Viennese vs. English Fortepianos: Haydn, Sonata Hob (Hoboken). XVI:52

By Esther Joh

While in modern times standardization has affected the craft of piano building, in the 18th century instruments were still personal works of art.  Therefore, pianos differed from town to town and from builder to builder.  Although within geographical area craftsmen did influence one another, the distance between two cities as far apart as London and Vienna resulted in the establishing of two distinct schools of piano building: the Viennese and the English.  Viennese made by Stein from the early 1770, developed by Anton Walter, who built Mozart's own piano in the early 1780s.  English were developed through Backers, a Dutch-born harpsichord maker resident in London, and John Broadwood. 

Action and touch

Simple mechanism - The hammer head points toward the player and hammer is fixed on the key.   

Complicated mechanism - The hammer is attached to a rail, and points away from the player.  Heavier touch and a fuller, more powerful tone. 


More after-ring in the English.  Same damper size for bass and treble.  The after-ring of the English piano made it necessary for the English composers to notate short notes with extra care in order to cut-off that they wanted. 

The Viennese dampers cut off the sound immediately upon falling back on the strings for the Viennese fortepiano for clear and crispy sound quality. 

Balance between treble and bass

Equalized the tone - Compared to the bass, the English treble was particularly powerful.  Although John Broadwood’s invention of the divided bridge had more nearly equalized the tone, the English treble was particularly powerful, compared to the bass. 

Difference in tone between the registers - Most Viennese pianos were built with only one bridge, which created a much admired difference in tone between the different registers of the instrument, for example the sound of the treble was flute-like.

Sonata in E-flat Major Hob. XVI:52 by Joseph Haydn

To define the differences of these two fortepianos portrayed above, one can suggest study the Sonata in E-flat Major Hob. XVI: 52 by Joseph Haydn.  Haydn, who was the most important Viennese composer to visit London and became intimately familiar with the English piano, shows his taste for both English and Viennese fortepianos in this particular sonata.  Sonata No. 52 in E-flat is one of three sonatas that Haydn composed during his second London visit (1794).  Like several other London keyboard works, it was dedicated to the famous English pianist Therese Jansen, a pupil of Clementi.  The Sonata is Haydn’s grandest piano solo work for showing many of the characteristics for the English type of pianoforte.  The elements to English virtuosity can be heard in many passages of the first and second movement especially: grand chord opening, use of wide space of register, octaves, enormous sonority to the forte chords, scales in thirds, fast descending scales, repeated notes, and a treble melody with the accompaniment above it. Lastly, the theme of the third movement brings out its ‘Viennese’ lightness and sparkle. Therefore, this particular Sonata by Haydn defines the both characteristic features of English and Viennese fortepiano. 

Here are two musicals examples of performances of Haydn piano sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI:52 performed in two different instruments: Viennese fortepiano after A. Water and the modern piano (probably by Steinway & Sons).


Bilson, Malcom. Joseph Haydn: Sonata in E Flat, Hob. Xvi 49 & 52. Pyramid SoundStudios, Ithaca, New York, 1982.

Bozarth, George S.  Fortepiano Reader

Gillespie, John. Five Centuries of Keyboard Music. Belmont, California: Dover & Wadsworth Publishing Company Inc., 1972. Print.

Hoogland, Stanley.  Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809): Piano Sonatas 7, 47, 23, 27, 52. Brilliant Classics, Rotterdam, October 2-6, 2000.

Komlos, Katalyn. Fortepianos and Their Music: Germany, Austria, and England, 1760-1800.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995

Oort, Bart van. "Haydn and the English Classical Piano Style." Early Music (2000): 73-90. Print.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven.  New York: W. W. Norton, 1997

Schornsheim, Christine. Joseph Haydn: The Keyboard Sonatas. Capriccio.

Somfair, Lasalo.  The Keyboard Sonatas of Joseph Haydn: Instruments and Performance  
        Practice, Genres and Styles
.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995