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About this Piece

At 64, Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was the vigorous grand old man of the musical world when he embarked on a lucrative visit to London in 1794. Once there, surrounded by talented virtuosos and wealthy patrons, he returned to composing for the piano, something he hadn’t done for five years.

“I would sit down at the piano and begin to improvise, whether my spirits were sad or happy, serious or playful,” Haydn wrote.  “Once I had captured an idea, I strove with all my might to develop and sustain it in conformity with the rules of art.”

Considering the thrillingly virtuosic flourishes of the outer movements, Haydn must have been in a rambunctious mood indeed when he captured these improvisations. And while there is no hint of serene leave-taking to be found here, the almost orchestral textures of this sonata and the demands it makes on the performer are a demonstration of the composer’s supreme mastery of the form and its technique.  

In fact, there is every reason to believe that this was Haydn’s final sonata more because of circumstance than intention. For Haydn, as it was for other composers of his generation, the solo keyboard sonata was either a tool for teaching, or a flattering gesture of gratitude to a generous patron. Had subsequent opportunities presented themselves, the series might well have continued. There was no want of creative energy, after all. And while this was Haydn's last published sonata, it was by no tally his last composition.  He returned to Vienna in 1795. The final string quartets and the gigantic oratorios, The Creation and The Seasons, were yet to be written. He died at the age of 77.

— Grant Hiroshima