Name that tune

I awoke unusually early today, I think because of what was playng on my iTunes: a set of keyboard variations, some wonderfully showy, that I recognized as familiar, but couldn’t immediately place. It sounded like Beethoven during his early “classical” period (influenced by Haydn and Mozart), through roughy 1802, but it wasn’t any Beethoven I recognized. So: probably Haydn. (Haydn produced the most astonishing amount of music, much of it remarkable, during his lifetime, so it would be easy to lose track of some of it; I mean, compare Haydn’s 102 symphonies with Beethoven’s 9). (It could easily have been Clementi instead, but I know the Clementi catalogue pretty well, having once had a sort of musical love affair with it, roughy 60 years ago.)

And so it turned out to be. My iTunes identified the piece as Haydn’s Arietta No. 2 mit 12 Variationen (in A major), as performed by Christine Schornsheim. Well, that turned out to be a remarkable tangle of music history. Haydn, yes (well, at least mostly), as performed by Schornsheim, unquestionably, but all the rest of it is full of puzzles.

But first, a version of the music. Available via YouTube, this performance here, listed as

Arietta con 12 variazioni for keyboard in A major (1789 version), Ronald Brautigam, pianoforte

Note the ominous “1789 version”, with its implication that there are other versions; and the careful identification of the keyboard instrument in question as a  pianoforte — not in fact a modern piano. [Added 8/17: this comment doesn’t begin to do justice to the use of pianoforte, fortepiano, and piano by different writers at different periods. See Bill Stewart’s thoughtful comment on this posting.]

There’s a lot to be said about the piece, starting with the fact that, like so much of Haydn’s output, the theme is a song, quite lyrical (and tremendously sticky in the mind; it’s been inhabiting my consciousness for three hours now — I keep thinking, oh, surely I must know the lyrics, in one language or another, but what are they?).

But then the music-historical weeds, which are dramatically dense. From Wikipedia:

Twenty Variations in G major, Hob. XVII/2, was written in the 1760s by Joseph Haydn. In 1788/1789, Artaria published the Arietta con 12 Variazioni in A major (Twelve Variations in A major), which is an abridged version of the Twenty Variations in G major, and in a different key.

There are two versions of these variations: Twenty Variations in G major and a shorter piece, Twelve Variations in A major, and are both referred to as Hob. XVII/2. This is due to the fact that Haydn wrote the Twenty Variations in 1765, but since he was in the employment of the Esterházy family at the time, he was not the owner of the music that he wrote, and consequently was not able to have his pieces published (this situation persisted to 1779, when his contract was revised to let Haydn publish.)

In 1788, Artaria published the Twenty Variations in G major as “Twelve Variations in A major”. They have the same theme but differ in the number of variations. Both pieces are still performed; for example, the Twenty Variations in G major on Haydn: Piano Variations by Jenő Jandó, Arietta con 12 Variazioni in A major on Haydn: Piano Sonatas Vol. 9 by Jenő Jandó, and Twenty Variations in A major on The Virtual Haydn by Tom Beghin. The version most commonly recorded is the Twenty Variations in A major.

Gerlach (2007) offers a rather different view of the history of the text. In Gerlach’s view, the original key of the work was A major, and among the copies of this work circulating at the time, there were various versions “altered or shortened according to [the users’] needs or tastes; sometimes the work was transposed to G major”. In support of this, Gerlach notes that in Haydn’s “Entwurf-Katalog”, a sketch catalog he made of his works in the 1770s, the work is listed and given an incipit in A major. Gerlach also suggests that the Artaria edition was made without Haydn’s authorization, and observes that it includes a new variation probably not by Haydn.

Schornsheim, in contrast, is still alive and we have access to lots of information about her life and work (information degrades and disappears very rapidly with the progress of time, which is why history is hard to do). From Wikipedia:

Christine Schornsheim, [married] name Christine Engelmayr (born in 1959), is a German harpsichordist and pianist.

… Her complete recording of the [keyboard] works of Joseph Haydn [on period instruments] on 14 CDs [Joseph Haydn – Die Klaviersonaten (piano sonatas is a significantly misleading translation] was completed in 2005.

Footnote: enormous thanks to Ned Deily, who once gave me the great pleasure of the whole 14-CD set.


3 Responses to “Name that tune”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    …careful identification of the keyboard instrument in question as a pianoforte — not in fact a modern piano.

    I’m not so sure about this; my understanding has always been that pianoforte is the “proper” name of the instrument which these days is pretty much universally called a piano, and thus does (or at least can) in fact refer to the modern instrument. In the last few decades, as interest in “historically informed” performance (to use one of the man terms applied to this subject) has increased, I’ve generally seen fortepiano used to refer to 18th- and early-19th-century versions of the instrument.

    Of course both names refer to the dynamic versatility of the instrument as contrasted with the harpsichord, and there’s no obvious reason to prefer one over the other. I have no idea what the usage patterns were in the early days of the instrument’s existence.

  2. Bill Stewart Says:

    In Early Music circles, pianoforte and fortepiano are used somewhat interchangeably, and all of them and the steel-framed “monsters” can be called pianos. Wow, that’s pretty slippery. Fortepiano is relatively unambiguous, but pianoforte is ambiguous and variable. The instrument evolved regionally and in fits and starts from, I think, the 1740’s, since J.S. Bach played one [or more] at the court of Frederick the Great [“Evening in the Palace of Reason” and many other sources.] I prefer “fortepiano”, but even my friend Eric Zivian of Berkeley, who is a consummate expert [google Valley of the Moon Music Festival; he’s playing all of the Beethoven sonatas] will use all 3 terms for his 1790 copy and his restored 1840 instrument.

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