Brendel’s Haydn

One of the many benighted opinions of my youth was a certain disdain for Franz Josef Haydn.  Somehow I bought into a line of thinking that Haydn was the epigone of Mozart (just as Dvorak was the epigone of Brahms), with the result that their glories were overlooked.  Now I couldn’t live without either one of them.

Part of that is because of Alfred Brendel’s (and others’) advocacy of the piano sonatas. Here he is in a favorite.

The conductor Christopher Hogwood had a nice line about Mozart versus Haydn in a radio interview I heard years ago. To CH, Mozart was like a great master chef, whose mysterious ways were hidden in a kitchen you could not see, you received these fantastic meals of impossible polish and technique and couldn’t figure out how such a thing could have been devised. Haydn let it all hang out, he cut up the ingredients right at the table, and cooked all the food in front of you–no cosmic mystery, it’s all right there, and you listen along as he has his, often humorous way, with everything–you included.

The result, delightful, moving, and well crafted, is deeply satisfying and soul enriching to listen to.

Haydn by two

Haydn Sonata in C

Reading an interesting piece by pianist Alfred Brendel summing up his decades of making recordings, I noticed that he singled out a Haydn disc as one of his favorites. A particular delight for him was  Haydn’s Sonata in C major, Hob. 16/50. Given that I’m on a Haydn Sonata binge myself (but alas no Brendel), I thought I would check it out, quickly found the score on IMSLP and trotted through it. Brendel finds it funny, for me it’s the endless dazzling invention that engrosses, sometimes just a madcap throw away ornament or gesture.

Here is Brendel’s performance of the first movement, wonderful sleight of hand tricks at every turn, and dapper from first note to last. Overall, evinces such clarity of articulation and expression…something he was superb at and his student Paul Lewis is carrying on as a pianistic ideal.

For a contrast, listen to Sviatoslav Richter (the titan of the piano of my youth, and still a god to most classical pianists). Richter’s take on it is less droll, big sections rather than little detail. If Brendel illuminates Haydn the (merry) classical trickster, Richter gives us a Romantic and ardent Haydn, driving the same notes and (mostly the same) ornaments, a little faster and with more 19th century intensity.


Both are fine performances, and if I prefer Brendel’s (by a hair) that’s maybe because I love a good joke. Also Brendel’s playing has always had a human dimension that an amateur pianist (or at least this amateur pianist) can relate to. Richter, and others at his level, seem to be engaged in a completely different activity!

Beautiful Music: Haydn Andante

Listening to a lot of Haydn, and even playing some.  Have gotten a bit of a crush on an Andante from the D major Sonata #30 (XV:19). It winds and unwinds so winningly, a small amount of material from which he makes such a finely drawn musical drama.

Below is Rudolf Buchbinder, in somewhat weird sound, but you can get the sense of the characters stealing on and off the scene so craftily. His “notey” version of the last movement doesn’t do it for me, lacks the required lightness and humor. (Save your pomposity for Liszt and Brahms, as Artur Rubenstein coached.)  But still, the skill of the composer comes through.

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