About this Recording

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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 string quartets of Opus 64 constitute a second set of six quartets for the violinist Johann Tost, who had led the second violins of Haydn's orchestra at Esterháza from 1783 until his departure for Paris in 1788, although he was mentioned as Music Director for the Seipp theatre company in Pressburg (the modern Slovak capital of Bratislava) in the previous year. In Paris Tost's sale of Haydn compositions caused some trouble that may be understood in the light of his earlier suggestion for the pirating of music belonging to Prince Esterházy. In 1790 Tost returned to Vienna, where he married a housekeeper in the Esterházy service, prospering thereafter as a cloth-merchant. Nine years later he is heard of again in his suggestion to Spohr that he buy exclusive rights to the latter's chamber music, thus securing for himself entry to the houses of rich patrons, something that would materially assist his business. The arrangement was one to which Spohr assented. Mozart also apparently provided Tost with chamber music, namely his last two string quintets.

The Opus 64 quartets were written in 1790 and announced for sale in the Wiener Zeitung in February 1791, with an English edition appearing in London in June of the same year, after their performance at concerts under the direction of the violinist-impresario Salomon at the Festino Rooms in Hanover Square, when performers were Salomon himself, the second violinist Hindmarsh, cellist Menel and viola-player the older Damen.

The fifth of the Opus 64 Tost Quartets, known as The Lark from the initial entry of the first violin in the eighth bar in the high register used from time to time in these quartets. Triplets add increased movement and the use of remoter keys in the development at the heart of the movement adds a feeling of tension later dispelled as the material of the first section duly returns. The slow movement continues to use the pattern of outer major sections based on the same material framing a minor key central section. There is a return from A major to D major for the Minuet, a playful scherzo in mood, with its D minor Trio. The last movement calls for considerable panache in its rapid and almost perpetual motion.

Mozart's E flat Quintet for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, K. 452, was completed in Vienna on 30th March, 1784, and included by the composer in a subscription concert, when he also played two piano concertos, K. 450 and K. 451, finished a week or so earlier. In a letter to his father Mozart declares the quintet to be the best work he has ever written, excellently played on the occasion of his concert. He mentions the work once again in a letter in June, when it is to be played at Döbling in a concert organized by the Salzburg agent, Ployer, whose niece, a pupil of Mozart, was also to play a concerto of his and join him in a sonata for two pianos.

The quintet opens with a slow introduction, the initial burden falling to the keyboard, followed by the wind instruments, skilfully interwoven. The first subject of the Allegro is introduced by the piano and answered by the wind, with a second subject similarly shared. The central development is short enough, to be followed by a recapitulation that re-arranges the earlier material between the instruments. In the slow movement it is the piano that joins the wind in answering the initial phrase of the principal theme and provides a later arpeggio accompaniment to exchanges between the instruments. The French horn has new material to suggest in the central section, before a series of wind chords leads back into the first thematic material. The quintet ends in a rondo, its principal melody announced at the outset by the piano, followed by the wind instruments, with a second theme entrusted at first to the oboe. The movement includes a cadenza for all the instruments, the oboe providing the customary trill to signal the return of the principal theme and the closing section of the work.

Schumann's earlier chamber music had been in the form of attempts at string quartets, but it was only after his marriage that he settled down in 1842 to work on the rapid composition of a group of three string quartets, their completion announced to his wife as the birth of three children, just born, and already completed and beautiful. In August Schumann took a brief holiday with his wife in Bohemia, a change that relieved to some extent the depression he had suffered after a period of elation as he wrote the quartets. On their return to Leipzig Clara Schumann found herself pregnant again, a year after the birth of her first child, and Schumann himself set to work on a new composition for her, the Piano Quintet, a work that was to set a model for later composers. It was followed at once by a Piano Quartet.

The Piano Quintet enjoyed an immediate success. Clara Schumann first played it in Leipzig in 1843 and it formed part of the repertoire of her Russian tour of 1844, during which her husband found himself in an uncomfortably depressing position as mere consort to a musician of recognised distinction. Four years later the Quintet failed to please Liszt, who arrived at a musical evening at the Schumanns' two hours late, and condemned the work as too Leipzig-like, a criticism that Schumann took as an attack on his friend Mendelssohn, who had died the year before. Liszt's later disparagement of Mendelssohn in comparison with Meyerbeer led to an open dispute at the dinner-table, and Schumann's withdrawal from the room in disgust. In spite of her husband's later bitter criticism of her performance, as his final illness drew on, suggesting that the Quintet could only be understood by a man, the work remained a popular part of Clara Schumann's repertoire throughout her life.

Schumann sketched the Piano Quintet in the remarkably short time of five days and completed the score in the following two weeks. The first subject is declaimed by the whole ensemble, and the cello, followed by the viola, introduces the romantic second subject. The piano carries the burden of the central development, based on the first subject, which returns to open the recapitulation. The second movement is a sinister C minor March. The sombre atmosphere is relieved by a major second subject. The central F minor episode of this sonata-rondo movement is marked agitato, with exciting activity in the piano part, which settles into a gentler accompaniment as the viola recalls the march theme. A rapid ascending scale from the piano opens and provides the chief material of the Scherzo. The first of the two contrasting Trios has reminiscences of the first subject of the first movement and the second is characterised by its agile brilliance, before the final return of the Scherzo itself. The last movement opens in C minor with a firmly stated theme played by the piano, continuing with an adventurous exploration of other keys, as the principal theme re-appears. The first subject of the first movement returns, in augmentation, as a countersubject to the theme, as the movement proceeds to its emphatic conclusion.

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