Joseph Haydn is so often remembered as "the father of the string quartet" and "the father of the symphony" that it's often forgotten he also pioneered the Classical piano sonata. Wikipedia lists some 62 of these works, seven of which are lost, seven are doubtful, one is incomplete, and one is a different version of another.
At the time Haydn began composing sonatas in the mid-1750's the modern piano was not then available to him. Though the piano had been invented in Italy circa 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori, it did not come into wide use in northern Europe until the latter part of the eighteenth century when Viennese designers such as Johann Andreas Stein and his daughter Nannette Streicher began to manufacture the fortepiano. Before that time the keyboard instrument most widely in use - that for which J.S. Bach composed his sonatas - was the harpsichord. There is a basic distinction between the harpsichord and the fortepiano. While with the former the strings are plucked when the musician strikes the keys, with the latter the strings are hammered. This innovation allowed greater volume and sustain than had previously been possible. The development of this new instrument thus granted the musician greater freedom of expression and made possible the advent of the virtuoso pianist.
When Haydn began composing his sonatas he was writing for the harpsichord. Since there were then no such thing as a piano soloist - Mozart would be among the first - these works were not intended for publication but as exercises for his students. The reason several of Haydn's earliest sonatas were lost was because he placed no value upon them and in some cases did not even bother to make copies. It was only as the fortepiano came into increasing use that Haydn paid more attention to the sonata as a serious form of composition.
In a sense then the history of Haydn's sonatas parallels that of the fortepiano itself. His final sonatas were written only after he had encountered the Broadwood piano, the most modern then available, on his second sojourn in England. The Broadwood was the first to have a range of more than five octaves, and so impressed was Haydn that he took three of them with him when he returned from London to Vienna.
On Thursday evening, the Chamber Music Society webcast a recital by pianist Anne-Marie McDermott whose program consisted entirely of Haydn sonatas. The works performed were, in order performed, the Sonata in G major for Keyboard, Hob. XVI:40 (1784); the Sonata in C minor for Keyboard, Hob. XVI:20 (1771); the Sonata in C major for Keyboard, Hob. XVI:50 (c. 1794-95); the Sonata in F major for Keyboard, Hob. XVI:23 (1773); and the Sonata in E-flat major for Keyboard, Hob. XVI:52 (1794).
All the above were of great merit, but the two I found most interesting were the No. 50 in C Major and the No. 52 in E-flat major. These were both among Haydn's last three sonatas; they were written during his second and final visit to London and dedicated to Therese Jansen Bartolozzi, an accomplished pianist who had once been a student of Muzio Clementi. Into these sonatas Haydn put everything he had learned of the form over the roughly forty years he had spent working with it. He was here at the peak of his powers and writing for a virtuoso performer fully capable of realizing whatever challenges he set before her. The No. 52, in particular, demonstrates a maturity of style coupled with a boldness of invention that clearly anticipates Beethoven's late sonatas. I had already heard András Schiff perform this work in recital in November and appreciated the opportunity to hear another excellent performance.
Anne-Marie McDermott is not as well known to the public as some other soloists - primarily because she devotes so much of her time to chamber music - but she is an exceptionally accomplished pianist who shone at this intimate recital. Her reading of the Haydn sonatas gave me great insight into the venerable composer's accomplishment as a master of the sonata form.