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Paul Lewis makes the case for Haydn

Paul Lewis has written about Haydn for Gramophone magazine. He has recorded his second volume of piano sonatas for Harmonia Mundi, including Nos. 20, 34, 51 and 52, and argues that Haydn’s work is underrated and deserves to be played more.

He explains: ‘I’m often asked which composer I’d like to have dinner with, and it would be Haydn, because he would be so entertaining. He seems to have been a prankster and liked surprising people, which comes across in his music. Not many composers get close to the way Haydn can make an audience laugh. He does it by building up expectations and then doing something completely different. You feel that the music is going somewhere harmonically and then it goes wrong. It’s funny when you expect the music to develop in a certain way, and then it doesn’t. It doesn’t take much understanding of harmony for an audience to engage in this – the humour is quite obvious and comes across easily when it’s performed the right way...’

‘... Haydn breaks boundaries wherever you look. The later sonatas are particularly forward-looking – for example, the first movement of the E minor Sonata Hob:XVI/34 is a presto in 6/8 which is strange for a first movement; the D major Sonata Hob:XVI/51 has two movements, lasts six minutes and is unlike any of the others – it sounds like Schubert of the ‘Trout’ Quintet, melodically and in its character. Haydn’s music is entertainment, but it’s very sophisticated, and you can enjoy it at any level.’

‘... The way you move, and certain gestures you make, can underline the different characters of the music – and not only the humour. To draw different sounds and colours from the instrument, you use different kinds of articulation and speeds of attack, combined with different ways of pedalling. The physicality of this communicates to the audience. They can see the difference in how you’re playing, which underlines the characters of the music. But it must be subtle: you don’t want the audience to think you’re acting, or lecturing them. Less is more, but it has to be there, and you have to think about it.’

‘We shouldn’t see Haydn as limited to certain parameters. There’s sometimes a sense that Classical composers are on a smaller scale but there’s nothing small or limited about Haydn. We need to look beyond these preconceptions and see him in all his colour and character.’

Read the full article here.