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ClassicsOnline Home » HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 77, Nos. 1- 2
BBC Music Magazine
Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
Quartet in G Major, Op. 77, No.1, Hob.III: 81
Quartet in F Major, Op. 77, No.2, Hob.III: 82
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 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 Esterhaza, 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 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 eighty-three. 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 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 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.
The Quartet in F major opens with a first subject that has been said to have affinities with Leporello's catalogue aria in Don Giovanni. The second subject is derived from it. There are strong dynamic contrasts in the two measures that end the central development, divided from the recapitulation by a pause, after which the principal theme is heard again in the original key. As in the preceding quartet, the Minuet, now placed second, is rapid, coupled with a D flat major Trio. The slow movement, marked Andante, is in D major and starts with the first violin accompanied by the cello, to be joined in conclusion by the second violin and viola, presenting the theme that is the basis of what follows. The second violin emerges with the first part of the theme in the dominant key, before returning to the original key for the whole theme. Other keys are explored before the cello is entrusted with the material, accompanied now by an even more rapid first violin embellishment. After a dramatic climax the theme returns in simpler form and very softly pursues its way to its conclusion. The finale makes much of its opening figure and has its share of counterpoint, as it moves ebulliently to the heights, before a conclusion that shows no falling off of energy or imagination.
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 Janos 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. 77, Nos. 1- 2