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ClassicsOnline Home » HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 71, Apponyi Quartets
BBC Music Magazine
Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Apponyi Quartets, Nos. 1 - 3 (Op. 71,
Nos. 1 - 3)
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 for the rest of his life.
On the completion of the magnificent
palace at Esterháza, in the Hungarian plains, under the new Prince, 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 so-called Apponyi Quartets were
written in 1793 and dedicated to a nobleman, Count Anton Georg Apponyi, who was
a member of the circle dominated by Baron van Swieten, the Gesellschaft der
Associirten, which fostered interest in the music of J. S. Bach and Handel.
It was Apponyi who in 1795 invited Beethoven to try his hand at a string
quartet, an attempt that had to wait a few years. Beethoven's Opus 18 quartets
were published in 1801, with a dedication to Prince Lobkowitz.
The string quartet was traditionally, in
Vienna, a private form of music, not designed for the concert hall, where such
buildings existed. During Haydn's first visit to London, however, his Opus 64 quartets
had been performed at the concerts organised for him by the German-born
violinist Johann Peter Salomon. As Robbins Landon has pointed out in his
magisterial work on the composer, the Apponyi Quartets were intended for public
concert performance, and are, therefore, markedly different in character from
other quartets by Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven. They were performed, it seems,
during the 1794 London season by Salomon, with two members of the Dutch Dahmen
family playing second violin and cello and the Italian Federigo Fiorillo
The first Apponyi Quartet, Opus 71
No.1 in B flat major, opens strongly, the whole of the first movement based
on the theme that follows. The Adagio is gently expressive, the return of the
first theme much embellished, and the Minuet marked at first by the figure
given to the cello. The quartet has a final movement thematically related to
the first and third and of the expected brilliance, with an ending that brings
its own surprise.
The Quartet in D major, Opus 71 No.2,
opens with a movement of panache, with the briefest of central development
sections. The first violin introduces the singing theme of the slow movement,
which is again in ternary form and brings adventurous harmonic exploration,
leading to a Minuet that has about it much of the Scherzo. The quartet ends
with a movement that once more makes considerable demands on the first violin,
testimony to Salomon's virtuosity.
The Opus 71 Quartets end with the
third, in the key of E flat major. Here the first movement is largely
monothematic, based on its first theme, and brings touches of the ominous as it
progresses. The slow movement is essentially a series of variations. These
remain based on the customary ternary form in music of remarkable ingenuity, although
Haydn's ingenuity has all the appearance of ingenuousness. The Minuet happily
bridges the change in mood to a contrapuntal and lively Finale.
The members of the Kodály Quartet were
trained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and three of them, the second
violin Támas Szabo, 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 Soviet Union
and in Japan, in addition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concert
hall and on television.
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HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 71, Apponyi Quartets