HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 2, Nos. 3 and 5 / Op. 3, Nos. 1-2 (Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.555703)
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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
String Quartets Op. 2, Nos. 3 and 5
String Quartets Op. 3, Nos. 1 and 2 (attrib. Hoffstetter)
The four works on this CD no longer form part of the accepted canon of Haydns string quartets. The two works from Op. 2 are spurious arrangements of authentic Haydn works and the Op. 3 quartets are now widely believed to be the work of Pater Romanus Hoffstetter. That all four works circulated as genuine string quartets by Haydn for nearly two centuries is one of many proofs of his phenomenal contemporary popularity as a composer of chamber music.
Haydns earliest compositions for string quartet rank among the most historically significant instrumental works of all time. With these works, composed to the best of our knowledge in the late 1750s, he created an entirely new genre and one which would occupy a central place in the musical thinking of composers through to the present day. According to Haydns own account, as related by his early biographer Griesinger, a "
purely coincidental circumstance led him to try his hand at the composition of quartets.
A Baron Fürnberg had an estate in Weinzierl, several stages from Vienna; and from time to time he invited his parish priest, his estates manager, Haydn and Albrechtsberger (a brother of the well-known contrapuntist, who played the violoncello) in order to have a little music. Fürnberg asked Haydn to write something that could be played by these friends of the Art. Haydn who was then eighteen [sic] years old, accepted the proposal, and so originated his first Quartet which, immediately upon its appearance, received such uncommon applause as to encourage him to continue in this genre". Although Griesinger was wrong in assigning the first quartet to around 1750 1757 seems more likely given the other evidence the circumstances of the works composition and reception seem quite plausible and in the course of the next year or so Haydn composed at least another nine or ten works for string quartet.
The Parisian publisher La Chevardière issued two sets of six string quartets by Haydn in 1764. Of these works, Op. 1 No. 5 was a symphony (and is now referred to as Symphony A) and Op. 2 Nos 3 and 5 have since been identified as spurious arrangements of the Cassations in E flat (Hob.II.21) and D (Hob.II.22); the original versions of both are scored for horns and strings. Haydn played no rôle at all in the publication of these works. A great number of manuscript copies of the early quartets were in circulation and La Chevardière based his editions on sources of unknown provenance. The inclusion of the two cassations among the authentic quartets is understandable given the publishers unfamiliarity with Haydns music and the stylistic and structural similarities between the two genres. With their bright, cheerful opening movements, two minuets framing an elegant, lyrical slow movement, and racy finales, these works were the real antecedent of Haydn quartets rather than the Neapolitan opera sinfonia or the Baroque trio sonata. The two works on this recording may have been written as late as around 1760, by which time Haydn was a very experienced composer of instrumental music. Although they are slight works in comparison with the works of Op. 20 onwards, they are, nonetheless, technically faultless in composition and strongly imprinted with Haydns distinctive musical personality. Although the exquisitely beautiful slow movements with their soaring cantilena first violin parts are quite breathtaking, it is the sturdy, resourceful Minuets and driving finales which point most tellingly to Haydns future greatness.
The question of the authenticty of Haydns
so-called Op. 3 Quartets has engaged the attention of scholars since the mid-nineteenth century. Nearly every leading Haydn specialist from C.F. Pohl to
H.C. Robbins Landon has published an opinion on the subject and it says something for the intractable nature of the problem that there is still no common agreement. While there is widespread acceptance that the author of Op. 3 is Pater Romanus Hoffstetter (1742-1815), the argument put forward by Landon and Alan Tyson is by no means fireproof. Quite simply it does not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the quartets really are by Hoffstetter. To do so it would be necessary to prove that they could not possibly be by anyone else, a difficult if not impossible task to achieve given the evidence at our disposal. In short, we are faced with a set of works which may be by Haydn, or Hoffstetter or neither. A fuller account of the matter can be found in the notes accompanying the companion CD to this recording (Naxos 8.555704).
The quartets themselves, in terms of internal stylistic evidence, also pose problems since there is music within them that is both typical and atypical of Haydn. The same can be said for Hoffstetter, whose string quartets have been studied closely in the light of his possible authorship of Op. 3. Reginald Barrett-Ayres, one of the scholars who has examined Hoffstetters quartets, has found little stylistic similarity between his extant string quartets and the works of Op. 3. They bear a certain stylistic kinship with Haydns earliest quartets but then so too do those of a number of other composers active during the middle decades of the eighteenth century. They are competent enough works to suggest that their composer might have been capable of writing Op. 3 but the fact remains that none of the authentic quartets possesses the melodic charm and sureness of touch of movements like the famous Serenade from Op. 3 No. 5. On the evidence we possess, Op. 3, if indeed it is the work of Hoffstetter, represents his finest set of quartets.
In a sense the question of authorship, while undoubtedly fascinating, is largely irrelevant since the music has a life of its own. There is much to admire in the Op. 3 Quartets, whoever the composer may have been. They are elegant, neatly composed works with lively outer movements, gentle, graceful slow movements and the kind of lilting, intoxicating minuets that are an integral part of Austrian music of the period. There is little in the way of complex development of thematic material but each movement has its own logic and inner musical certainty. These are real quartets they are not scaled-down symphonies and their composer revels in the intimate sound and subtle textural possibilities of the four solo instruments. The opening movement of the C major Quartet, styled Fantasia con Variazioni, is particularly resourceful in this respect. As a group the Op. 3 Quartets are unsophisticated when compared with the great string quartets of Haydn and Mozart but their freshness and sense of joy is very appealing. One can imagine Haydn leafing through the works late in life, smiling at their occasional naivety and, whether sure of his authorship or not, feeling unashamed to claim them as his own.