Joseph Haydn - Keyboard Sonata in C Minor, Hob. XVI: 20 (1771)
II. Andante con moto
III. Finale – Allegro
Many keyboard sonatas of Haydn were custom-made for the dedicatees, usually female students. This work is not an exception; it was dedicated to two of his talented students who owned excellent techniques - Katharina and Marianna von Auenbrugger. When composing this sonata, Haydn was mindful of their high abilities, it therefore presents considerable virtuosic demand. The work sounded very advanced to Haydn’s contemporaries, perhaps suggesting why he did not see fit to have it published until 1780, nearly ten years after the date that the autograph bears.
Despite the designation “Sonata per il Clavicembalo o Forte Piano” (“Sonata for Harpsichord of Fortepiano”) on the first edition, there has been a discussion as to whether Haydn wrote it for the harpsichord, clavichord, or fortepiano. The rapid alternations of dynamics would only be realisable on the fortepiano (or clavichord), but not on the harpsichord. Nevertheless, at the time when this sonata was composed, there were no fortepianos made in Vienna, some musicologists have therefore suggested otherwise. They believe that the sonata might have originally been intended for either the clavichord or double-manual harpsichord, where the dynamics could be executed on.
The powerful intensity of this sonata reflects that of the Sturm und Drang symphonies of the early 1770s, a period during which Haydn’s style developed considerably in several genres. From the perspective of intensity, the first movement draws the most attention since it has a mournful theme in double thirds and sixths, highlighting the typical argumentative rigour and passionate quality of minor mode. The unusually lengthy development, and the role shifting of right and left hands on the restatement of the theme have further intensified the music. The latter feature has also provided some contrapuntal interest.
The aria-like Andante con moto, which consists of a lyrical melody over a moving bassline, is another slow movement of Haydn that is reminiscent of the Baroque style. Two bold innovations seen here are the use of extreme registers, and the wide spacing of almost four octaves between the two hands. The F’’’ used here was possibly the highest note of the keyboard at that time. The introspective qualities are mitigated in the closing movement, and the solemn drama of C minor now returns. Unlike Haydn’s earlier sonatas, this finale is not in a carefree style that dismisses the audience in a happy mood. With the fast tempo, plentiful sharply pointed articulations, and substantial technical demand (including hand-crossing technique, with the left hand touching the ends of the five-octave keyboard), the dramatic tension is immensely enhanced and the Finale becomes the highpoint of the entire work.