About this Recording
8.550787 - HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 9, Nos. 2, 5 and 6
English 

Joseph Haydn (1732- 1809)
String Quartets, Op. 9, Nos. 2, 5 and 6

Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, he spent some years earning a living as best he could from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to learn from the old musician Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn's first appointment was in 1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin. This was followed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, succeeded on his death in 1762 by his brother Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydn succeeded to his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.

On the completion under the new Prince of the magnificent palace at Esterháza, built on the site of a former hunting-lodge set on the Hungarian plains, Haydn assumed command of an increased musical establishment. Here he had responsibility for the musical activities of the palace, which included the provision and direction of instrumental music, opera and theatre music, and music for the church. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds, particularly for the Prince's own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.

On the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790, Haydn was able to accept an invitation to visit London, where he provided music for the concert season organized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterházy family, the new head of which had settled principally at the family property in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career. Much of the year, however, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dying in 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.

Haydn lived during the period of the 18th century that saw the development of instrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel to the era of the classical sonata, with its tripartite form, the basis of much instrumental composition. The string quartet itself, which came to represent classical music in its purest form, grew from a genre that was relatively insignificant, at least in its nomenclature, the Divertimento, into music of greater weight, substance and complexity, although Haydn, like any great master, knew well how to conceal the technical means by which he achieved his ends. The exact number of string quartets that Haydn wrote is not known, although he listed some 83. The earlier of these, often under the title Divertimento, proclaim their origin and purpose. The last quartet, Opus 103, started in 1803, remained unfinished.

The first of Haydn's string quartets, variously titled as Divertimenti, Cassations or Notturni, were written in the 1750s and early 1760s, before he entered the service of the Esterhazys. After a gap of several years he turned his attention again to the form at the end of the decade and between 1768 and 1770 wrote a set of six Divertimenti to which later French editions gave the number Opus 9. Two further sets of six followed almost at once, in 1771 and 1772. The quartets of Opus 9, planned, it seems, as a set, unlike the earlier quartets, are in contrasting keys. In all of them the Minuet is placed second rather than third, allowing a lightening of mood after the relatively slow opening movements of five of the set and before the following slow movements.

The second quartet of Opus 9, in the key of E flat major, opens again with a first movement of some weight and length in which the melodic burden again falls to the first violin in writing calling fore an element of virtuosity. The Minuet and Trio in the same key provide a release of tension, to be followed by an operatic slow movement in which a recitative for the first violin is followed by an elaborately ornamented aria. The quartet ends with a rapid Finale that takes the first violin to the heights and depths of the violin register.

The Quartet in B flat major, fifth of the set, is in the form of a theme and four variations. The first of these allows the theme to be varied by the first violin, which takes a subsidiary part in the second variation with its triplet rhythm. A further rhythmic diminution of note values gives the first violin a rapid third version of the theme while the fourth juxtaposes the theme with its own embellishment. There is a Minuet, with a Trio of dynamic contrasts, before the operatic E flat major Largo, in which the first violin indulges in a variety of embellishments, before launching the rapid Finale.

Opus 9 ends with an A major sixth quartet that differs from the rest of the set by star1ing with a quick movement in 6/8 time. The Minuet frames an A minor Trio, leading to an E major Adagio, dominated by its triplet rhythm and again allowing space for a possible first violin cadenza. The last movement has given rise to considerable criticism, principally because of its brevity, a mere 53 bars, compared with the 218 bars of the Finale of Opus 9 No.5. It may be argued that the rapidity of the first movement and its compound metre does not demand the same weight as a counterbalance, as is found necessary in quartets with relatively slow and complex first movements.

Kodály Quartet
The members of the Kodály Quartet were trained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and three of them, the second violinist Tamas Szabó, viola-player Gábor Fias and cellist János Devich, were formerly in the Sebestyén Quartet, which was awarded the jury's special diploma at the 1966 Geneva International Quartet Competition and won first prize at the 1968 Leo Weiner Quartet Competition in Budapest. Since 1970, with the violinist Attila Falvay, the quartet has been known as the Kodály Quartet, a title adopted with the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education. The Kodály Quartet has given concerts throughout Europe, in the then Soviet Union and in Japan, in addition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concert hall and on television and has made for Naxos highly acclaimed recordings of string quartets by Ravel, Debussy, Haydn and Schubert.


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