About this Recording
8.573701 - HAYDN, J.: String Quartets Nos. 1, 29 and 66 (Goldmund Quartet)
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Joseph Haydn (1732–1809)
String Quartets, Op. 1, No. 1 • Op. 33, No. 5 • Op. 77, No. 1

 

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 Esterhazy, succeeded after his death in 1762 by 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 for the rest of his life.

On the completion of the magnificent palace at Eszterhaza in the Hungarian plains under Prince Nikolaus, 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 Esterhazy 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 eighteenth 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.

In later life Haydn claimed to have discovered the string quartet form by accident. The six quartets collected together by Haydn’s pupil Pleyel as Opus 1 were certainly among the first he himself wrote in this form. The first three are in the customary five-movement form of the divertimento, a title the composer later preferred to the earlier title cassation. It is thought that Opus 1, No. 1 was written with other early quartet-divertimenti in 1757 and 1758, and the other two in the following years, between 1759 and 1761. The first quartet, consequently, seems to have been written for Baron Carl Joseph von Furnberg, at the castle of Weinzierl in Lower Austria. The baron invited the parish priest, his estate manager, Haydn and Albrechtsberger, presumably Johann Georg, who was Beethoven’s later counterpoint teacher, to play together. In 1759 Haydn took a salaried position as music director to Count von Morzin, spending winter in Vienna and summer in Bohemia at the count’s castle at Lukavec, where there was a larger musical establishment. The first four quartets of what was later known as Opus 1 appeared in Paris in 1764 with other works, described as Six Simphonies ou Quatuors Dialogués.

The first quartet of Opus 1, the Quartet in B flat major, opens with an ascending arpeggio figure. The first of the two Minuets, with its contrasted E flat major Trio, leads to an E flat slow movement that allows the first violin a chance to tackle a relatively florid melodic line. There is a second Minuet and Trio before the brief tripartite classical finale.

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. Known as the Russian Quartets, they take their name from their performance in the presence of the Russian Grand Duke Paul, later Tsar Paul I, 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 Wurttemberg. 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, Op. 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 nickname “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 reappears with a change of rhythm and pace in conclusion.

The two string quartets that form Opus 77, the last completed quartets by Haydn, were written in 1799 and dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian Lobkowitz, who had commissioned a set of six. They were published by Artaria in Vienna in or before September 1802. It is supposed that Haydn failed to complete the set because of the radical changes in the form that Beethoven’s Opus 18 quartets for Lobkowitz seemed to suggest. It may be remarked that Beethoven too was very wary of seeming to challenge Haydn on his own ground, witness the Mass in C he wrote for the Esterhazys, where he expressed fears of being seen as unable to rival his former teacher.

The Quartet in G major, Op. 77, No. 1, starts with a clearly enunciated first subject over a repeated crotchet rhythm. A second subject appears, started by the second violin with viola triplet accompaniment, leading to a concluding section in triplets; the whole exposition is then repeated. These motivic elements appear in the central development and its exploration of different tonalities, before the principal theme returns in recapitulation. The E flat major slow movement opens with a strong motif that has suggestions of C minor in its first three notes, immediately dispelled in the second measure. The cello makes use of this motif, which has a major part to play in all that follows. The Minuet, with its Hungarian gypsy or Croatian connotations, is no longer a courtly dance, but, marked Presto, demands one beat in a bar. It frames a contrasting E flat Trio. All instruments join in a statement of the opening of the final Presto with a principal subject from which the second subject is derived and which provides the substance of a movement, suggested in the first three notes.

Keith Anderson


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