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ClassicsOnline Home » HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 17, Nos. 1, 2 and 4
Joseph Haydn (1732 -1809)
String Quartet in F major, Op. 17, No.2, Hob. III: 26
String Quartet in E major, Op. 17, No.1, Hob. III: 25
String Quartet in C minor, Op. 17, No.4, Hob. III: 28
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 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 first-movement form and complementary three or four movements, the basis now 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 name, the Divertimento, into music of greater weight, complexity and substance, 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 himself listed some 83. The earlier of these, often under the title Divertimento, proclaim clearly enough their origin and purpose. Haydn's last quartet, Opus 103, started in 1803, remained unfinished and coincided with the appearance of quartets of a new and original kind, from Haydn's recalcitrant and ungrateful pupil Beethoven. Haydn himself once claimed to have discovered the string quartet by accident. The discovery, if such it was, has continued to have a far-reaching effect on the development of Western music.
In 1770 Haydn had suffered a serious illness, grave enough to make his brother Michael seek leave of absence from the Archbishop of Salzburg, his employer, in order to visit him. In the event this permission proved unnecessary. Haydn, by the end of the year, had recovered sufficiently to write a Salve Regina in thanksgiving for his recovery. Now his duties continued as before, divided between Eisenstadt, where he had bought a house, Esterhaza, where much of his time was passed, and Vienna. The year 1771 brought the usual routine, enlivened by a tavern quarrel between the oboist Zacharias Pohl and the double-bass player Xavier Marteau, in which the former lost an eye. It fell to Haydn, as Kapellmeister, to arrange peace between the two and to ensure that they kept their positions in the Esterházy musical establishment, which he effected satisfactorily before the end of the year. It was in 1771 that he wrote his six Opus 17 Divertimentos, published in the following year in Amsterdam, Berlin, London and subsequently in Paris. This prompt publication is evidence of the demand for Haydn's work, witnessed also by the diffusion of compositions of this kind in manuscript.
The String Quartet in F major, Opus 17, No.2, opens with a first subject entrusted to the first violin, which provides much of the thematic material to the obvious dismay of German critics of the time, who deplored the lack of counterpoint in works of this sort. In the repeated exposition there is thematic variety, with a passage of relaxation before the codetta. The material is duly developed in the central section, making much use of the opening figure of the principal subject and allowing initial dialogue between the viola and cello.
The first subject returns to open a modified recapitulation. The Menuetto, placed second, allows further harmonic variety in its contrasting Trio. The Adagio, in B flat major, is an extended aria for the first violin, its first theme echoed on the lowest string of the instrument and returning with the necessary modulation in the second half of the movement. The final Allegro di molto, opens with a bright and rhythmic theme, to which a second subject provides the necessary variety in a passage in sequence, with an interesting final section that involves a measure of unison between the instruments. The repeated exposition leads to a brief development, after which the material of the exposition duly returns, with the syncopations of the first subject, the following sequences (in which the other instruments join), the unison passage, in which the violins are an octave apart from viola and cello, and the conclusive tonic chords, treble-stopped by the viola, to the double stopping of the violins.
In the String Quartet in E major, Opus 17, No.1, the first violin again handles most of the melodic material (at first), ascending to the heights as the repeated exposition nears its end. The cello starts the central development, with a reminiscence of the opening figure of the principal subject, and rapid first violin triplets, first heard in the exposition, before the return of the principal theme starts a false recapitulation, extended by the cello in sequential writing, before the recapitulation proper. The Menuetto allows the instruments to enter in ascending order, with a suggestion of canonic imitation in its second half. The Trio in E minor provides brief contrast, before the return of the framing Menuetto. The same key of E minor is used in the following Adagio, in 6/8, opening as an aria for the first violin and providing, as it continues, resolving dissonances in its accompanying parts. The melody moves into G major, with a second violin arpeggio accompaniment, providing the additional substances from which the rest of the movement is constructed, and offering music of delicate beauty. The mood changes, as it should, in the final Presto. There are moments of dramatic excitement in the closely related second subject of the repeated exposition, and in the ascending melodic line of the first violin in the development, with a final surprise in the relatively abrupt ending of the movement, as the sound fades away.
The String Quartet in C minor, Opus 17, No.4, in its numbering and present inclusion in this order reflects the alternative numbering of the quartets here offered as Nos.17, 18 and 19 respectively. The numbering in the widely used Hoboken catalogue allows the same quartets, (Opus 17, Nos. 2, 1 and 4), the numbering 26, 25 and 28, preferring, in its own listing, the order of first publication. The mood is established in the opening C minor theme, and continued in the E flat major secondary material of the repeated exposition. After the development the first subject returns, first in its secondary, E flat major form, succeeded by the key of C minor is re-established. The movement ends with a gradual diminution of sound, before the charm of a C major Menuetto, with a Trio in the tonic minor once more. The Adagio cantabile in E flat major starts with a first violin aria, to which the accompanying figuration of the second violin provides an important additional element. The first material returns in varied form, the first violin melody embellished this time and leading ultimately to the return of the principal theme, now in the dominant key. In what follows, the earlier accompanying figuration plays a considerable pan, heard now in the cello and then in the first violin and, from time to time, in the inner parts. A brief first violin cadenza leads to the final section of the movement. In the final Allegro the opening first violin figure has an important part to play, being passed from instrument to instrument, before the secondary material, with its double-stopping in the first violins. The useful opening figure makes an inevitable return in the central development and to introduce the varied C minor recapitulation. leading to a final coda, with its memories of elements of the second subject.
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.
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HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 17, Nos. 1, 2 and 4