HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 1, Nos. 5-6 and Op. 2, Nos. 1-2 (Ibolya Toth/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550399)
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Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
String Quartet in E Flat Major, Op. 1,No. "0"
String Quartet in C Major, Op. 1, No.6
String Quartet in A Major, Op. 2, No.1
String Quartet in E Major, Op. 2, No.2
Joseph Haydn was born in the village ofRohrau 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 hecould from teaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to learnfrom the old musician Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn's firstappointment was in 1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count vonMorzin. This was followed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one ofthe richest men in the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, succeeded on hisdeath in 1762 by his brother Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 of theelderly and somewhat obstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydn succeededto his position, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for therest of his life.
On the completion of the magnificentpalace at Esterhaza, in the Hungarian plains under the new Prince, Haydnassumed command of an increased musical establishment. Here he hadresponsibility for the musical activities of the palace, which included the provisionand direction of instrumental music, opera and theatre music, and music for thechurch. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds,particularly for the Prince's own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowedstring 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 musicfor the concert season organized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A secondsuccessful visit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to dutywith the Esterhazy family, the new head of which had settled principally at thefamily property in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career. Much of theyear, 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 18thcentury that saw the development of instrumental music from the age of Bach andHandel to the era of the classical sonata, with its tripartite form, the basisof much instrumental composition. The string quartet itself, which came torepresent classical music in its purest form, grew from a genre that wasrelatively insignificant, at least in its nomenclature, the Divertimento, intomusic of greater weight, substance and complexity, although Haydn, like anygreat master, knew well how to conceal the technical means by which he achievedhis 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 titleDivertimento, proclaim their origin and purpose. The last quartet, Opus 103,started in 1803, remained unfinished.
In later life Haydn claimed to havediscovered the string quartet form by accident. The six quartets laterpublished by Haydn's pupil Pleyel as Opus 1 were certainly among thefirst he wrote in this form, the first four of them issued in Paris by M. de laChevardiere in 1764. The Quartet in E flat major, curiously numbered Op.
1, No.0, was not included in Pleyel's collection, which followed de laChevardiere, but was published in Paris by Huberty in 1764, described there as Simphoniaa piu Stromenti obligati, and in a slightly altered form in Amsterdam bythe publisher J. J. Hummel. Some of the quartets of Opus 2 were alsofirst issued in Paris by de la Chevardiere, but the six compositions of Opus2 were collected by Hummel in Amsterdam, two of them apparently his ownadaptation of works for two horns and strings, conceived by the composer assextets.
All the present quartets follow the fivemovement form of the Divertimento, their minuets framing a central slowmovement. It is probable that the E flat Quartet, Op. 1, No.0, and the Quartetin C major, Op. 1, No.6, were written during Haydn's association with BaronCarl Joseph von F??rnberg at the castle of Weinzierl, where he played quartetswith the parish priest, the estate manager and one of the Albrechtsbergerbrothers. This association seems to have started in 1757 and came to an end in1759 with his appointment to the musical establishment of Count von Morzin. Thefirst movements of these quartets are much simpler and shorter than those oflater works in the form. The two minuets frame contrasting trios, with apleasingly ornamented slow movement at the heart of each work, and a charmingand rapid final movement.
Opus 2,as first published, included works in different forms, one of them certainlynot by Haydn. The authentic quartets of Opus 2 are Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 6.
The first of these, in the key of A major, was written in the early 1760s. Aslightly more elaborate first movement leads to a minuet with an A minor trio,an ornamented D major slow movement, a second minuet, with a light-heartedtrio, and an energetic final movement. Opus 2, No.2, again writtenbetween 1760 and 1762, is in E major. It has a first movement inembryonic sonata-form and a first minuet framing a contrasted E minor trio. TheAdagio has first violin figuration of some elaboration, closely matched withthat of the second violin, while the second minuet and trio follow the keypattern of the first. The quartet ends with a cheerful Presto that has its ownbrief surprises.
The members of the Kodaly Quartetwere trained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and three of them, thesecond violin Tamas Szabo, viola-player Gabor Fias and cellist Janos Devich,were formerly in the Sebestyen Quartet, which was awarded the jury's specialdiploma at the 1966 Geneva International Quartet Competition and won firstprize at the 1968 Leo Weiner Quartet Competition in Budapest. Since 1970, withthe violinist Attila Falvay, the quartet has been known as the Kodaly Quartet,a title adopted with the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of Cultureand Education. The Kodaly Quartet has given concerts throughout Europe, in theSoviet Union and in Japan, in addition to regular appearances in Hungary bothin the concert hall and on television and has made for Naxos highly acclaimedrecordings of string quartets by Ravel, Debussy, Mozart and Haydn.