About this Recording
8.550788 - HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 33, Nos. 1, 2 and 5

Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
Russian Quartets

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.

Haydn completed his Opus 33 quartets in 1781 and before their publication offered manuscript copies on subscription to a number of leading patrons, of whose interest he was assured. The Russian Quartets take their name from their performance in the presence of the Russian Grand Duke Paul, later Tsar Paul II, with his wife, visiting Vienna under the names of the Count and Countess von Norden and accompanied by members of the family of the Grand Duchess, the ruling family of Württemberg. The quartets were played, in the presence of the composer, by Luigi Tomasini, Franz Aspelmayr, Thaddaus Huber and the cellist Joseph Weigl.

The Quartet in G major, Opus 33, No.5, has a first movement with a contrasting second subject marked dolce, after a principal theme that opens softly and increases markedly in volume in its third bar. The initial figure has suggested the nick-name "How do you do?". The second movement, in G minor, offers a first violin aria, accompanied by semiquaver broken chords from the second violin and a sparer texture from viola and cello. The Scherzo returns to G major, with a Trio in the same key, and there is a last movement in 6/8 metre that presents a series of variations on the principal theme, which re-appears with a change of rhythm and pace in conclusion.

Opus 33, No.2, in E flat major and known affectionately as The Joke, has a first movement of moderate speed and opens with a first subject of particular charm leading to a brief second subject. The central development is introduced by the cello playing the opening figure, imitated at once by the first violin. The second movement, with the title Scherzo rather than the earlier Minuet, is characteristically light-hearted. It is succeeded by a B flat major Largo opened by the viola and cello, echoed by the violins, with a middle section of marked dynamic and rhythmic contrast. The last movement is dominated by its cheerful principal theme, its progress briefly interrupted by a sudden change of speed and a coda that plays jokes on the listener by a series of silences and a whispered ending.

The first of the Opus 33 quartets, in the key of B minor, starts with a figure played by the first violin, accompanied by the second, and echoed by the cello, with a shift to the key of D major. The central development explores the imitative possibilities of the opening figure, which introduces the recapitulation. The second movement, marked scherzando, with F sharp bariolage for the first violin and a B major Trio, is followed by a D major Andante that opens with the ascending tonic arpeggio. The last movement returns to B minor and makes some imitative contrapuntal use of its opening triadic figure.

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.

Close the window