HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 33, Nos. 1, 2 and 5 (Ibolya Toth/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550788)
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Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of awheelwright. 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 playingthe violin or keyboard, and was able to learn from the old musician Porpora,whose assistant he became. Haydn's first appointment was in 1759 asKapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin. This was followed in1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in theEmpire, Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, succeeded on his death in 1762 by hisbrother Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhatobstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydn succeeded to his position, toremain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.
On the completion under the new Prince of the magnificent palace atEsterhaza, built on the site of a former hunting-lodge set on the Hungarianplains, Haydn assumed command of an increased musical establishment. Here he hadresponsibility for the musical activities of the palace, which included theprovision and direction of instrumental music, opera and theatre music, andmusic for the church. For his patron he provided a quantity of chamber music ofall kinds, particularly for the Prince's own peculiar instrument, the baryton, abowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.
On the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790, Haydn was able to accept aninvitation to visit London, where he provided music for the concert seasonorganized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit toLondon in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterhazyfamily, the new head of which had settled principally at the family property inEisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career. Much of the year, however, wasto be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dying in 1809, as theFrench armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.
Haydn lived during the period of the 18th century that saw the development ofinstrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel to the era of the classicalsonata, with its tripartite form, the basis of much instrumental composition.
The string quartet itself, which came to represent classical music in its purestform, grew from a genre that was relatively insignificant, at least in itsnomenclature, the Divertimento, into music of greater weight, substanceand complexity, although Haydn, like any great master, knew well how to concealthe technical means by which he achieved his ends. The exact number of stringquartets that Haydn wrote is not known, although he listed some 83. The earlierof these, often under the title Divertimento, proclaim their origin andpurpose. The last quartet, Opus 103, started in 1803, remained unfinished.
Haydn completed his Opus 33 quartets in 1781 and before their publicationoffered manuscript copies on subscription to a number of leading patrons, ofwhose interest he was assured. The Russian Quartets take their name fromtheir performance in the presence of the Russian Grand Duke Paul, later TsarPaul II, with his wife, visiting Vienna under the names of the Count andCountess von Norden and accompanied by members of the family of the GrandDuchess, the ruling family of W??rttemberg. The quartets were played, in thepresence of the composer, by Luigi Tomasini, Franz Aspelmayr, Thaddaus Huber andthe cellist Joseph Weigl.
The Quartet in G major, Opus 33, No.5, has a first movement with acontrasting second subject marked dolce, after a principal theme that openssoftly and increases markedly in volume in its third bar. The initial figure hassuggested the nick-name "How do you do?". The second movement, in Gminor, offers a first violin aria, accompanied by semiquaver broken chords fromthe second violin and a sparer texture from viola and cello. The Scherzo returnsto G major, with a Trio in the same key, and there is a last movement in 6/8metre that presents a series of variations on the principal theme, whichre-appears with a change of rhythm and pace in conclusion.
Opus 33, No.2, in E flat major and known affectionately as The Joke, hasa first movement of moderate speed and opens with a first subject of particularcharm leading to a brief second subject. The central development is introducedby the cello playing the opening figure, imitated at once by the first violin.
The second movement, with the title Scherzo rather than the earlier Minuet, ischaracteristically light-hearted. It is succeeded by a B flat major Largo openedby the viola and cello, echoed by the violins, with a middle section of markeddynamic and rhythmic contrast. The last movement is dominated by its cheerfulprincipal theme, its progress briefly interrupted by a sudden change of speedand a coda that plays jokes on the listener by a series of silences and awhispered ending.
The first of the Opus 33 quartets, in the key of B minor, starts with afigure played by the first violin, accompanied by the second, and echoed by thecello, with a shift to the key of D major. The central development explores theimitative possibilities of the opening figure, which introduces therecapitulation. The second movement, marked scherzando, with F sharp bariolagefor the first violin and a B major Trio, is followed by a D major Andante thatopens with the ascending tonic arpeggio. The last movement returns to B minorand makes some imitative contrapuntal use of its opening triadic figure.
The members of the Kodaly Quartet were trained at the Budapest Ferenc LisztAcademy, and three of them, the second violinist Tamas Szabo, viola-playerGabor Fias and cellist Janos Devich, were formerly in the Sebestyen Quartet,which was awarded the jury's special diploma at the 1966 Geneva InternationalQuartet Competition and won first prize at the 1968 Leo Weiner QuartetCompetition in Budapest. Since 1970, with the violinist Attila Falvay, thequartet has been known as the Kodaly Quartet, a title adopted with the approvalof the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education. The Kodaly Quartet hasgiven concerts throughout Europe, in the then Soviet Union and in Japan, inaddition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concert hall and ontelevision and has made for Naxos highly acclaimed recordings of string quartetsby Ravel, Debussy, Haydn and Schubert.