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ClassicsOnline Home » HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 64, Nos. 4 - 6
"special even by the Kodaly's own high standards"
"glorious music, beautifully played with nicely balanced sound"
Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
String Quartet in G major, Op. 64,
No.4, Hob. III: 66
String Quartet in D major, Op. 64,
No.5, Hob. III: 63 "The lark"
String Quartet in E flat major, Op.
64, No.6, Hob. III: 64
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 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 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 the
performers were Salomon himself, the second violinist Hindmarsh, cellist Menel and
viola-player the older Damen.
64, No.4, in G major, opens with a first subject based on the
ascending arpeggio, and takes the first violin high on the G string in its coda at the end
of the exposition and again, now on the D string, at the end of the third section
recapitulation. The Minuet, placed second, has a Trio in which the first violin is
accompanied by the plucked notes of the rest of the quartet. The movement leads to C major
Adagio with a central section in C minor and a Finale that finds room for a display of
contrapuntal skill in its central development section.
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 are turn 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.
The final quartet of the Opus 64 set, in E flat major, demonstrates again
Haydn's great variety, with its dramatic first movement section. The slow movement, here
marked Andante, is again on a major-minor-major pattern, its central section using higher
registers of the first violin, a region explored again by the first violin at the end of
the Trio of the Minuet movement. The last movement finds room for contrapuntal material in
music of consistent wit and invention.
The members of the Kodály Quartet were trained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and
three of them, the second violinist Tamás 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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HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 64, Nos. 4 - 6