Isn’t it amazing that such an eminent and prolific composer like Joseph Haydn wrote no more than three harpsichord or piano concerts? I think it is, and no, I am not contradicting myself if an earlier post of mine comes to your mind. Haydn wrote more than three keyboard concertos, but those did not feature solo parts for the harpsichord or then piano. Only three then. Whose fault could it be? Did Haydn lack the talent? Certainly not. A natural penchant for chamber music? He wrote more than 100 symphonies. I guess his patrons never asked for more piano concertos, and then there was a brilliant competitor claiming this genre for himself: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Three piano concerts and none of the three survives as a manuscript. The one I am zooming in on is Haydn’s Piano Concerto in F Major, Hob. XVIII.3. Infectious rhythms, delicate melodies, a natural grace, clarity, joy… what a beautiful piece. Papa Haydn, why, oh why did you not give us many more of these? We could have done with less symphonies, easily! We don’t get to play them all anyway. But things are what they are and I will content myself to listen to the concerto in F major again and again.
The concerto has been mentioned a first time in 1771 in a catalogue edited by the publisher Breitkopf as a “concerto for harpsichord”. This and the fact that the solo part never goes beyond D6 leads the music writer Marc Vignal to the conclusion that Haydn wrote the piece before 1767-77; Vignal is tempted to believe it was composed in 1764 parallel to a cantata that features a long harpsichord part. The piece has three movements and the soloist is accompanied by strings only.
At the time the concert most saw the light, Haydn was part of the Esterhazy court. He was the Kapellmeister of Prince Nicolas Esterhazy and besides composing he was plagued by disputes with his master. One was about a flutist, who set to fire a house after firing a gun. The intendant of the court came up with a severe punishment that Haydn considered excessive. Other disputes concerned the musicians request for free medicine, and the appointment of a hornist suggested by Haydn. Considering the circumstances the composer may be excused for not writing more piano concertos at the time!
Haydn’s Piano Concerto in F Major has been recorded by Paul Badura-Skoda (piano) and the Wiener Kontertverein.
© Charles Thibo