Haydn, Sonata n°55 in Moscheles’ tempo

Joseph Haydn wrote his Sonata n°55, Hob.XVI/41 in B Flat Major in 1784. It is perfectly written for both clavichord and pianoforte, where each instrument will add its own characteristics to this marvelous piece of music.

Though a composer with exceptional humorist skills, who wrote music that can evoke not only gentle smiles but deep touching emotions as well, much of those qualities are rushed over often in today’s (as I believe) performances where especially Haydn seems to be taken to the extremes.

Tempi at those days were often much slower than we are used to hear today. Nevertheless one surprisingly sees a kind of race to speed those classical works up. This is particularly striking in the context of the Early Music Movement, where research on tempo, if only seen its major influence on all aspects of performance practice, should be of prime interest to all who feel attracted to it.
But that’s not the case. Reasons for that? Fear for loss of virtuoso appeal? Fear for the unknown world? Fear for the general pressure of not stepping out of this -as I see it- post-industrial tradition where fascination of technique, speed, “progress” still is more up front of everything, more then we realize?

Whatever may be the case, we are very well informed on the speeds of those classical works. If not by the composers themselves by a perfect notation that shows the basic tempo range for those who want to see it -it’s not that hard -, but also by famous musicians who lived close to that time, if not in that period.

Ignaz Moscheles (1794-1870) is one of the most important tempo related sources. Liszt called him the pillar of piano playing, but he could easily be called one of the pillars of historical research to performance practice. The information we have from his hand is dizzying.

Here I play according to the metronome marks he gave for this Haydn sonata. Lack of inspiration some will say… well, let them. A tempo is a fundamental choice, based on many factors. Implementing a given tempo is nothing more than fixing one element of the performer, perhaps the most important one. The performer’s job left is a difficult one: finding a new balance of all musical parameters.

Honestly, it does not feel hard for me here, certainly not in this case (some other cases are more challenging!). Moscheles’ tempi feel very natural here, they reveal, for those who have only heard the performances at warp speed, a new Haydn, that is gentle, feels at ease, friendly smiles at us, nodding his head to say hello. And then moves on. Playing Haydn in this way, to me, feels like… perfect life…

Not familiar with Tempo/Metronome research? Start here: