Haydn's sonata for a Parisian lady

January 14, 2015
Ray Heigemeir

Dernière sonate pour le piano forte, avec accompaniment de violon
À Paris : publiée par Naderman ; À Londres : par Clementi & Co., [1821]

Stanford University Libraries, Memorial Library of Music, MLM 498

Link to downloadable images of this work

In advance of a visit to Paris in 1803, Prince Esterházy asked Haydn to compose a new piano sonata as a gift for Louise-Alexandrine-Eugénie Moreau, the French-Creole wife of the famous general Jean Victor Moreau, and hostess of an influential Paris salon. Haydn, pleading illness, sent instead a copy of the sonata for piano with violin and 'cello accompaniment (HXV:31) minus the somewhat superfluous ‘cello part.  In an accompanying letter to Madame Moreau, Haydn apologizes for not composing something new, due to his failing health, and promises to fulfill his duties once he regains his strength.

This two-movement work, in the unusual key of E flat minor, was originally composed for piano, violin, and ‘cello. Haydn wrote it soon after his return to Vienna from London in 1795, and in 1805 it was published for three instruments by several publishing houses. The autograph manuscript is in the Zweig Collection at the British Library. Dated 1795, Haydn wrote at the top of the second movement: “Jacobs Dream by Dr. Haydn 794,” which indicates that the second movement was likely composed first.

The piano part contains a good amount of virtuosic writing, and, like other keyboard works of the time, seeks to exploit the expressive possibilities inherent in the new English grand pianos of which Haydn was enamored. The violin part also presents technical challenges. “Jacob’s Dream” alludes to the bible story in which Jacob dreams of a stairway to heaven, effortlessly trafficked by angels. The work was apparently so named to tease a certain violinist intending to perform the piece, whose technique often failed him (but whose hubris did not) when attempting to play in the upper registers. Haydn, always the joker!

The work was published postumously as a piano sonata with violin accompaniment by Nadermann in Paris (1820) and in partnership with Clementi in London (1821). The title page of the London edition which is in the Memorial Library of Music, features a neoclassical lithograph of the muse Erato with her lyre, accompanied by a swan, placing a myrtle wreath on Haydn’s grave marker. Aslo included is Haydn's letter to Madame Moreau, reproduced in facsimile.


Erato mourning Haydn.

With thanks to Astrid Smith, Rare Book and Special Collections Digitization Specialist, and the Digital Production Group for providing downloadable images of this item.