Haydn Piano Sonatas

Sonata E major, No.46


In the player’s own words, this is not a dialectical CD. That is, it is not conceived against someone. Instead, it is devotional, votive, a hymn of sorts, or better, a sonorous love letter to the great Haydn, to what he represents for me in music and in life, and to what it means to intertwine myself with him, to blend with him and with his scores. This album does not pretend to be the “last word” in Haydn scholarship or performance, or something that breaks “new interpretative ground”, or something pretending to discover the musical Mediterranean, or to present a “Haydn” purified of ideological “crusts”,  “accretions”, “stylistic prejudices”, or of the much-feared “ghost” of “subjectivity”. The controversy is served…


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Haydn Sonatas

[…] After this preamble or subtle captatio benevolentiae, I will tell you that in 1992, at the age of ten, I gave my first public recital in the beautiful monastery of Santa Maria del Puig, founded no less than in 1240 near Valencia and where my parents had married in 1980. I could not have imagined that only seven years later I would go to live and study in New York and that Haydn would accompany me on that difficult journey as a fragile but permanent connection to my childhood… And in that 1992 recital, the main score of the evening was a Haydn Sonata, one of the ones I include on this CD: the Sonata in D Major Hob. XVI/14, which is so full of tenderness and of a serene bucolic-pastoral luminosity. It is an inner idyll of simple but sublime grandeur. And so began the red thread that represents Haydn in my life, a kind of locus amoenus (a pleasant place) where I have so often found, and continue to find, solace, consolation and shelter. In my childhood, everyone loved Mozart and Beethoven. Haydn was the ugly duckling. I always felt I was an ugly duckling and maybe that is also why I loved him so much from the beginning…

Haydn soon became one of my favourite composers of scores – I don’t say of music, since text and music are not one and the same thing. The first CD I held in my hands, at the age of eight, was a gift from the Spanish philosopher Guillermo Quintás [translator into Spanish of much Descartes] and his wife Margarita, great friends of my family: nothing less than a disc of Haydn Sonatas recorded by Alfred Brendel in London in 1979, but which Philips Classics remastered and re-released, this time in C format, in 1990.  It included two sonatas, Hob. XVI/49 and Hob. XVI/20, which I also include on this CD. I still remember the veiled magic of the first notes of that sonata in C minor: a tragic confession, so full of emotionality and eloquence; so different, apparently, from the Haydn I would later play in that first recital two years later, but at the same time clearly belonging to the same open temperament that I soon realised harboured an almost infinite range of emotional registers.

I had started piano lessons at the age of 7, roughly in 1989, and Haydn was always there, from the beginning, like an oracular and protective presence. My first sonata, my first compact disc, my first musical memories… Then I remember, much later, studying the Sonata in C Major Hob. XVI/50, which I also include here, with my teacher Horacio Gutiérrez. It is a score of witty and virtuosic comedy: adventurous, perspicacious, and transgressive. My teacher managed, I now remember, to bring out of the piano in that score such light sounds, like the breeze on bridges. 

Of the Sonata in C minor Hob. XVI/20, I remember a precious anecdote. When I played it for the great American pianist Albert Lotto, he told me that this score was one of the favourites of his teacher, the great Polish pianist Artur Balsam (1906-1994), who could not stop himself from being deeply moved by and singing endlessly the melodic interval of the minor third – F, A flat – which Haydn wrote at the beginning of the piece and which Brahms later took up in some of his songs and in his second piano concerto, as a clear homage to the Viennese master and in search of that same specific affection of nostalgia and supplication. Every time Balsam reached the A flat, Lotto told me, he would get teary-eyed and say: “Oh, Haydn, you understand…”. 

And it is true that Haydn understands us. And he understands us because his scores are pure mixture. Pure mixis, as we all are. I say pure in an ironic tone, since there is nothing pure about such an amalgam of “pieces of life”. In ancient Greece, mixis was defined as one of the parts by which the composer learned to combine sounds and to distribute genres and modes. Aristides Quintilianus, in fact, would distinguish three steps in composing: Lepsis, which referred to the choice of the range of notes; Mixis, already mentioned; and finally the Chresis, which referred to the ornamentation of the melody.

Haydn gives priority, first and foremost, to what Bakhtin would call heteroglossia. That is to say, to the mixture and coexistence of different varieties within a single “linguistic code” – in our case, a single “musical code”. The co-existence and conflict between different types of musical discourses and registers, apparently incommensurable but touching elbows at the same time. For instance, the “rustic” (rude, vulgar, coarse, rough) and the “urban” (sharp, funny, witty, light); the “simple” and the “sophisticated”; the “sublime” or “lofty” versus the “ridiculous”; the “laughter” and the “lament”; the “playful” and the “serious”; the “rapturous” versus the “serene”; the “clear” versus the “dark” (chiaroscuro); the “transgressive” and the “obedient”; the “rule” and the “exception”; “the beginning” that seems like “an end” and vice versa; the “continuous” and the “discontinuous” or interrupted – in this last case, after all, Haydn, like Schumann later, is the great master of digression, of interruption, of parabasis. His scores are a heteroglossia that is full of elisions, prolongations, enjambments, metrical tricks, sudden silences, parodies of virtuosity, ellipses and tonal deceptions…

This ingenious and audacious juxtaposition between different discourses in the end always brings a contradiction and a resulting conflict with prevailing belief systems, an attack on absolute certainties. It is a kind of appeal to ontological prudence. It is a transgression: humour as dissidence, a dissidence that is both transgressive and cathartic. It is humour as freedom, as a critique of reason. In Spain, we fraternally know something of all this: from Gracián’s “El Criticón”, Feijoo’s “Teatro Crítico”, to our own “picaresque” tradition.

In his scores Haydn thus continually appeals to the homo ludens in all of us, always trying to elicit an accomplice’s smile. He himself is the great Magister Ludi (master of the game), the trickster par excellence. In mythology and the study of folklore and religion, a trickster, sometimes called a godly rogue, a divine fool, is a character in a story who shows a great degree of intellect and cunning or secret knowledge and uses it to play tricks, deceptions or pranks to flout rules and norms and defy conventional behaviour. He is a figure present in various mythologies, as well as in the ecclesiastical carnival of medieval Europe. In this sense, Haydn’s scores are exuberantly carnivalesque in the profound sense of the term. 

Of the Sonata in A Flat Major Hob. XVI/46, I remember my lessons with Nina Svetlanova, a pupil of Neuhaus, and with Golda Tatz, in New York. Sing, Josu! They both asked me. 

In the Sonata in F major, Hob. XVI/23, revealed to me by my beloved Vladimir Horowitz, lives the almost simultaneous expression of the playful and the serious, the lofty and the popular, the urban and the rustic coexist. It has accompanied me for two decades. 

And the Sonata in E major, Hob. XVI/31, with that rustic and hilarious ending, opened my recitals on many a rainy afternoon.

Last March 2021, in the middle of the third pandemic wave and a week before the recital in León that gave rise to Pandemicity – my latest album – I recorded these six Haydn sonatas in the City of Granada Auditorium. Actually, to say it better: I used some historical relics, that is, scores written by Haydn, and I tried to perform a kind of anamorphosis, a transmutation, from graphos (the written) to phonos (the sonorous)…. 

Weeks later my mother and I were admitted to hospital for COVID. I never saw her again… Perhaps she is now with Haydn, and is smiling at us.

Josu de Solaun

Josu de Solaun

Josu De Solaun has been hailed by the international press for his “poetic sense of sound, artistic vision and brilliant virtuoso skills, entirely at the service of the works being performed.” Nikolaus Frey, Fuldaer Zeitung. He is an extraordinarily prolific pianist-composer performing in many of the world’s most celebrated halls as concerto soloist, chamber musician, solo piano recitalist and solo improviser and composer. He is also a published poet.

The opening of the 2020 – 2021 season featured his debut free improv concert, panDEMiCity, in León, in March 2021 – (recorded live for release in July 2021), as well as performances as concerto soloist with orchestras in Spain, Czech Republic and Romania. In 2021, he also received the prestigious ICMA Award (International Classical Music Award) for his recording of French violin Sonatas with violinist Franziska Pietsch. His latest solo album of works by Brahms and Schumann for the IBS Classical label has garnered excellent reviews. This summer he will record both Liszt Piano Concerti as well as Totentanz with the Moravian National Philharmonic.

First Prize winner of the XIII George Enescu International Piano Competition, Bucharest (also won by legendary pianists Radu Lupu and Elisabeth Leonskaja), the XV José Iturbi International Piano Competition and the First European Union Piano Competition, Spanish-American pianist Josu De Solaun has been invited to perform in distinguished concert halls throughout the world, including the Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest, Teatro La Fenice, Mariinsky Theatre, The Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Carnegie Hall, Metropolitan Opera, London’s Southbank Centre, Salle Cortot, Leipzig’s Schumann Haus, Taipei’s Novel Hall, Mexico City’s Sala Silvestre Revueltas, Prague’s Nostitz Palace, Academia de España, Menton Festival International de Musique, and all the major cities of Spain. He is the only pianist from Spain to win the Enescu and Iturbi competitions in their respective histories, and was recently invited to a private reception with the King and Queen of Spain at the Royal Palace after winning the coveted Bucharest prize. In 2019 he was given the title of Officer of Cultural Merit, a state decoration, by Klaus Iohannis, president of Romania.

Beginning at a young age, he has performed in France, Georgia, Italy, Russia, Ukraine, Canada, Germany, Japan, China, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Mexico, Chile, and Switzerland as a recitalist, chamber musician, and concerto soloist, playing under conductors such as Constantin Orbelian, Ormsby Wilkins, Gheorghe Costin, Rumon Gamba, Romeo Rimbu, Ilarion Ionescu-Galati, Robert Houlihan, Karl Sollak, Marco de Prosperis, Alvise Casellati, Ovidiu Balan, Horia Andreescu, Radu Postavaru, Christian Badea, Bruno Aprea, Ramón Tébar, Justus Frantz, Francesco Angelico, Yaron Traub, Max Bragado, Paul Daniel, Ryan Haskins, Constantin Grigore, Theodore Kuchar, Jonathan Pasternack, Yuri Krasnapolsky, Alexis Soriano, Francisco Valero, Shinya Ozaki, Radu Gabriel Ciorei, Manuel Hernandez Silva, and Miguel Ángel Gómez Martínez, among others, as well with orchestras such as the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra of Saint Petersburg, Orchestra Filarmonica la Fenice of Venice, George Enescu Philharmonic of Bucharest, Bucharest Radio Orchestra, Timisoara Philharmonic, Cluj Philharmonic, Oradea Philharmonic, Brasov Philharmonic, Ploiesti Philharmonic, Iasi Philharmonic, Targu Mures Philharmonic, Satu Mare Philharmonic, Orquesta Sinfónica de Bilbao, Orquesta de Valencia, Rudolf Barshai Moscow Chamber Orchestra, Sioux City Symphony Orchestra, Monterey Symphony Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfónica de Euskadi, Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra, Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra, Real Filharmonia de Galicia, Orquesta Sinfonica de Galicia, Malaga Philharmonica Orchestra, Moravian Philharmonic Orchestra, Orquesta Sinfonica de la Region de Murcia, Spain’s Radio and Television Orchestra (RTVE), American Ballet Theatre Orchestra of New York, Lviv Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine, and Bari Philharmonic Orchestra of Italy. His performances have been broadcast on Spanish National Radio and TV, Taiwanese National TV, Czech National TV, as well as on New York’s WQXR, Princeton’s WPRB, and Chicago’s WFMT.

His repertoire includes rare piano concerti such as Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony Nr. 2 «The Age of Anxiety», Giuseppe Martucci’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Britten’s Diversions, Hummel’s A-Minor piano concerto, Constantinescu’s Piano Concerto, as well as the complete concerti of Liszt, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, and Bartok. He is also an avid improviser and frequently plays totally improvised solo piano recitals.

His creative voice is expressed in a large range of recordings including the incomparably virtuosic complete works for piano of George Enescu for the NAXOS Grand Piano label, Stravinsky’s “Les Noces” with Joann Falletta conducting, two chamber music discs for the German Audite label, the live, improvised León recital and beloved piano music of Schumann and Brahms for the IBS Classical Label. Next season will feature the premiere of his own piano concerto and releases of new recordings of Haydn Sonatas, and Piano Trios, Enescu’s Complete Chamber Music, plus a disc of Czech piano music. His volume of poetry in 2021 titled «Las Grietas» was published by EDICTORALIA.

Josu De Solaun is a citizen of Spain and the United States, where he earned his doctorate at the Manhattan School of Music. His two main musical mentors in New York were pianists Nina Svetlanova (a pupil of Heinrich Neuhaus) and Horacio Gutierrez, as well as composers Giampaolo Bracali and Salvador Chuliá (this last one in his native Spain) . He also studied chamber music with Isidore Cohen of the Beaux-Arts Trio, and piano privately with Albert Lotto and Edna Golandsky, both of which he considers fundamental influences in his approach. He resided in New York city from 1999 to 2019.

He currently resides in Madrid where he helped craft the entire performance curriculum to teach young artists from around the world at the Musical Arts Madrid academy, where he is also Visiting Professor.