Joseph Haydn: Piano Trio No.39 ‘Gypsy Rondo’
Composed in 1795, Joseph Haydn’s ‘Gypsy’ piano trio has remained one of his most popular chamber works. The nickname ‘Gypsy’ derives from the finale movement, which is a Rondo in a fiery Hungarian style. The trio was first published by Haydn’s English publishes, Longman and Broderip, who also published the other two trios under the same opus number (73). Interestingly, the publishers labelled the trios as ‘sonatas for the pianoforte, with an accompaniment of a violin and violoncello’. This was no accident – during this time many piano trios sought an imbalance between the strings and the piano, with the latter often taking the limelight, with the strings taking a more accompaniment role.
Set into three distinct movements, Haydn’s ‘Gypsy Trio’ is primarily set in G major.
Movement I – Andante
The opening movement, a set of themes and variations, is sweet-sounding and shows the unity of the group from the opening motif. Initially led by the cello and accompanied by the piano, the violin soon joins in with the motivic material. The opening theme is at the core of this movement and can be heard through Haydn’s quick fluctuations between the minor and major modes. These quick tonal changes create an array of different moods and atmospheres. Although marked ‘Andante’, this movement is often played slightly above tempo, which offers a more continuous line of melody to focus on. After one final resolution, this sensitive opening movement comes to its conclusion.
Movement II – Poco adagio, cantabile
The lullaby-like second movement showcases the piano and violin as melodic leads. The flowing phrases and rocking rhythms keep the gentle character of the movement moving along. The piano takes an extended turn as the melodic instrument, which explores some of Haydn’s harmonic language. When the violin takes over, this idea is then developed even further. Just as it opens, the second movement comes to a gentle close.
Movement III – Rondo a’lOngarese: Presto
The vivacious finale is a rapid moto perpetuo which is daringly quick intempo and completely gripping from the off. The middle dance-like section offers a small break from the fiery opening. Here the violin pushes the Hungarian theme and the Gypsy links. The style of playing, the aggressiveness and the dancing style is so exciting. The opening moto perpetuo returns before being interrupted by the dance theme. The two themes then tussle as Haydn writes quick changes between the two. After a dazzling coda section the trio comes to a grand end.
Joseph Haydn’s 39th Piano Trio, aptly nicknamed the ‘Gypsy Trio’ is certainly one of his most daring chamber works. From the much calmer first two movements, the shock of the third movement sends the listener into a frenzied tailspin of excitement.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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