• Alvaro Sisti

Haydn Sonata in B flat Hob XVI.2 - First Movement

Updated: Apr 5, 2020

The piece involves all things that made Haydn’s music special, such as elegance, proportion, balance, tidiness and motion.

It’s a very traditional sonata in its style and structure, with three movements in typical classical form: fast - slow - fast.

Even though we don’t know exactly when this piece was written, most of the sources agree in the year of 1760, when Haydn was twenty-eight years old.

The first movement is in sonata form. We have a three-part structure with an Exposition, a Development, and a Recapitulation.

The first thing I want to discuss is the tempo indication. Even though the first movements are usually meant to be played fast, in Haydn’s music it’s normal to find tempos slightly slower, in which the subdivided value is the main characteristic of the beat. The bars are in 2/4 time signature, but its moderate tempo make very easy to listen a very strong and firm rhythm of marked groups of four quavers each bar, something usual in classic subdivided moderate pieces.

In B flat major key, the movement starts with an upbeat leading to the first bar. These first basic idea is inspired in just two concepts: thirds and semiquavers triplets.

In A we can appreciate this sixth in the right hand built with the notes D and Bb. The root and the third of the chord. The interval that is shown is a sixth (a third inverted) and in B we can see how these same notes appear in the opposite order, now forming a third. In C and D more thirds takes charge of the character of the music, and in the left, hand broken octaves help to make audible this 4-quaver beat bar.

In harmony terms, the presentation of the first phrase brings to us traditional classical harmony: repercussion fourth grade is shown in the beginning of the next graphic. This happens when you put a IV in second inversion (this means the root note of the main tonality will be on the bass) in between two first grades. Later a perfect cadence closes this first section. The semiquaver-triplet is the main rhythm particle and makes the motion of the piece work properly.

After this the modulation bridge shows up. In this part of the piece we repeat almost the same twice, with variations and oscillations in the texture and accompaniment.

In between the red arches this material happens for the first time. The particle of two demi-semiquavers - one quaver reminds us of the semiquaver-triplet that has been shown before in the previous section.

In the blue arches we have the same section again, but now a bit more developed. The octaves in the left hand now are broken, and in the right hand we find links by two, a signature pattern from the classic period.

After the blue arches, instead of finishing in an imperfect cadence as the first time, Haydn chose to continue with the harmonic rhythm and goes further, making evident his intentions to modulate. Leaning on the second grade, Haydn turns it into a dominant chord and lead the music to F major key: the fifth grade of the initial B flat major key.

In the secondary theme (see graph below) we explore F major key. This is the most typical classical tradition -start the piece in the key, modulate to the fifth grade and then present the secondary theme in this tonality-.

This secondary theme also uses the semiquaver-triplet as a main resource, and it also serves from the upbeat to maintain the spirit and slyness.The harmony is unusual: first, second, third and then, the fourth. The left hand chord accompaniment plays thirds again.

Haydn advanced then with a dominant sixth grade that leads into a first. He uses the repetition of ideas and the suspended notes in the upcoming bars, recycling also the links by two.

The second part of this secondary theme swaps the roles of the hands, being the left hand then the dominating one, playing a melody with detached and smooth articulations in alternate manner.

Once again, the repetition subsides as the music generator.

To close the Exposition, Haydn creates the synthesis of the piece, using the main resources: thirds, and semiquaver-triplets.

As far as we reached, we can appreciate how formulaic is Haydn as a composer, expanding little particles of music into several pages. Several resources from the period happens: repetition, links by two, a mainly dominant right hand, the pureness of the structure. The harmony and the counterpoint are also very attached to the time rules but introducing some unusual ideas.

The Development starts with the main theme in F major key. Everything seems to be identical to the beginning except the tonality, a signature resource from the classic period.

A succession of dominant chords follows next, playing C7 to F, and then D7 to G minor. Immediately after that, links by two and thirds playing different harmonies that slowly shows the way to the recapitulation. Then, one of the facts that impresses me the most is the introduction of a new resource never seen before here in the middle of the development. A descending pattern of six notes (marked red), five of them semiquavers, something that sounds conclusive. Also happens twice.

The transition back to the recapitulation serves itself with the resources from the bridge. As we can see in A, the use of links by two, and in B, the broken octaves in the accompaniment. In C we have an imperfect cadence leading to an F major chord - the dominant of B flat major, the main key.

Something extremely unusual happens here. The last bars of the coda use resources that have been shown up first in the bridge of the Exposition. In the recapitulation, this bridge will not happen. So we can say that Haydn re-introduced the bridge before the Recapitulation and not during the Recapitulation itself.

In D the recapitulation finally happens, back in B flat major. The main theme is identical to the equivalent in the Exposition.

As we have mentioned before, the bridge now will not appear. From the original bridge in the exposition, we will only share the conclusion of it (the F major chord deployed from top to bottom.)

The secondary can be found identical again in the recapitulation, now totally transposed to B flat major. Here we can see the unusual sequence again.

The Recapitulation continues playing exactly the same as the exposition, just in the new key. There isn’t a single bar different here than in the first part of the sonata, as we can see here in the next comparison

After all the analysis, we can arrive to some conclusions:

- Haydn started to introduce unusual harmonic hints, like the cadence I, II, III, IV, of the Dominant and decreased Sixth leading to a dominant fifth.

- The concept of building the music on with as little resources as possible. Everything here comes from little particles of music hardly develop through many pages.

- The Classic Consistency. The repetition as a main generator of music, showed in the ideas repeated twice and also in the fact that the second part of the recapitulation is identical to the second part of the exposition, just transposed. In later periods, as the music grow in length, the recapitulation started to have its own identity and was necessary to keep it interesting by adding some changes and, less often, new material or new development of previous material.

- The piece fits in a 95% the typical structure of a classical sonata. Haydn’s decision to introduce the bridge again in the development rather in the recapitulation is a proof of the little variations he always try to establish to add color and novelty to his music.


During the development, combined forearm and finger movements may allow you to perform that efficiently. The right hand accompanies with broken octaves should be played with rotation movements in order to be played in a comfortable way.


Continue with the analysis of the 2nd and 3rd movements of this Piano Sonata.

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