Piano Trio in G, Hob. XV: 25 (“Gypsy”)

October 17, 2021: Adam Barnett-Hart, violin; Brook Speltz, cello; Roman Rabinovich, piano

Ethnomusicology—the comparative study of musics of the world, music as part of culture, and music of oral tradition—has only been considered a formal scholarly discipline since the 1880s. Yet the study of non-Western music dates back to the Renaissance with occasional flowerings in subsequent periods. Liszt in the Romantic period, for example, published The Gypsies and Their Music in Hungary (1859). In this context Haydn’s “ethnomusicological” activities in the Classic era prove intriguing. Haydn biographer Giuseppe Carpani (plagiarized by Stendhal in his well-known Haydn biography, translated in 1817 by William Gardiner) reported:

Some years after Haydn’s establishment at Eisenstadt, when he had formed his style, he sought food for his imagination, by diligently collecting those ancient and original airs, which are to be found among the peoples of every country. The Ukraine, Hungary, Scotland, Germany, Sicily, Spain, Russia were laid under contribution by him.

Though this passage confuses Haydn’s arrangements of folk tunes for British publishers with his other real use of folk tunes, it does speak to Haydn’s genuine interest in folk song. He was particularly interested in Hungarian-Gypsy lore (and their food!), a natural result of the geographical position of Esterháza in Hungary. The Esterházys’ appreciation of Hungarian-Gypsy folk music is reflected in an engraving made in 1791 from a drawing by Carl Schütz of an elaborate ceremony at the Esterházy castle that includes a Gypsy band playing off to the side. Haydn’s love of Hungarian-Gypsy melodies manifests itself from the 1760s through the 1790s.
Haydn made no distinction (as in Bartók’s later painstaking work) between Hungarian and Gypsy music, using the label “Rondo all’ongarese” in his D major Piano Concerto (c. 1780) and “Rondo, in the Gypsies’ stile” (so-labeled in the authentic Longman & Broderip print) in the present G major Trio (1795). Hungarian scholar Ervin Major noted that the folk tunes Haydn used in his Finale are

of particular significance for the history of Hungarian music: the dance melodies woven into [the Trio] belong to our earliest hitherto known recruiting [verbunkos] dances: among our more notable records, only the Hungarian dances of József Bengráf (1790) and four Hungarian dances in the ‘Hadi és más Nevezetes Történetek’ are of an earlier date.

Bibliographic details on the wealth of information about Haydn’s borrowed folk melodies can be found in H. C. Robbins Landon’s monumental multivolume Haydn study. Some of Haydn’s Hungarian melodies, with slight variances, are paralleled in an 1805 publication issued by the Vienna “Chemische Druckerey.” The variances seem to indicate that Haydn used them as he knew them, possibly from childhood, without referring to any publication.
Haydn’s Gypsy Trio was one of Three Trios, op. 73, probably the last compositions he wrote on his final English sojourn. He dedicated them to Mrs. Rebecca Schroeter, a piano student of his in London who had helped him with certain business matters and with whom he kept up a correspondence after his return to Austria. His piano trios at that time were called “sonatas for pianoforte with the accompaniment of a violin and violoncello”; accordingly the piano part is most prominent though the violin occasionally dominates as in the E minor variation in the first movement and the middle section of the Poco adagio second movement. The cello almost always reinforces the piano’s bass line.

In his use of a leisurely (Andante) movement to begin the Trio, Haydn followed his old sonata da chiesa (church sonata) pattern of the 1760s. This lovely set of variations is followed, however, by an even slower second movement that presents a different harmonic world. The triplet accompaniment pattern of the slow movement continues through the three sections of the A-B-A form; a nice touch occurs in the penultimate bar when the cello alone continues the triplet motion. Haydn’s use of a leisurely movement followed by an even slower one intensifies the effect of his brilliant “Gypsy” Finale, which made this Trio an enormous favorite in England and soon after on the continent.

© Jane Vial Jaffe

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