Haydn - Menuet and Trio: Sonata in Bb, Hob XVI/2
This Sonata, set for the ABRSM Grade 5 piano exam 2011 - 2012, is thought to have been composed in 1760, during Haydn's brief employment as Kapellmeister to Count von Morzin.
Soon afterwards, he began his long and fruitful employment by the Esterhazy family which lasted nearly 30 years.
When he wrote this Sonata he was already 28 years old and had been in Vienna working as a musician for the past 12 years but this was his first full-time job.
Essential listening for anyone who wants to know how Haydn's music might have sounded in his day is Malcolm Bilson's playing on fortepiano at Esterhaza Castle - enjoy!
Pupil Match & Suitability
Quite a challenging piece for a Grade 5 pianist, this would suit a student who is technically at ease with ornament playing, has a strong and steady sense of pulse, and is not put off by the five-flat key signature of the Trio.
Musically they need to be able to impart a sense of the graceful lines that run through this stylised dance, under a surface which could otherwise appear rather disconnected.
Style & Tempo
A minuet tempo should not be too quick, and in any case the chosen tempo should comfortably fit in the ornaments without any sense of disruption.
Below crotchet=95 bpm the minuet character may feel a bit dragged and above 110 there is likely to be a sense of scramble in the ornaments.
A professional recording may be rather quicker than might be attempted successfully by a student, as in this interpretation by McCabe.
Phrasing & Articulation
Overall, there is a clear preference for feminine endings except at section ends (before each repeat mark). The student needs to understand how to tail off the end of the phrase so that it sounds as elegant as possible. Drawing graceful curved shapes in the air while singing the relevant melodic shapes (e.g. bar 4) can help to develop this.
The first 4 bars should flow as a unit quite easily. The next six, although also belonging together, are less obviously joined as there is less melodic continuity, with bars falling naturally into pairs. The student should develop a sense of a mental connection all the way to bar 10 to prevent choppiness.
The same applies to bars 19-24 and, through different musical material, bars 35-40 and 51-56. Bars 11-14 (and 25-28) manage to have two distinct phrase structures running at the same time: the one-bar gestures of 11 and 12 nevertheless belong with the overall four-bar shape.
Tone & Texture
There is a marked contrast in tone and texture in the openings of the Menuet and its Trio, although they then develop similarities. The Menuet is declamatory and bold, whereas the Trio begins almost wistfully. However, the instrument on which this was originally played will have been much lighter in sound than a modern piano, especially in the lower registers, as heard here in the trio. Choice of touch should reflect this.
This particular piece remains in the middle and higher registers but there is plenty of dynamic contrast which should be played even whilst learning the notes, rather than added as an afterthought.
The three-in-a-bar timing is often subverted by Haydn's placing of a rest on the first beat in the LH. This will require care in playing the second beat, to prevent it sounding too loud. Counting aloud with a good emphasis on the word “One” whilst playing may help to prevent this. The work described under “Phrasing” will also help.
This style of music demands mastery of scale and arpeggio patterns, essential to fluent performance. Accurate chord placement and neat playing – all notes going down together – will need to be achieved for the best performances.
Phrase endings and management of feminine endings such as in bar 29 and 34 require control of touch and tone. The ornamentation is the most demanding technical aspect in term of speed and agility.
As ever with technical issues, careful and genuinely attentive listening is the best tool for making progress. Any practice which merely makes mechanical repetitions leaves the job half done – even the slowest practice should be challenging in terms of accuracy, control and a critical appraisal of the resulting sound.
An important RH fingering pattern is set up in bar 5, so it is important to make a choice that can then be consistently re-used. The hand will need to be stretched out to cover the pattern and the question is whether to make that stretch at the beginning or middle. It is tempting to stretch the 3 to the second note and then allow a five-finger position to cover the rest, but this will need to be changed to avoid placing the thumb on Bb in bar 21. An alternative fingering is 14325 with a stretch between 1 and 4 as well as 2 and 5, followed by a 5-finger position. However, bar 21 still presents a different black/white pattern. Here the RH could be 143253213.
Bar 30 (and 46) RH, only a large hand can avoid putting a thumb on the E flat. Finger changing on repeated notes such as bar 35 RH is a matter of preference nowadays, rather than the “best practice “status it used to enjoy – however the AB editorial marking of 2 then 1 on the A flat in bar 35 could equally be 3 2 or just 2 2.
There is no hard-and-fast set of rules on how to realise the ornaments indicated in Classical music. They are in transition from the complex Baroque systems of symbols, set out by composers such as Couperin (e.g. in his “Troisieme Livre de Pieces de Clavecin”) towards the Romantic practice of writing them out fully. A known influence on Haydn was CPE Bach's treatise of 1753 “Essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments”, which deals with ornamentation as well as technique etc. but there remains scope for individual choices in the realisation of ornament signs.
If using the Associated Board edition published for the 2011-12 Grade 5 exam, the editorial suggestions can be taken as a starting point. Although they represent the latest scholarly considerations, they are still suggestions only, and the main musical purpose should always be to embellish the line comfortably and enjoyably. An ornament which disrupts the flow is merely an obstacle!
However, once a shape and rhythm has been decided for a given ornament, it should be adhered to consistently in practice as if it were printed in full. Writing the notes above the stave, if they are different from the editorial suggestion, will prevent confusion.
Pedal is not really essential in this piece. As one would expect, none is marked, but a student could add some touches of pedal sensitively to colour the tone, perhaps in the Trio, if they wished. A performance without any pedalling would be acceptable.
The re-use of musical elements, mentioned in “Style and Tempo” is an interesting starting point for some detective work with your student. This will help them with awareness of structure and deepen their sense of coherence in performance.
Challenge them to look for similarities not only in the obvious places (melodic and rhythmic patterns) but also in cadential formulas, harmonic progressions and phrase lengths.
An interesting discussion can be had around the question “Why do bars 29 and 30 seem related to 15 and 16?” A photocopy and different coloured highlighters can be used to show graphically how musical ideas are arranged and rearranged.
There is an angular quality to the melodic line and a discontinuity in patterns which demand detailed work, so that it will not sound laboured or disjointed. Practise getting from the end of one pattern into the start of the next, so that there is no awkwardness in the join.
Movements between hand positions can be quite wide and should be made with precision and confidence, even at slow speed. Avoid at all costs spending time indecisively in mid air between notes.
Ornaments must be practised slowly in the exact rhythm required.
There comes a point in the process of learning this music when the “difficult” bits have been conquered and the rest has been rather taken for granted. It is a real help to recognise this and go back over all the “easy” bits and give them special care, perfecting the tone and listening for balance, phrase shaping and musical effect. If this step is missed, the performance will lack the total technical assurance that could lift it above the ordinary.
There may be early problems with rhythm reading, especially in bars 11 and 35 and those like them. Students should be forewarned of these before starting to learn the notes, so that they do not have to unlearn wrong rhythms later. Measuring out the ornaments will also require careful counting. So many students treat ornaments as something complicated and unpredictable rather than simply a set of measured notes like any other. Early insistence on a chosen pattern of notes practised slowly will prevent this, so that there is no sense of needing to make something up on the spot (this is not the same as an ornament which sounds improvised in performance).
Avoid accidentally 'kicking' the last note of the RH in bars 29, 30 and similar. This is a common fault which is often not heard by the student and may need to be pointed out.
Making the transition to the minor key and back again for the Minuet D.C. could cause problems. Try tackling this from two angles: knowing the two keys very well and switching between them during the playing of scales and arpeggios, and secondly focusing on a couple of bars before and after the change of key signature, learning to play those particular notes with extra care and fluency.
Similarly, the D.S. (played only at the end of the Minuet second time around) needs to be smoothly integrated so that it does not sound like a nearly-forgotten afterthought.
An excellent performance will add a level of elegance and personality to technically secure playing. The quirkiness of the music will be conveyed with charm and assurance, and Haydn's humour will be well to the forefront. Dynamics, phrasing, understanding of form, and attention to detail will all provide a firm foundation for achieving this extra musical sparkle.
A good performance will sound stylish and confident, rhythmically correct and with varied dynamics. Tricky moments will be overcome without too much noticeable difficulty. The musical “plot” will be well understood.
A sound performance will show that the piece has been carefully learned, and that the style and form are familiar to the player. There may be some awkward moments and slips, or a lack of confidence at points of transition. Integration of the musical material may prove elusive.