HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 50, Nos. 4 - 6, 'Prussian' (Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.553984)
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String Quartet in Fsharp minor, Op. 50, No. 4, Hob. III: 47
String Quartet in Fmajor, Op. 50, No. 5, Hob. III: 48
String Quartet in Dmajor, Op. 50, No. 6, Hob. III: 49
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 subsequently spent some years earning a living as best he could fromteaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to profit fromassociation with the old composer Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn'sfirst appointment was in 1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Countvon Morzin, whose kinsman had once served as patron to Vivaldi. This wasfollowed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest menin the Empire, Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, succeeded after his death in 1762by Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhatobstructive Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had found much to complain about inthe professionalism of his young and resented deputy, Haydn succeeded to hisposition, to remain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest ofhis life.
On the completion of the magnificent palace at Esterhaza in theHungarian plains under Prince Nikolaus, Haydn assumed command of an increasedmusical establishment. Here he had responsibility for the musical activities ofthe palace, which included the provision and direction of instrumental music,opera and music for the theatre, as well as music for the church. For hispatron he provided a quantity of chamber music of all kinds, particularly forthe Prince's own peculiar instrument, the baryton, a bowed string instrumentwith sympathetic strings that could also be plucked and one that the Englishscholar Dr Burney thought to have its only proper use on a desert island, wherea castaway might accompany himself.
Prince Nikolaus died in 1790 and Haydn found himself able to accept aninvitation to visit London. There he provided music for concert seasonsorganized 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 with them. Much of the year,however, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dyingin 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.
Haydn lived during the period of the eighteenth century that saw thedevelopment of instrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel to the era ofthe classical sonata, with its tripartite first-movement form and complementarythree or four movements, the basis now of much instrumental composition. Thestring quartet itself, which came to represent classical music in its purestform, grew from a genre that was relatively insignificant, at least in name,the Divertimento, into music of greater weight, complexity andsubstance, although Haydn, like any great master, knew well how to conceal thetechnical means by which he achieved his ends. The exact number of stringquartets that Haydn wrote is not known, although he himself listed some 83. Theearlier of these, often under the title Divertimento, proclaim clearlyenough their origin and purpose. Haydn's last quartet, Opus 103, started in1803, remained unfinished and coincided with the appearance of quartets of anew and original kind, from Haydn's recalcitrant and ungrateful pupil,Beethoven. Haydn himself once claimed to have discovered the string quartet byaccident. The discovery, if such it was, has continued to have a far-reachingeffect on the development of Western music.
Haydn had contemplated a new set of six string quartets as early as1784, two years after the publication of his so-called Russian quartets, Opus33. The set of six that form Opus 50, the so-called Prussian quartets,dedicated to the cello-playing King Frederick William II of Prussia, waswritten in 1787, to be published by Artaria, whose delay gave the composer anexcuse to elicit money from the London publisher Forster for publication there,a step that led to later argument with Artaria's London collaborators Longmanand Broderip. The quartets occupy an important position in the development ofthe genre, reflecting the influence of Mozart's six quartets recently dedicatedto Haydn, themselves the product of the latter's study of Haydn's work. WithMozart's move to Vienna in 1781, there had come about more personal contactbetween the two composers and reciprocal influence and respect that allowedHaydn to develop the string quartet still further, while ceasing to use formsthat Mozart had made his own, notably the concerto and opera. Sixteen yearslater it seems that Beethoven's first excursion into quartet territory ledHaydn finally to abandon it.
The Quartet in F sharp minor, Opus 50, No. 4, opens with astrongly stated figure that serves, in part, to introduce the A major secondsubject, and, as it should, the central development. After brief contrapuntaltreatment, the principal theme returns, to be capped by its final appearance inthe tonic major key of F sharp. In the slow movement the first violin isentrusted with the A major singing theme of the second movement, to be followedby an A minor derivative. The two thematic elements are varied, before thereturn of a version of the A major theme from the second violin, with commentfrom the first, which goes on to a rapider ornamented conclusion in a movementthat has earned the nickname Der Traum ('The Dream'). The Minuet isin F sharp major, with a contrasting trio in the tonic minor. There follows afinal fugue, introduced by the cello, followed in turn by the viola, secondviolin and first violin. The choice of key, again F sharp minor, ensures acontinued element of poignancy in a movement that retains motivic connectionwith what has already passed.
The mood of the Quartet in F major, Opus 50, No. 5, is a verydifferent one. It starts with the two violins proposing a simple motif,repeated in sequence, before moving forward to secondary material of greaterrapidity. The central development, once the exposition has been duly repeated,allows both elements to be explored, before the recapitulation and its final surprises.
The B flat major slow movement derives certain features from what has gonebefore and is marked by the recurrence of scale passages in contrary motion andof thirds between the two violins. There is a monothematic connection betweenthe F major Minuet and its F minor Trio. The quartet ends with a Vivacein 6/8, the last movement of the set to be completed, seemingly with somerelief. In structure it is generally predictable, its sections clearlydifferentiated and allowing much activity in the central development.
The set ends with Quartet in D major, Opus 50, No. 6, known as TheFrog from the alternating of strings on the same note, the device of bariolage,used in the last movement. It has also earned itself the nicknames of TheHouse on Fire and The Row in Vienna, sobriquets which, howeverpopular at one time or another, now seem increasingly inept. The quartet seemsabout to start in another key, before the proper D major is established.
Basically monothematic, the movement finds an important place for the openingmotif of six notes, both in the repeated exposition as in the centraldevelopment and recapitulation. The slow movement is in D minor, its principaltheme soon transformed into a brighter F major. The central section of themovemen