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Haydn's Trio for violin, cello, and piano in E major, Hob. XV:28

June 7, 2022

On this week's lecture, resident lecturer Bruce Adolphe discusses Haydn's Trio for violin, cello, and piano in E major, Hob. XV:28. Featuring a performance by Michael Brown, piano; Stella Chen, violin; and Nicholas Canellakis, cello.

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Welcome to the Inside Chamber Music Podcast presented by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. I'm Bruce Adolphe, Resident Lecturer at CMS, where I started the lecture series in 1992. In 2011, we began livestreaming the lectures on our website. The audio for this podcast comes from the ever growing archive of videos made available live and on demand at ChamberMusicSociety.org.

We look at the music from a compositional perspective and find parallels in novels, plays and poetry. Plus, we explore historical context. And with live musicians in the studio during the lectures, we experiment with performance issues. Today's podcast features Haydn's Trio for violin, cello and piano in E major Hoboken 15, number 28 with Michael Brown, pianist. Stella Chen, violinist, and Nicholas Canellakis, cellist.

Greetings, I'm Bruce Adolphe in the Rose Studio for another Inside Chamber Music. Today, looking at a piano trio of Joseph Haydn. This is his 44th trio out of 45 that he wrote. He had 68 string quartets. This guy wrote a lot of music and he wrote this piece when he was the age I am now. So you must know what that is.

And I feel like I understand this piece in a strange way because of that. You know, Haydn basically invented the idea of instrumental comedy, of musical laughter that was subtle and sometimes outrageous. You probably know The Joke Quartet. But before Haydn, the only kind of funny music was music that had funny words or big blaring, wrong notes. With Haydn, it became part of the grammar, the syntax.

He wrote tunes that were funny or structures that were humorous, and he brought you into the compositional process in a way that is very much like language. But he invented how that language works. You know, one thing that reminds me of Haydn, I was trying to find a joke that reminds me of Haydn, and there's a Monty Python French lesson that goes, "Quelle etoile?"

And the answer is "Tres bien. Etiole." I mean, that's a little ridiculous. Now, if you don't speak French, that's fine. But it's just wrong. It's hard to come up with another joke like that. Don't you hate it when someone answers their own questions? I do. That's another Haydn kind of thing. So it's the setting up of a structure which is already humorous as as it starts.

Now, in order to understand this piece, I think you need to know that it is very subtle humor. It is not like the joke quartet or some of his symphonies, which have deliberately out of tune things, huge silences, repeated fragments where they don't belong. This is subtle stuff. So let's hear just the first phrase, not even the first complete tune.

Just the first phrase. (music) That's the first phrase. Why am I stopping there? Well, let's say you had a homework assignment from a music professor to write the second phrase. Let's think about that. So we have (music) and your homework is to write the next phrase. Probably the most common response would be this (music), right? Pretty simple. The difference is (music) that we start and go up a little bit higher.

You could go even further with it. (music) That's a little bit more elaborate than it needs to be. And here's another version that he didn't do. (music) Also very simple, but you're wondering, what did Haydn do? Let's hear the first phrase and the second phrase only so we can hear what he did. (music) Okay. Now, if that didn't bother you, I'm going to point it out, but I'll point out what's wrong with it so that it does bother you.

It should a little bit. Just a little bit. See, (music) he does this. Wait a minute. That's the note we had the first time. (singing) Shouldn't it go (singing)? Come on. It's a tune. Now, Haydn does this on purpose. It's very subtle and as I said, he was the same age I am now when he wrote it.

And I know he's being funny. I guarantee you. It's a certain kind of humor. It's kind of like, "ha ha," that's it. But then the whole movement is full of comments on that problem that he presents there. Now he does change something. (music) Then he goes, That's not necessary and it doesn't take care of this. (music) Now, couldn't Haydn write a better tune than this?

He doesn't want to. Haydn sacrificed sometimes some aspect of his writing in order for it to be humorous or to give him room for later on to develop or do something comical. I gave this assignment to Mozart to take the same tune and he came up with this. (music) That's an expansive version of the tune. You would think that if Haydn was going to write an opening tune for his 44th trio, when he really knew what he was doing, he wouldn't make a mistake like that A.

But he's laughing, believe me. What about Brahms? I sent him the assignment too. (music) See, in both cases, of course they didn't really write that, but in both cases they expand that second phrase. Now, Haydn himself knew exactly what I'm talking about. In his next trio, the opening of the E-flat major and his final trio, number 45, he writes a very simple tune, but the response does what I'm talking about.

Let's hear that one. (music) So you see, not only does he do a response that's bigger and higher and has a better harmony, more interesting harmony than he does in the other piece. But he also extends the final cadence into a kind of little monologue. It takes it much further than it needs to go. But the opening of that tune, (music) if he were to do it the way he did the other quartet, sorry, the other trio, the answer would just be... (music) That's terrible.

Instead of (music) also with a diminished chord and then even higher. So he knows how to do this. He didn't just figure it out by piano trio number 45. He knew what he was doing. But also any little folk song that Haydn would have known. Here's one. Does the same thing. It makes the second phrase more elaborate. (music) The next phrase. (music) Higher.

That's how you write a tune. Here's another one. (music) See, In every case. I've got one more that I'm sure you know. (music) Now, if I skip the repeat and the B section, then it ends (music) and (music) Right? It does go up. This is standard. So let's go back to the piece. The very next phrase in the piano is a commentary on how weak the tune was, and it has two elaborate commentaries, maybe even three. Michael, can you play that answer for us? (music)

Alright. Okay, so remember the tune should have responded like this (music) (singing) It should have gone to a B. That would be the most standard, folksy, normal tune. So this one, the response that Michael just played, actually goes to it in the first phrase. It's too soon, so it crumbles. Sorry, it says, "I didn't mean that." Right?

So it's already funny in another way. You want to go higher, so this time the structure is reversed and he goes higher. And then in the second phrase, he just goes to the A, but he puts a diminished chord on it. (music) This may not be hilarious, but it's charming and witty and it assumes a kind of listening that almost never happens.

I mean, you have to be really thinking what he's thinking. And I have to say that the only reason that I think this is that I'm studying the score. I didn't just go to a concert and think all these things. I'm studying the score, what's interesting and what's going on, and suddenly it hits me, "This is a composition lesson."

Haydn is having fun. How could he write 45 trios and 68 string quartets and 100 and something symphonies? And he basically invented the concept of the symphony, not exclusively by himself, but he brought it to a certain level. And the string quartet and the piano trio and the sonata in many ways very indebted to CPE Bach? Yes, but the culmination of this in the classical period that is bound to happen eventually through Beethoven, etc. would be nowhere without Haydn.

And yet he's still, in every piece, is exploring something. It may be in a humorous way, may be in a serious way, but it's probably in a humorous way. He was thought of in his time as practically a comedian in a good way. Like social commentary, but there wasn't exactly a social commentary in music. He can't quite do it, but it's a commentary on structure, on syntax, on grammar, on convention.

So he plays with convention at every turn to get a laugh. And if you don't get a real laugh, you feel the charm, you feel the humor. Even if you don't sit there and identify what it is. Sometimes analyzing humor is a really bad thing to do. It makes it so it's not so funny. I had a few actor friends who used to play a game, which makes me think of Haydn.

The game was to take a famous line from a play and don't tell anyone what it is and ruin it really fast so that everyone knows you screwed up. But you didn't hardly say the line at all. You don't know what I'm talking about. I'll give you an example. If food. That's it. Now, I don't have an audience to laugh, so I don't know if you got it.

So I'll tell you, the line is, "If music be the food of love, play on." So if the actor says, "If food," and they've ruined it already, you might have laughed. I hope you did. Here's another one. To be and... Ruined it. It has to be, "Or." If I say and I don't know what to do. So that's kind of a Hayden-esque thing, which is the humor assumes, you know, what he's talking about and you're hanging on at every note.

So as I said, this phrase goes to the B, but it reverses it. It's in the first part of the phrase, and therefore, he's justified in letting it disintegrate. And then he tries again and he keeps that little thing. Why do I mention this? I'm glad I asked. Because I know why. Because this little thing, since it doesn't need to be there and he put it in there, he's going to use it all over the piece, all over the place.

He's going to use the fact that he didn't need it. He could have gone... (music) Oh, sorry. (singing) He could have gone (singing) or just (singing) or many of the other versions. But if he does do it, which is nice, he's going to hold on to it and play games with it, and you'll see it in just a moment.

So he brings it back. And then the diminished chord, which if you've gone to my lectures or heard a lot of them online, you know, the diminished chord is the most tense and terrifying chord of the classical era and continues. It's also in the Baroque period considered that way. Beethoven called it terrifying, and it stays the most tense chord all the way through the 19th century.

And it's because it's symmetrical. All the intervals are the same, minor thirds. It's got two tritones and it can go anywhere. It can modulate anywhere. So it's very tense. And then it's funny to use a diminished chord and not go anywhere at all. Just (music) and the reason he does it is because he's saying, "Well, if I'm just going to stay on that A, I could make it a powerful A with my diminished seventh chord.

There's a composition lesson for you right there. Then when the pianist is finished, they all come in and celebrate for a little while. Now, before you hear that, the opening texture of this thing is quite odd. Can you play the, let's play everything that I said so far up until the big (music) And listen to the opening texture and think about this.

Think that there's a student writing a tune for Haydn and the student's a little awkward. That's why there's pizzicato and all these grace notes because not that comfortable. Then the pianist is the teacher and corrects everything with a sense of humor. And then they celebrate. Let's hear it that way. (music) Great. And now the next thing that's worth mentioning in terms of this humor is remember this? (singing) How could you forget that? Well, that's an E sharp going to an F sharp and it seemed very trivial.

But if you're studying composition with Haydn, nothing is trivial. Everything has to come to some kind of fruition. You know, Chekhov said something very famous and Chekhov said this way after Haydn. So obviously Haydn wasn't thinking of Chekhov, but I'm bringing it in because it relates to the concept of using everything, Chekhov said, "If you're writing a play and you have a gun hanging over the mantelpiece in Act One, it better go off."

Now, what he means is that if you put something on stage, you have to use it. It's the same thing here. He puts this in the tune, he's got to use it and he uses it in a fantastic way. Let's play bar, just right on bar 17 and you'll hear that's E sharp, F sharp, E sharp F sharp and listen to the harmony and what happens. (music)

Yeah. So what's happening there is one of the more tense chords that was possible at that time. And in some ways it's more tense then a diminished scored in this context because it's called a German augmented sixth chord. I don't think Haydn ever heard of a German augmented sixth chord, but he probably called it an augmented sixth chord, if he called it anything which he might not have. And he certainly wouldn't have used English.

But anyway, it resolves. (music) It's this (singing) So he's using it to go from one key to another very dramatically. And then at the end of it, there's one more. And that takes us to a very quiet... (music) The theme is going to be stated again. So let's hear, I would say from the beginning, right up until we get to B major.

By the way, one little comment. Remember I said B is the note that we should have for the second phrase? (singing) instead of (singing) would have been better. Well, it's so happens we're in E so it makes sense that we're going to go to B so that B, note B is going to be very important.

But when we do this (music) there's a B right there and that's where we're going to go. So keep your ears out for all of these things. Here, from the beginning? (music) Okay, beautiful little run. We're about to go into B and you heard (singing) as I mentioned, and now we're in B and the question is, did you learn anything?

Do you know how to write a tune now? Let's hear what happens starting at B. (music) Okay, now, I hope you really smiled. I saw that Nick had a big smile when that came, because it's completely different. The student has learned a lot. It's got the same texture. So it's that student again. And you heard that... (music) Ah, it's great.

It goes all the way up. And it's also a wonderful chord. It's a ninth chord predicting Debussy. No, not really, but it's a fantastic moment and it's beautiful and not just expected. We yearned for it. We want it. If we didn't get that, we'd be very disappointed. So what Haydn has done is he's deliberately given us a sort of not right tune, an ineffectual second phrase.

He uses a little tidbit within it to get us to the next key. We get to the key, and when we hear the student texture come back, this slightly awkward pizzicatos and grace notes, the tune is well made, finally. It's great and when the cadence comes, you know what? I won't play it for you, Michael. Could you play that?

But skip a lot of music and show us what the cadence might have been? (music) Yeah. Okay. Sounds great, right? That's totally perfect. There's nothing wrong with that. It sounds fabulous. That's not what he does. Because Haydn is quite the joker. And instead of just doing that cadence, just listen what actually happens when we get there. So why don't we start at the exact same? (music)

Yes. So you see there's this fantastic interruption and explosion and celebration. Haydn is a master and he doesn't want to go too long with this game of what should happen next? So this kind of intrusion, which is normal in classical music, is also basically a Haydn invention. He did it regularly throughout his music and took it to great heights.

And of course, Mozart was inspired by that and Beethoven was inspired by that. The idea that classical form is a bunch of surprises, that's what it is. Because classical form, like this is a sonata form. And as I used to tell my students and certainly I like to say this at Children's concerts, sonata Form is so not form.

It is not a form. What is it? It's just a basic narrative structure which is interrupted, deflected. There are detours, it's full of surprises. If you take out the surprises like we did a moment ago, you don't have Haydn. You don't have great music. You have some kind of boring template which actually doesn't exist at that time in any of the great composers.

So if you were to follow a sonata form, you'd be following a fiction. The only things that happen over and over are not important. I mean, they're important in a basic way, but they don't make the piece great. He's proving it to you here because the theme isn't even right. The theme isn't great, the theme isn't beautiful. It's not interesting.

It's an ordinary anthem that has a bad second phrase. But the structure, the surprises, the commentary, the interruptions, that's what makes this a fabulous piece. Then he goes to another surprise key. Let's see if we can start, how about starting right before the second ending, maybe a bar before the second ending, and go to the second ending and play through the key change for a while? (music)

Okay, great, great. Now there are a couple of things there. First of all, you noticed that we got, again, the good version of the theme. This student has learned everybody's happy. We got, again, that ninth chord. So it opens up in the second phrase. But even the way he gets into the new key, you have this... (music) Let's dissect this. (music)

Let's take the lower two notes. It's F sharp and E sharp again. It's (singing) That's why he goes. (music) He's thinking, "Do you listen?" And then he does it... (music) It becomes a motif. There it is. That little phrase (singing) now becomes a transitional phrase. It's the whole way he moves from one section to another. He doesn't let go of the gun over the mantelpiece or whatever it is that the metaphor might be for a small thing that becomes something big.

You know, this happens in life all the time. You say one word that you wish you hadn't, and that's the end of everything. Watch out. Now, so, then it modulates and it gets to A flat. (music) A flat? We're in E major here. And somehow he got to A flat. I thought Schubert started that. No. A lot of the things that Schubert did, such as modulating by major thirds Haydn did them first.

Schubert is a great composer, don't get me wrong, it has nothing to do with that. But Haydn really set the bar very high for anyone to do anything original after him in terms of surprise and harmony and modulation. So when he gets to A flat... (music) Now here, now, you might think I'm going too far, but by going to A flat and using that ninth, again, that note is inharmonically the same as the original E sharp.

So to make that clear (singing) That was an E sharp. He does a whole bunch of them. (singing) He gets to and then there's the note. Now it's an F, now it's the ninth. It's the same note. Do you think Haydn did that on purpose? I'm waiting for an answer. Okay. I think yes.

That doesn't mean that he thought logically in German about it like Wittgenstein. No. He heard it. It's humor. It's a pun because music is full of puns. This note, this E sharp, coming back in interesting ways and then becoming the top note, he doesn't have to think about it. It's in his ear. He's thinking, "What else can I do with that note?"

Hey, if I go to A flat, boom. But he doesn't even have to think, "If I go to A flat." He just knows that it's there because he has a great ear. He's an amazing composer. And at this point, he was my age. So these things just occur to you all the time, even in the middle of the night.

Alright. So he wrote that phrase and then he finally gets to the end of what we call the development section, which I always find a humorous term because the whole thing is in development from bar one. Well, bar two. So once or actually three once he's at bar three and gets into the end of the first theme, everything after that is commentary and development and interruption.

You know, it just keeps going. But there's going to be a recapitulation, a return. The return is part of the natural balance of the sonata structure. So you can write all kinds of strange returns. They can be fake outs, there can be the wrong key and then the right key. They can reverse all the instruments in terms of who plays what. In this case...

Well, maybe I shouldn't tell you. There's a little silence right before it, and then we'll hear what happens. The silence is great. Haydn was also a master of silence like Harold Pinter. He used silences to make you think about what's happening. The players have to think. You have to think. You have to wait. Makes you wonder.

If you do it too long, it's a little bit overdramatic. If you do it too short, you missed your opportunity. It's not so easy. So let's hear that silence in the beginning of the last section. How about starting at bar 18, 19, 20, I think. Right? No, sorry. 48, 49, 50. (music) Okay, don't play the theme yet. So we have that silence.

Just for fun, start the bar before the bar with the rest (music) and let's make a really long rest, even though it's more than you would want to do in a concert, just to give us that feeling. (music) What? Okay. Okay. I said, what because he did it again. He went back. It's hilarious. The way I hear it, it's the silence because the student graduated.

The next class comes in. Here we go again. It's got the same problem. It happens every year. How can I keep teaching this course? I have to teach the same things to these composition students every year. Now, Haydn could easily have made that phrase really triumphant, beautiful, surprising. He might have wrestled with that for a few moments, and then he decided to just do it the way it was and let the rest of the piece open up a bit.

One of the great moments that happens is where this, again, (singing) becomes a whole thing. Let's do that spot, which is, if you can start from bar 73, is that possible? (music) So doing the right transpositions, working it all out so he gets this, you get this emphasis on the same (singing) Now if anyone out there is thinking I'm going too far, I'm hearing every little reference to things.

Just think, if I can think of it, don't you think Haydn can think it? One of the greatest geniuses in the history of music? And it's his piece. I think he knew every one of these details and many things I've probably missed here. But the main point is that the details are a kind of comedy. They're self-referential, they tell a story inside the piece that we can possibly put into words.

Now I'm telling it about a composition class and a student. I don't know that he thought that, but what he did think of is kind of an experienced in a less experienced version or a wrong and a right version. Or maybe he was thinking about politics, I don't know. But whatever it is, it's hilarious. And yet it's a bit sublimated and the more you know about it, the funnier it is.

I think even the chromatic scales near the end (music) those things start to refer to the fact that these chromaticisms and the changes of key that were very unusual, especially going to A-flat major. They get summed up in these little gestures. Haydn doesn't do anything in any of his pieces that is not somehow logical to his material. He's responsible to his ideas.

He follows them through. Again, he reminds me of Pinter. I never can talk about Haydn without thinking of Pinter. And the reason is not only the silences, but I think there's something about the way he writes. Pinter said that he would think of characters in a room and they would start talking to each other and he'd take dictation.

He let them do what they wanted to do. And then when they got stuck, he'd try to figure out what they should do next. But he always let the characters and the ideas suggest the play to him. Now that's a certain kind of imagination, and you have to have a very rich imagination to let yourself sort of daydream and follow your dreams.

Basically, you follow your imagination and remember what's going on and then structure it so it works. That's how Haydn works. Every aspect of the material is followed through and is given balance, proportion, comedy and resolution. Every aspect of it. So I think we're ready to hear this piece, but I want to give you one more one liner or two liner that's like Haydn.

I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure. Okay, now let's hear this movement by Haydn from his 44th trio with Michael Brown, Stella Chen and Nicholas Canellakis. (music)

We hope you enjoyed the podcast. Visit ChamberMusicSociety.org to watch videos of these lectures as well as masterclasses and concert performances. And while you're there, check out the calendar of upcoming Chamber Music Society events in New York and around the world. See you next time.