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