Schumann once compared Haydn to “an old friend of the family,” always accorded respect and welcomed with pleasure, but no longer very interesting for Schumann’s day. On the contrary, the Andante espressivo movement of the C-major Sonata is a challenge for any pianist’s imagination and taste.
Espressivo – meaning an Andante that is held back – if indulged without question, can lead to continuity evaporating early in the many rest-silences throughout the movement. Yet even in the first measure, whether the turn should be played ahead of the sixteenth or on the sixteenth and, if the latter, whether as four even 64ths or rhythmically separated from the two-note slur in the next measure – the choice involves a subtle calculation of pacing. Any one of these solutions is possible, although placing the turn on the sixteenth makes the slurred e – c more “espressivo” in the common usage of the term. In music that says so much with so few notes, every detail needs to be weighed for its emotional potential.
Consequently, Andante espressivo should summon a response beyond a pedantic nod to “performance practice.” The tempo marking, like a signpost, points in the direction of a speaking manner, Con una certa espressione parlante, as Beethoven once notated, and betraying Haydn’s study of Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach in his youth. Haydn’s flights of imagination – the sighs and points of repose, the bursts of passion, even a moment of rapture – seem to ask for a subjective bending of the absolute beat that is determined by the degree of realism the player ascribes to figures of musical speech. It is as though one were taking an Andante walk with the composer, listening to him reminisce, the varied reprise of musical ideas much like an embroidering of a personal memory.
Answers to questions of interpretation do not come quickly or easily. Schumann’s old friend of the family is an urbane artist of mature musical craft, impeccable taste, and a human being of unfeigned pleasure in companionship, not only with his contemporaries and colleagues, but one would like to think with us today who play his music.
The many appoggiaturas in the second movement impede an unleashed Presto tempo. Appoggiaturas that pull back on the beat versus passages of rhythmic propulsion that pull the beat forward and a thinly written theme placed in the treble competing with thick bass chords may awaken a fantasy of a gathering of Haydn and his friends at a Heurigen in an Austrian Gasthaus. A pine bough hangs over the entrance indicating that the new wine is being served, and the cares of life are forgotten in the mingled, often-raucous Babel of loosened tongues and uninhibited laughter.
The pairing of opposites in this two-movement sonata, not unlike the F-sharp major Sonata of Beethoven, is analogous to a novelist’s skill in the developing of fictional character so real that one finds in the words and scenes and story a likeness of one’s own being.