HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 33, Nos. 3, 4 and 6 (Ibolya Toth/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550789)
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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 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 Paui, 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 Aspeimayr, Thaddaus Huberand the cellist Joseph Weigi.
The Quartet in C major, Opus 33, No.3, is known as The Bird fromthe grace notes that embellish its principal theme, played by the first violin,an element that re-appears as the movement continues. The second movement, ascherzando that replaces the earlier Minuet, an expression of the new mood ofOpus 33, preserves bird-like elements in the trills of the first violin in aTrio section played only by the two violins. The F major Adagio finds room forincreasingly elaborate embellishment by the first violin and leads to a finalRondo, in which the first violin theme is echoed by the other instruments,before a first episode in A minor. It is, however, the opening figure thatcharacterizes the whole movement.
The last quartet of Opus 33, in D major, opens with a movement marked Vivaceassai and in 6/8 metre. There is a D minor Andante, its first thematicmaterial declared by the second violin, shadowed by the viola, under a sustainedhigher note from the first violin, a recurrent feature. The Scherzo has a Trioin which the cello assumes initial importance, followed by imitation betweenfirst viol in and viola in the second section. The last movement uses a variedversion of its opening D major material to frame a more contrapuntal D minorpassage, which re-appears thereafter in a version of further contrapuntalelements before the return of the D major opening thematic material. The quartetends a set of six works that seem to reflect the happiness of the composer atthis period of his life, attributed by some to his new relationship with thesinger Luigia Polzelli, wife of the Esterhaza violinist Antonio Polzelli, aliaison that was thought to have resulted in the birth of a son, born in 1783.
The fourth quartet of Opus 33, in the key of B flat major, has a firstsubject stated by the first violin, with a rhythmic accompanying figure thatre-appears as the movement proceeds. The well known Scherzo has a B flat minorTrio section, while the slow movement, in E flat, makes particular use of themelodic figure of the first bar. The principal theme of the last movement has acentral section in related keys and the rondo ends with a statement of theopening theme plucked softly, after the bowed version has been allowed todiminish to a whisper.
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.