Concerto for Piano in D Major

HOB. XVIII:11, Franz Joseph Haydn

1779 turned out to be a fateful year for Haydn: a massive change in his responsibilities at Esterhazy giving him much more free time, obtaining personal control and ownership of future compositions, the growth of international fame and relationships and a major love affair.

In 1778, Haydn’s contract expired on December 31. It had included an interesting clause: IV. “Whenever His Princely Highness commands, the vice-Kapellmeister is obligated to compose such works of music as His Highness may demand; further not to communicate [such] new compositions to anyone, still less allow them to be copied [for others], but to reserve them entirely and exclusively for His Highness; most of all to compose nothing for any other person without prior knowledge and gracious consent.” The new contract signed on January 1, 1779, omitted this clause which proved to be fortunate for his very popular Piano Concerto in D major, which became the most performed of all thirteen of his keyboard concertos. Haydn was now free to sell his works and keep the money for other patrons and accept commissions from abroad.

He was fortunate to have a fine relationship with the new publisher, Artaria, which was eager to publish his works.  All in all, the new contract worked to the composer’s monetary and social benefit. He had time to visit friends in Vienna and to travel extensively. “This single document acted as a catalyst in the next stage in Haydn’s career, the achievement of international popularity. By 1790, Haydn was in the paradoxical, if not bizarre, position of being Europe’s leading composer, but someone who spent his time as a duty-bound Kapellmeister in a remote palace in the Hungarian countryside.”  (The Life of Haydn, David Wyn Jones)

The new contract specified only that Haydn was to be in charge of operas, which was the new focus of the Prince Nicholas von Esterhazy’s interests. The original scores of those the composer had produced for the Esterhazy family and various other works burned up in a fire on November 24, of 1779.  Aside from the new contract, Haydn also began an extensive affair with the nineteen year old wife of an ailing violinist who had arrived in the Prince’s orchestra that same year. Luigia Polzelli was a mezzo soprano, who swept him off his feet, and it was said that he composed many arias (called insertion arias) just for her in case the original score of an opera being performed did not have anything suitable. By 1792, the affair had waned, and Haydn took up with the English widow Rebecca Schroeter.

Between 1756–1779/80, Haydn produced thirteen keyboard concerti, sometimes called Divertimenti. Eleven are deemed to be authentic. His last keyboard concerto, D major was composed for harpsichord or fortepiano per the publisher Artaria in 1784. Within a decade, eight publishers published this concerto which became one of his most popular works, performed many times during his lifetime. Over the years, it has been arranged for four saxophones (the last movement), for harp and orchestra, for piano solo, and two pianos.

The concerto opens with a vivace section, presenting several themes, the most important being the first idea. The soloist echoes this opening, and the movement develops in standard sonata-allegro format. Haydn mines the first idea for many motivic repetitions throughout this movement which are shared by the soloist and different parts of the orchestra.

A second movement, Un poco adagio, relaxes into an ABA form with a lyrical theme introduced by the strings. Haydn’s content is monothematic, offering embellishments to the central idea, and coloring the wind parts with extensive chromaticism.

Marked Rondo all’ungharese, the finale opens with the soloist providing the peppy main idea. Immediately the orchestra takes a turn and quickly tosses the spotlight back to the pianist to begin a rapid conversation between the two forces. The first episode brings in the minor mode and adds “Hungarian style” rhythms which will appear throughout the movement. The mood remains upbeat (Allegro assai) with unflagging energy and unceasing charm at all points. The pianist remains the leader, coaxing orchestral responses to his unmitigated virtuosic display. The movement closes quickly, cut off with a rapid whip like ending. The last movement uses the Croatian folk song Siri Kolo.

© Marianne Williams Tobias, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, 2016.

See all Program Notes

Program Notes