Haydn: Adagio in F major, Hob. XVII/9  [5’37”]

Alfred Brendel, piano

09 Esterhazá today

Eszterháza, Haydn’s world for a quarter of a century. In its splendid isolation, he said, “I was forced to become original”.

By way of introducing the little I feel needs saying about this Haydn gem, which pretty much speaks for itself, here’s a link to the story of what happened to the great man’s head after his death; his admirers be warned, it contains scenes some may find distressing.

To the little I have to say.  This adorable Adagio, of uncertain date and origin, is a self-standing work,  not a sonata movement. It couldn’t be much further from Rosen’s description of CPE Bach’s style.  Although Haydn – who had his Sturm und Drang period when younger – is famously a master of wit and a great subverter of expectations, the nearest thing to a surprise in this example of his subtle art are the sudden loud chords at 3’00”, just when we think the music is reaching stasis.  The rest is a sedate stroll, and on first hearing the piece might appear bland.  But with this as with much Haydn and Mozart that initially strikes us as samey, within a few listens the wonder is how we could ever have thought so.  An unpraised beauty in Haydn’s abundant canon, this is perhaps not great music.  If it sounds here as though it might be, that could simply be due to the fact that the pianist is Alfred Brendel.

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