Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI:52 was composed in 1794 as part of his Drei Englische Sonaten (Three English Sonatas) which were dedicated to the pianist Theresa Jansen-Bartolozzi, whom he met during his second visit to London. During the late eighteenth century London was an important musical centre which attracted a large international community of musicians. Contemporary English concerts were eclectic affairs, consisting of a mixture of arias, duets, sonatas, and symphonies and Haydn was in demand as a performer as well as a composer and teacher. Haydn was highly regarded in England; well-received into London society and, in July 1791, he received academic recognition when Oxford University bestowed an honorary doctorate upon him. Haydn’s Drei Englische Sonaten are often regarded as the culmination of his varied piano writing and the Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI: 52 is frequently esteemed to be directly leaning towards the piano style of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Whilst acknowledging the possibility of this work acting as a model for Beethoven, it is also possible to suggest the influence of the keyboard writing of C.P.E. Bach (1714-1788) on Haydn’s Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI:52.
Haydn had consistently written for the fortepiano since the 1880s and he exploits the dynamic contrasts available on these instruments in the Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI:52 by frequent juxtapositions of f and pand sudden fz markings; all hall-marks of the Classical style. The grand opening of the first movement of this sonata with its dotted rhythms is also derived from the French Overture. The light-hearted, quirky second group is typical of the humour of which Haydn’s music is full. During the development section, Haydn places a fermata on a dominant of the submediant key (C minor) a common enough Classical harmonic idea, before moving back to the tonic.
This fermata, however, adds dynamic suspense. This procedure reveals the influence of the keyboard writing of C.P.E. Bach who often used fermatas at structural points in his compositions to add tension and intensify harmonic surprises. In the Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI:52, the fermata serves to heighten the experience of the aural shock of the material which follows which leaps straight into a statement of the second group in the Neapolitan (flattened supertonic) key of E major! This exact same harmonic relationship reappears in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in B flat major, Op. 106 (Hammerklavier). Although it would be difficult to prove that Haydn’s Sonata in E flat major, Hob XVI:52 was a direct model for Beethoven’s later work, Haydn definitely exerted an influence over Beethoven as he was his teacher.
The reason for the introduction of the Neapolitan tonal relationship becomes clear in the second movement, which is in E major. This represents a highly unusual key to use in a Classical work as it is a distant key from E flat major, the sonata’s tonic.
A precedent for this tonal idea can be found in C.P.E. Bach’s Symphony in D major, Wq. 183/1, which also has a slow movement in the flat supertonic; C.P.E. Bach, however, wrote a coda, which modulated to the new key, at the end of his first movement. The influenece of C.P.E. Bach is also present in this movement in the beautiful improvisatory atmosphere which Haydn creates and which recalls C.P.E. Bach’s fondness for including Fantasia-like movements within his own keyboard sonatas whilst demonstrating how certain aspects of the Baroque style were preserved and incorporated into Classical techniques of compositions. The movement takes ternary variation form.
The isolated, repeated g which opens the Finale suggests that Haydn’s final movement could be in E minor. However, Haydn soon introduces an e flat, which makes it apparent that he is neutralising the unusual key of the previous movement and returning it to the conventional tonic for the conclusion of the sonata. Haydn’s Finale movements are often accused of being of a much diminished stature compared with his first movements, but this cannot really be said in this instance. Haydn’s witticism and elegance is once more obvious in the fz markings, pauses, and phrasing.