Monday, January 21, 2013

Caffeine Society

Consider this your morning Joe.

Joe Haydn, that is. And, since we are all in a hurry these days, you'll be happy to know that you are getting the full nutrients of an entire piano sonata in just five minutes. A sonata by Beethoven might take upwards of twenty full minutes to listen to. A sonata by Brahms, half an hour. But Joe here has written three full movements, each fulfilling the architectural requirements of a sonata movement, and finished it in under five minutes. Nice of him.

Alright, he had a little help. Yours truly, being a modern pianist, did what modern pianists tend to do with Haydn these days, which was to take him rather fast.

We don't have any recordings of Haydn playing his own works obviously, but many folks in the know think that pianists are breaking the speed limit when it comes to the classical era. It is likely that we are playing Haydn faster than he or his contemporaries would have played, for the following reasons: 1) The action of early pianos wouldn't have supported runs as fast as they do now. 2) Although they were hardworking and dedicated musicians, they would not have been able to spend 8 hours a day in little practice rooms doing nothing but practicing pieces written before they were born, like athletes training for the Olympics to be bigger, faster, stronger with each generation. Instead, they were busy writing the next piece for the next royal occasion, practicing the orchestra, teaching the young princessa, trying not to get cholera, and so forth.

So while my colleagues are all breaking speed records in Haydn to win competitions and impress audiences, I think we'd do well to remember that speed isn't everything. On this occasion, however, it turns out I am guilty of that very offense. One of the nice things about having a blog is you get to flagellate yourself in public.

There is an upside to this, however, which is that you don't have to listen very long to figure each movement out. For instance, in the first movement, it only takes 14 seconds to reach the end of the first section, which is then repeated, causing you to have to spend another whole 14 seconds listening to it.

This repetition is important, and I'll be focusing on it in subsequent blog posts. I only mention it now so I can repeat it later (har! har!).

Part two of the first movement lasts another 18 seconds. It is also repeated (0:46), by which time a grand total of 1:05 has gone by.

The blueprint for the second movement is similar: and A section (12 seconds) repeated (:13-:24), a B section (:25-:36), also repeated (:37-:48), then a contrasting middle part, also in two sections (C and D?), each repeated, and a return to sections A and B, which you only get to hear once this time.

Then the third movement, which goes by pretty fast--part A lasts 18 seconds (plus repeat), and the B section, another 22 (plus a repeat).

And just like that, an entire piano sonata has gone by. If you live on the west coast you've probably got time for another one before you head out the door, but, I'm sure you're watching your diet. One sonata is enough for this morning. Besides, this one has clearly got a lot of sugar in it.

Haydn: Sonata in C, Hob. 7
Finale: Allegro


  1. Our speakers are disconnected so I can only try to comment but not on the music. Love ya! Mom

  2. Hey hon. Nice line about avoiding cholera, but if we're talking about music written in Europe in the 18th century, cholera wasn't a problem there until 1830ish (it first came to the notice of Europeans in India in 1817). A more representative disease would be smallpox. Love you. ;-)

  3. Actually, I liked the sound of the word "cholera!" better, if you must know. Besides, I had this strange feeling that my wife would have to comment if I mentioned her "favorite" disease!


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