A chamber music project: Hob. XV:15 for flute, cello, and piano

Cecily Lock, February 2008

Sannie de Jongh, flute
Immanuel van Ijzerlooy, cello
Cecily Lock, piano

Live performances:

31st January 2008, 7.30pm: Jan Odézaal, Amsterdam
8th February 2008, 7.30pm: Bachzaal, Amsterdam
30th May 2008, 9pm: Conservatorium van Amsterdam


Recorded on 17th March 2008 in the van Baerlestraat, Amsterdam.
Recording Engineer: Lex Tanger
This recording is a dok 5 live production.
Click here to listen to Sannie, Immanuel and Cecily.

Table of contents

  • Introduction
  • An analysis
  • Articulation
  • Working with experienced musicians
  • Inspiring recordings and editions
  • Bibliography


Haydn wrote at least 45 keyboard trios, including two trios for piano, flute, and cello (Hob. XV:15 and Hob. XV:16 in D major) and one trio for either flute or violin, cello, and piano (Hob. XV:17 in F major).

All three trios were composed in 1790, shortly before Haydn’s first visit to London. They were written for the English publisher John Bland who visited Haydn at Estherháza in November 1789.

During Haydn’s lifetime (1732-1809) the keyboard trio went through a major development. The early keyboard trio (emerging in the 2nd half of the 18th century) was essentially an accompanied keyboard sonata, with the accompanying instruments (usually the cello and the violin) playing very subordinate roles. Even from the 1780’s the mature keyboard trios by both Mozart and Haydn continued to be published as ‘Sonata per il Clavecimbalo o Forte-Piano con un Violino e Violoncello’.

In Hob. XV:15 the flute has a wholly independent role, and can be seen as an equal partner alongside the piano. At the very opening of the trio (bb. 2 ff.) the flute states part of the principal theme, with the piano providing a purely harmonic accompaniment. The second movement is a true dialogue between the flute and the piano.

The cello part, however, is still closely linked to the left-hand of the piano. It clearly functions in a supporting role, often doubling the left hand, sometimes in slight variation (see for example bb. 35 or 39 of the first movement). In some mature piano trios by Haydn the cello part becomes slightly more independent, as, for example, in one particular place in Hob. XV:30 in E flat, where the violin and the cello take over the leading role, accompanied by the piano. Such moments in the music are the first steps towards the cello being an entirely equal trio partner, as we know it to be in trio compositions by later composers.

An analysis

The first movement (‘Allegro’) is written in sonata form. The second subject, in the dominant D major, begins in bar 45, the development section in bar 96, and the recapitulation in bar 152. The movement ends with the same simple perfect cadence (in G major) with which it opens, making the whole movement sound very compact.

The melody introduced by the flute in bar 3 is repeated on the piano in bb. 11 ff. From bar 16 there is one big build-up (with witty dialogue and imitation) up to the move to the dominant in bar 34. The flute then leads the way (with a repetition that could be played as an echo in bb. 37-8), until the first section ends with a series of V-I s on the dominant chord of the dominant.

The second subject does not have one distinctive new, contrasting melody, and there could be some discussion as to where this subject begins. I feel it starting in bar 45, continuing the dotted rhythm and square movement of the opening, first in the piano alone, then joined by the cello and flute in one downward gesture. In bar 45 the character completely changes, the music becoming very lyrical. An energetic descending scale (in tenths) is followed by more lyricism (now with the piano leading), and a sudden change to D minor (one of the most beautiful passages in the ‘Allegro’), with the cello and piano ‘in conversation’.

At the beginning of the development section the piano uses an idea introduced at the end of the exposition (bb. 90 ff.). The whole development should be built up carefully to avoid anti-climaxes. The different keys the music travels through (e.g. d in bar 101, a in 107, F in 111, C in 127, e in 135-148) enrich the musical journey and offer the performers opportunity to experiment with subtle changes in tone colour. 

The order of the recapitulation of the melodic material of the 2nd subject is unusual. In bar 188 we jump straight into a short scalic passage which we recognize from bar 74 (now in the tonic, instead of the dominant); this is repeated (also in the tonic, and in a longer and more complete version) from bar 225 onwards. Bb. 56 ff. reappear (now in the tonic minor) in bb. 204 ff. The dramatic character and harmonic pace of bb. 214 ff. remind us of bb. 128 ff. of the development section.

The second movement is a good example of one of Haydn’s favourite compositional forms, the ‘alternating variations’ (or ‘double variations’), which he explored extensively in many of his works. Variations on a major theme alternate with variations in the tonic minor, usually creating a five-part form (ABABA), with the movement ending in the major, as in the first movement of the keyboard sonata in G major, Hob. XVI:40. Another beautiful and well-known example of ‘alternating variations’ (with an exceptional minor-mode conclusion) is the F minor variations (Hob. XVII:6). 

In the ‘Andante’ of Hob. XVI:15 we find the typical 5-part ‘ABABA’ form. We have a theme in C major (the subdominant of the home key) and one in C minor (the tonic minor). The A and B sections are clearly related: in both sections we hear the prominent dotted semiquaver rhythm, the groupings of two slurred quavers, and the dialogue between the flute and piano. Both sections make frequent use of small note values (semiquavers and demisemiquavers) as elaborate ornamentation. It is not surprising, then, that even within each of the 5 sections there is a lot of variation going on. 

The big surprise, however, is that the second A section (bb. 29 ff.) is NOT in C major, but in E flat major (a very unrelated key!). In fact, this whole middle section (perhaps together with the second B section), can easily be conceived (on first hearing) as a sort of development with the final return of A (in bar 48) as the ‘recapitulation’. However, I would say that bb. 29-40 are an inventive, harmonically rich ‘substitute’ for the expected second ‘A’ part.

Bb. 29 ff. begin with a beautiful ‘opening’ gesture in the piano, based on motives and rhythms of the opening of the movement, and countered by step-wise descending movement in the flute part. From bar 31 the flute and piano search together for direction in the music (briefly in thirds), with beautiful ‘wavy’ lines, though remaining in E flat. The cello underlines this special key (with a pedal point), which Haydn also used for his last grand piano sonata and brilliant last piano trio. 

Now follows perhaps the most intense passage in the whole trio, the cello coming into prominence with its expressive semiquavers (together with the left hand of the piano), in a passage that modulates, in sequence (by bar and in downward movement), with beautiful appoggiaturas in the right hand of the piano, and accompanying melodic figures in the flute, from E flat major back to the C minor (at the return of the second B section). Every note should be indulged in, and the return of C minor can be played forte.

Haydn also teases us by applying a confusing, uneven phrasing in the middle sections. This is not so unexpected if we keep in mind that Haydn loved to play with the expectations of conventional phrase structure. The first A is straightforward: two sets of 4-bar phrases, both repeated. B can be divided into two times 6 bars (though, already, the symmetry between flute and piano, and the direction of the has been corrupted). The ‘substitute’ A section is, again, 12 bars long (like the preceding B section), but is, this time, divided into 7 plus 5 bars. The second B is only 7 bars long, with the theme stated just once, and ending rather abruptly not in G minor (the dominant minor, as in the first A), but on a G major chord, preparing the return to C major. The second A is 16 bars long (half as long as the first section, if you count the repeats), thus in good balance. This is followed by a brief coda (bb. 64-66), with the melody in the flute.

Other beautiful moments in the ‘Andante’ include brief touches of A minor (the relative minor) in, for example, bars 6 and 14; and fermatas in bars 12 and 59 (which should not be played identically every time! – bar 12 is played twice).

The 3rd and final movement is again in G major. Marked ‘Allegro moderato’ and, like the first movement, in ‘alla breve’ time (two beats in a bar, not four!), it should be played at a flowing pace, but NOT faster than the first movement (the ‘Allegro’).

The movement is a rondo, with the principal theme returning in bars 66 and 132. The harmonic development is straightforward. The whole first section (bb. 1-22) is in G major, with emphasis on the dominant in bb. 11-12. It can be seen as a small ABA form in itself. The piano begins on its own (with a regular 4-bar phrase ending with an imperfect cadence in bar 4), joined by the flute and the cello from bar 5 onwards (a typically classical ‘answering’ phrase, also 4 bars long and ending with a perfect cadence). This is followed by a two-bar phrase (bb. 9-10) on the dominant, again symmetrically answered in bb. 11-12 on the tonic. 

Surprisingly, there is an additional 2-bar phrase in bb.13-14, with some beautiful chromaticism (don’t miss the expressive thirds in the piano part), a brief A minor colouring on the 2nd-3rd beat, and an embellished dominant chord in bar 14, which makes us long for the return of G major (and of A) in bar 15. From bar 23 the flute introduces a new melody. The cello underlines the G pedal point. There is some excited dialogue between the piano and flute in bb. 27-28. In bar 33 the opening theme reappears in variation in the dominant key, followed by modulatory passages (note the sequences in bb. 35-36 and 38-39).

The recurrence of the first section is preceded by a cadence for piano solo in bb. 59 ff. (compare with the similar, but longer cadence starting in bar 121) which needs to be carefully timed. Listen to the underlying chromaticism: the C#-D in bars 57-58 and the E, Eb, D in the thumb of the right hand in bb. 61-65). This searching, flexible quality of the music is very typical of Haydn. 

Another very special moment is the sudden move to the tonic minor in bar 87. This should be played attentively, but not too dramatically, as the music soon moves to the relative major key: the music is now in B flat major, a key rather unrelated to the home key. In this light the frequent repetition of phrases and motives in bb. 96- 104 (again emphasizing the searching character of the music) make sense. The virtuoso ending, with its embellishments and runs is an enjoyment to all musicians.


Classical music has a very ‘story-telling’, speaking quality. Emotions are translated into certain musical figures, there are specific ‘manners’ which composers adapted. This is especially important to understand when playing Haydn, who had so much to say in his music, who had such a great sense of humour, imagination, and range of emotional expression. 

As a trio, our aim is, of course, to tell our musical stories as well as possible. In order to give a real classical ‘Vortrag’ we needed to know exactly what we want to say, ranging from understanding the form of a piece and using this knowledge to create tensions and curves in the music, to musical breathing through phrasing, timing, emphasizing certain musical ideas or harmonies, and small details such as articulation. 

Careful thinking about articulation can make all the difference. It can make the music much more effective. This is where a lot of Haydn’s humour and mastery lie. Not only do you need to know what to do for yourself, you also need to listen to the other instruments to decide whether you should imitate what they are doing or try to create a very different sound that works better on your own instrument.

It is impossible to give a complete summary or any general guidelines in this essay but let me point out some places where the correct articulation (which Haydn in many cases cared to notate in detail) makes the music so much more special: In bars 1-2 the 6 crotchets (with strokes) should all have exactly the same length. The following crotchets (without any special indication) in the cello and piano parts should sound completely different, probably longer and softer. The sforzandi from bar 19 can be played with a faster finger attack, really emphasizing the interfering quality of the motive. Again, from bar 41 the strokes underline the robust, slightly static quality of the music. 

In bb. 51-52 the strokes point out the importance of every note. With all three performers playing this scale at the same time and in the same way, it can be rather overwhelming. Slurrings of groups of notes (often in stepwise motion, involving chromaticism) can indicate that these should be played more expressively (e.g. in bars 53, 171 185, and 197-9). In the cello and piano parts in bars 79 – 85 it is nice to let the audience hear the difference between the crotchets with strokes and those without.

In the second movement it is especially important that the flute and piano articulate in a similar way. In the finale, again, subtle nuances in articulation give the music more quality. Just look at the opening. The pianist should copy the flautist, slurring two notes in a group followed by two detached, short notes. In bar 10 one can lend the music a teasing quality by dividing the quavers into two groups of two (notated in the flute, but not in the piano part). In bb. 27 and 33 a.o. I believe it to be logical and effective to take over the articulation of the opening. Not playing the left hand and cello part legato in bb. 38-40, but underlining the slur in bar 40 with a diminuendo brings out the preceding syncopations. In bb. 91 ff. the legato can help the music to keep the tension and move forward. In bars 47 ff. and 57 ff. it can be effective to slur the half-note steps.

Working with experienced musicians

Over the last few weeks we received lessons from Frans van RuthMarieke Schneemann, and Mila Baslawskaja. In addition, I looked at the 2nd movement with Stanley Hoogland in the 'fortepianoklas'. Playing (for the first time in my life) on a fortepiano gave me a much better idea of the ‘sound world’ of a keyboard instrument Haydn would have been acquainted with. 

Haydn is known to have practiced frequently on a clavichord (to which he had access, for example, at the Esterhazy court), and of course he also played on both the harpsichord and the fortepiano. Some of the early keyboard sonatas were obviously written with the harpsichord in mind, while the sonata Hob. XVI:20 in C minor (with its expressive dynamic markings) is often referred to as the ‘clavichord sonata’. Most of Haydn’s later keyboard works (from ca. 1784) were intended to be played on the fortepiano.

The exact dynamic markings, frequent sforzandi, and precisely notated articulation confirm that Haydn must have thought of the fortepiano while composing Hob. XV:15. In the year of the composition of this work, Haydn wrote to his friend and pianist Marianna von Genzinger that he preferred the instruments of Wenzel Schanz to those of other Viennese makers because they were ‘particularly light in touch and the mechanism very agreeable’. Mozart, in contrast, liked the fortepianos by Stein and Walter. 

The lightness of touch that Haydn admired should also inspire our modern pianists’ style of playing. If Haydn is performed too heavily it does not sound ‘playful’ enough, and, in addition, the music becomes too static. Similarly, the articulation, trills and other ornaments need to be executed with a light finger-technique. It is sometimes not so easy to play Haydn ‘brilliantly’ on the modern piano.

Stanley Hoogland taught me how important it is to stay close to the keys with the fingers, and not to use too much weight of the arm (this technique can also be applied when playing on the piano). The dynamic range of the fortepiano is more limited than on the modern piano, but perhaps (and importantly) not as limited as is widely believed.

Playing on the fortepiano made me much more conscious of articulation and the lengths of notes (generally I decided that I’d like to play the left hand chords and single notes longer). Seufzer and other slurred groups of notes should be played expressively, with diminuendos and rubato. A good legato can again be only achieved by attentiveness to detail and subtle finger technique. Having to use the pedal with the knee on the fortepiano (instead of with the foot, as on the piano) again made me more aware of how much I want to really use it.

Frans van Ruth worked with us in much detail, especially on phrasing, form, harmony (changes in character and tone colour) and articulation. He taught us how to breathe together, talked about how the music could work best on stage (including where the cellist should sit), and provided solutions for pianistic issues. 

Both Marieke Schneemann and Mila Baslawskaja made us more aware of timing in Haydn, of how we can use rests, how to listen to silence (e.g. in bars 10, 95-96 and 150-1 in the first movement). They also taught us how to become one group, rather than 3 independent players happening to make music together. Mila made us much more aware of what the other 2 musicians are doing and made suggestions how to rehearse (and prepare for rehearsals...). She gave us a good overview of the music, talked a lot about Haydn’s special talent and his sense of humour. We realized that we need a clearer idea of what we want. Marieke had a very energetic approach to articulation. And she helped us to learn to play more ‘surprisingly’ and imaginatively.

Inspiring recordings and editions

Performances of Hob. XV:15 that have inspired us include recordings by Aurèle Nicolet, Rocco Filippini and Bruno Canino (‘Haydn, Weber: Trios & sonatas’, NOVALIS 150.743-2) and the Beaux Arts Trio ('Haydn: Complete Piano Trios' (9-CD set), disc 6; Philips 454 098-2).

We have studied both the G. Henle Verlag Urtext edition (Wolfgang Stockmeier, Jörg Demus, 284) and the Doblinger Diletto Musicale Urtext edition (H.C. Robbins Landon, DM 513).


Jones, David Wyn, Oxford Composer Companions. Haydn (OUP, 2002).
Romijn, Clemens, Joseph Haydn. Leven en Werken (Bluestone Publishers, 2002).
Sisman, Elaine, Haydn and the Classical Variation (HUP, 1993).
Somfai, Lászlo, The Keyboard Sonatas of Joseph Haydn (The University of Chicago Press, 1995).