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Accompanied keyboard musiclocked

  • Michelle Fillion

A term used to describe 18th-century chamber music with a substantially or fully written-out keyboard part and one or more accompanying instrumental parts. 18th-century sources most often designated these works by such terms as sonata, trio, terzetto, or divertimento for harpsichord or, simply, keyboard (later with the option of fortepiano), ‘with the accompaniment of’ or ‘that can be played with’ a violin (or flute), with or without cello. The accompanying parts could also be optional (ad libitum), resulting in the popular commercial practice of arranging solo sonatas as accompanied works. Larger ensemble scorings, especially the concerto-inspired grouping for keyboard instrument, two violins and bass, were also possible. Accompanied keyboard music is the direct ancestor of 19th-century chamber music with keyboard, especially the sonata for piano and violin and the piano trio.

To limit the genre to sonatas for fully written-out keyboard (without patches of continuo) and subsidiary or optional accompaniment is to capture only a segment of this vast and heterogeneous repertory. The genre appears concurrently with and as a manifestation of the rise of the harpsichord as a solo instrument, in a sense as a corrective to its purely supportive role in the Baroque sonata for melody instrument and continuo. As the small-ensemble counterpart to the emerging keyboard suite, sonata and solo concerto, accompanied keyboard music bore the stylistic marks of these three genres for decades. The solo sonata with continuo accompaniment, however, played virtually no role in its development; both genres were cultivated independently into the second half of the century, often by the same composer (e.g. C.P.E. Bach), before the continuo sonata disappeared with the demise of the thoroughbass tradition.

The Baroque trio sonata for two melody instruments and continuo, however, played a decisive role in the emergence of accompanied keyboard music in Germany. J.S. Bach made the first substantial contributions to the genre with his sonatas for obbligato keyboard and violin, viol or flute (bwv1014–19, 1027–9, 1030, 1032), all written before 1741. In concept they are with some exceptions trio sonatas translated to duo scoring (the first viol sonata is an arrangement of the trio sonata for two flutes and continuo, bwv1039). Bach’s legacy persisted well into the 1760s in Berlin in the duos with obbligato keyboard by J.G. Graun, Schaffrath and especially C.P.E. Bach, whose 14 Berlin duo sonatas (w71–8, 83–8) include works that are arrangements of original trio sonatas and others that virtually replicate the severe texture of the latter, including liberal episodes of figured bass in the keyboard. But we can also trace in Emanuel’s works the emergence of a more homophonic Liebhaber style with a fully realized keyboard part: it is especially prominent in the Sonata o vero sinfoniaw74 for violin and harpsichord (1754) and the Sonata w87 for flute and harpsichord (1766).

The modern accompanied sonata was born in 1734 in France in a single collection, Mondonville’s six Pièces de clavecin en sonates avec accompagnement de violon op.3. Exploiting the full range of ensemble possibilities for two independent and fully realized instruments, Mondonville’s sonatas established a model for the genre in their idiomatic writing and their brilliant amalgamation of elements of the Italian trio sonata and the French clavecin suite, with the concerto emerging in the last sonata. Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin en concerts (1741), for keyboard with optional accompaniment for violin/flute and viol/violin, set the precedent for adlibitum scoring, which would persist to the end of the century. These collections elicited an upsurge of interest in such music in Paris, with collections by Boismortier, C.-F. Clément, Guillemain, Luc Marchand, Corrette and Simon following in their wake. The reprinting by Walsh of Rameau’s collection in 1750, followed by Mondonville’s in 1753, brought the French models to London, inspiring a generation of composers there. The results included trio sonata-inspired duos with violin by Giardini (op.3, 1751) and trios by C.F. Abel (op.2, 1760), keyboard sonatas with optional string accompaniment for two violins and cello by Charles Avison (op.5, 1756) and concerto-inspired duos with violin by William Jackson (op.2, c1757).

Mid-century French and English composers and critics of the genre agreed with Simon’s observation in the preface to his Pièces de clavecin dans tous les genres (op.1, 1761) that the added violin served to adapt the ‘choppy’ sound of the harpsichord to the demands of a more lyrical style. But they also repeatedly invoked the challenges of ensemble balance, prescribing that the strings perform very quietly or ‘à demi-jeu’. In rare evidence for the use of the clavichord in accompanied keyboard music, the HamburgerCorrespondent referred in 1777 to a home performance of C.P.E. Bach’s trios w91 in which the composer played his Friderici clavichord, accompanied by a ‘muted violin and discreetly played cello’. Modern performers of accompanied sonatas would do well to keep in mind Avison’s suggestion that:

the accompanying Violins which are intended to enforce the Expression of the Harpsichord, should also be kept alwayssubservient to it; for thus an Effect results from the whole, as from the Sound of one improved, or … multiplied Instrument (Six Sonatas op.7, 1760)

By the 1760s accompanied keyboard music formed a major category in publishers’ catalogues in Paris and London. That decade was dominated by the Parisian Schobert, who established the fashion for virtuoso keyboard sonatas with largely optional accompaniment. This popular scoring is found in publications by Honauer (op.1, 1761 and op.3, 1769), Mozart (opp.1–3, 1764–5), J.C. Bach (op.10, 1773), Edelmann (op.1, 1775) and Abel (op.13, 1777), as well as in arrangements of Wagenseil’s solo keyboard divertimentos published by Huberty (op.6, 1760), A. Hummel (opp.1–2, 1761) and Le Menu (c1777). Even C.P.E. Bach was not untouched: in 1775 he wrote to Forkel that he had ‘finally had to bow to fashion and write sonatas for keyboard that are easy, and that one can simply play alone without missing anything’. The results were his 13 keyboard trios (with violin and cello) w89–91 (1775–7).

Vienna was isolated from most of these developments – and these foreign publications – until the 1770s. Early Viennese chamber music with keyboard was an indigenous tradition dependent on Austrian models. In the 1750s and 60s the genre was cultivated by the leading keyboard players, Wagenseil, Hofmann, Steffan, Vanhal and especially Haydn, whose early keyboard trios are the expression and summit of this style. The duo sonata with violin was virtually unknown there; the Viennese preferred the left hand of the keyboard to be doubled by a string instrument (cello or viola). The keyboard trio and the concertino or divertimento for harpsichord, two violins and bass were the scorings of choice. The adlibitum string texture was restricted for the most part to the keyboard quartet scoring. The keyboard trio reveals a strong tradition of obbligato violin writing, inspired by the Austrian trio sonata and string trio. In the absence of a local publishing industry, this repertory was disseminated in manuscripts; Wagenseil’s op.5 (1770) is the only Viennese print of chamber music with keyboard during this period. And the genre was virtually abandoned in Vienna in the 1770s by all but Vanhal and the Pressburg composer Anton Zimmermann.

The international dominance of Vienna in the accompanied sonata begins in the 1780s with the establishment of a flourishing publishing industry and commercial market for music, the rise of the fortepiano and the arrival of Mozart. From this time accompanied keyboard music, especially the trio, was widely represented among the Viennese publishers’ offerings. Much of this music was written for amateurs, with Kozeluch, Pleyel, Vanhal and even Haydn specializing in trios with brilliant but accessible keyboard parts and easy string accompaniments.

The vogue for the fortepiano, with its range of dynamics and articulation and its lyrical capacity, and the rise of a new class of virtuosos on the instrument opened a period of rapid change for the genre in the 1780s. Capable of holding its own in an ensemble with violin and cello, the fortepiano no longer demanded subservience of its partners. Mozart’s six violin sonatas published by Artaria in 1781 were recognized as a qualitative leap for the genre, both in the brilliance of their keyboard writing and the full integration of the violin into the texture. His piano trios k502 (1786) and 542 (1788) established a similar precedent for the trio, including sporadic independent writing for the cello that points to its eventual freeing from the keyboard left hand. By 1789 Haydn’s trios hXV:11–3 were judged by a reviewer to be too difficult for sight-reading; his London keyboard trios are professional music written in response to his contact with piano and violin virtuosos there.

These changes were for the most part ignored on the title-pages of the first editions of these works, which persisted in referring to them as ‘Sonatas for harpsichord or fortepiano, with the accompaniment of violin (and cello)’. Beethoven’s ‘Trios’ op.1 for ‘pianoforte, violin and cello’ (Artaria, 1795) were a turning point in the genre and in the way it was viewed, while the full title of his ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata op.47, ‘per il piano-forte ed un violino obligato, scritta in uno stilo molto concertante, quasi come d’un concerto’ (1802–3), leaves no doubt as to the role of the violin in that virtuosic work. The accompanied sonata yielded to the modern concept of ‘chamber music’ with keyboard in the early 19th century: performances were transferred to the salon and the concert hall; technical and musical demands on the performers increased; the harpsichord was abandoned, even as a performance option; and, in works such as Beethoven’s Piano Trios opp.70 (1808) and 97 (1810–11) and Schubert’s Piano Trios opp.99 (?1828) and 100 (1827–8), the cello became a full partner to the violin and piano.


  • E. Reeser: De klaviersonate met vioolbegeleiding (Rotterdam, 1939)
  • W.S. Newman: ‘Concerning the Accompanied Clavier Sonata’, MQ, 33 (1947), 327–49
  • H. Eppstein: Studien über J.S. Bachs Sonaten für ein Melodieinstrument und obligates Cembalo (Uppsala, 1966)
  • H. Hering: ‘Das Klavier in der Kammermusik des 18. Jahrhunderts’, Mf, 23 (1970), 22–37
  • R. Kidd: ‘The Emergence of Chamber Music with Obligato Keyboard in England’, AcM, 44 (1972), 122–44
  • D. Fuller: ‘Accompanied Keyboard Music’, MQ, 60 (1974), 222–45
  • M. Fillion: ‘Scoring and Genre in Haydn’s Divertimenti Hob. XIV’, Joseph Haydn: Vienna 1982, 435–44
  • G.J. McPhail: The Accompanied Keyboard Sonata in France, 1734–1778 (thesis, Victoria U., Wellington, 1984)
  • K. Komlós: ‘The Viennese Keyboard Trio in the 1780s: Sociological Background and Contemporary Reception’, ML, 68 (1987), 222–34
  • M. Fillion: ‘C.P.E. Bach and the Trio Old and New’, C.P.E. Bach Studies (Oxford, 1988), 83–104
  • M. Fillion, ed.: Early Viennese Chamber Music with Obbligato Keyboard (Madison, WI, 1989)
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