Written in 1793 in Vienna “between his two stays in London” (Ax, 2012), the ‘Andante with variations in F minor’ “underwent several revisions” (Sisman, 1993, p. 193). It was an “alternating strophic-variation set in six parts” intended to be a movement of a sonata (Sisman, 1993, p. 193). This was later changed to a reprise of the theme and a coda, drastically changing the piece’s dynamic.
Haydn (born in modern day Croatia) may well have been influenced by the Slavonic dance, the ‘dumka’. This dance alternated melancholy with “joyous exuberance without any real transition” (Johnson, 2014). This neatly aligns with the unmediated shifts of character in the F Minor Variations. The double variation form creates an almost operatic dialogue with alternating minore and maggiore sections. An interesting feature of this form is the sudden return of the minor key after the major, it accentuates the agitated hesitancy of the minore (see Table 1). It is “as though a cloud has passed over the sun” (Johnson, 2014).
The music begins with the left hand in two voices, establishing the F minor tonality by alternating between chords I and V. The right hand enters hesitantly on beat ‘2 ½’ in the style of an anacrusis. This traverses through a descending F minor triad landing on the tonic, proceeding to reiterate the tolling dotted-semiquaver demisemiquaver motif (see Figure 1). This creates an inverted pedal point on the tonic representing a “statement”, as opposed to the opening repetitions of the dominant, building “cadential drive” (Ratner, 1980, p. 65). The lack of melodic variety within this opening phrase prioritises the dotted rhythm, “the single most rhetorically powerful gesture of the piece” (Sisman, 1993, p. 194). It provides a stable harmonic basis against the shifting harmonies in the accompaniment and provides much room for transformation in the subsequent variations. Meanwhile, the walking chordal accompaniment continues from a G half-diminished 7th through F, which acts as a secondary dominant to Bb minor.
Bar 4’s ‘turn’ is built from the raised 6th and 7th scale degrees of the ascending F minor melodic scale, over a C dominant 7th (see Figure 2). This is followed by the use of the descending F minor melodic scale, with G, Eb and C acting as a succession of appoggiaturas. In bar 5 Haydn uses an Italian 6th chord of Db. However instead of the natural resolution to the dominant (C major) we are forced to wait until the second beat of the bar. The ♭^6 resolves onto ^5 however the #^4 and ^1 stubbornly remains, creating dissonance. A fourth voice is added to resolve this chord, however it is an Ab which is added, evading the dominant. Finally on the 2nd beat of bar 6 we have a full resolution to the dominant. The B♮ resolves to C acting as a leading note, Ab and F fall to G and E♮ respectively.
In bar 6, the inner voice begins a stepwise descent (see Figure 3). This continues all the way through the left hand’s version of the opening melody and beyond into bar 11. This second phrase sees various sequences such as the suspensions in the inner voice and melodic sequence in the left hand. The right hand resumes the processional accompaniment through a series of 7th chords modulating to the relative major, Ab.
The opening two bars of the maggiore B section capture the mood and character of this second half of the double theme. It is “more playful, gentle, more elegant” (Johnson, 2014) than the melancholy minore. This “lightly-worn virtuosity” (Sisman, 1990) is displayed through arpeggiated flourishes (always beginning on the 5th degree of that chord) and frequent ornamentation (see Figure 4). The change in texture of the first half of the maggiore from two parts (except at cadential points) to three in the minore section provides a lighter, more transparent texture. In performance, preferential treatment given to key notes through the arpeggiated chords can present a three part texture. The texture begins to change in bar 37 (except from the cadential point at bar 33) with the modulation to the dominant, C major. The repeated Cs give priority to the melody and bassline.
The ascending chromatic motif is a main feature of this B section, albeit having a very different sonic quality to the A section’s chromaticism. The chromatic notes always rise, evoking a more positive, playful quality. The accompaniment throughout this section is dominated by the leap of an octave, in the first 10 bars it occurs 8 times. It is always a third or tenth lower than the right hand melody, and underscores the arpeggios with a 1st inversion of the chord.
The change in character of the maggiore also occurs through more conventional phrase lengths: 4, 6, 4, 6, rather than the minore’s; 6, 6, 5, 5, 7. The extra two bars of the longer phrases in the B section serve as modulation. First from tonic to dominant, then in the second set of ‘6’, there are a series of smaller modulations passing through the subdominant (B♭) and its related minor (Gm), to the inevitable return back to the tonic (F). The modulation to the dominant is achieved through the use of a sequence on the arpeggiated figuration using chords of F, Dm and Bdim. The D minor chord is used as a pivot chord acting as VI in F, and II in C. This makes the use of chord VII in C (or #IV in F) feel more natural, whilst providing modulatory tension.
The coda begins as silence. Reprise of theme A is cut short 8 bars early, and we are left in suspense for a whole bar. This empty bar in the theme was inhabited by a C dominant 7th chord, returning to the tonic. Haydn instead repeats the previous dotted motif and modulates into G♭ major through use of a D♭ dominant 7th chord. This modulation makes reference to the Neapolitan 6th at bar 25, only 3 bars after where the reprise has been cut short. Therefore this modulation to G♭ still occurs, however it is approached more conventionally.
The augmented 6th taken from bars 5 and 6 recur throughout this coda in different keys and with different motifs, such as the parallel ascending first inversion chords at bar 172. The chromatic ascension of first inversions continues from G♭ major to C♭ major, where this rising motif halts and returns back to B♭. The melody during this C♭ chord leaps down a diminished 10th to A♮, which then rises as a leading note to a chord of B♭ (see Figure 5). The A♮’s direction is vital as it aids in the identity of this chord. It is a German 6th of C♭ in first inversion, Haydn has modulated to the relative minor of G♭, E♭ minor. Postponement of the ascending pattern and subsequent repetition provides a tonal sense of place, which is important to both player and listener when confronted with a series of chromatically rising parallel chords.
Haydn then continues the chromatic ascent where he left off, from C♭ major to F♭ major, (once again acting as a German 6th to E♭ major) he modulates to A♭ minor. Then he begins the chromatic descent from E♭ to C but once again gets stuck. The subsequent alternation between C major and D♭ (acting as a German 6th, but missing the D♭) in contrary motion continues for almost two bars (see Figure 6).
The final quaver beat of bar 179 shouts a C dominant 7th chord at fortissimo. The dominant 7th is at the exact inversion and beat position as the C dominant 7th in bar 6 just after the Italian 6th. The following “cadenza-like outburst” (Sisman, 1993, p. 194) repeats the tolling tonic F from bar 3 over the transformed bar 1 accompaniment, which is this time in demisemiquavers with a slower harmonic rhythm – 1 bar rather than 1 beat. The ‘melody’, is in fact an inversion of the left hand’s closing motif from bar 29 of section theme A.
The closing bar of the piece ends with a ghostly repetition of the broken octave ‘melody’, this time pianissimo. The naked octaves in dotted rhythm perhaps depict the ‘funeral march’ walking further into the distance, moving gradually out of sight.
This piece may have been written for the death of Mozart (Schiff, 2016) as it was dedicated to one of his pupils, Barabara Von Ployer (Renouf, 2012). Or perhaps it was for the “sudden death of Maria Anna von Genzinger” (Wigmore, 2009). Below the final bar, written by Haydn were the words “fine laus deo” – “the end – praise be to God” (Renouf, 2012).
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