HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 54, Nos. 1- 3 (Kodaly Quartet/ Veronika Vincze) (Naxos: 8.550395)
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Joseph Haydn (1732 -1809)
String Quartets Op. 54, Nos. 1 - 3
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 after hisdeath in 1762 by Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly andsomewhat obstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydn succeeded to hisposition, to remain in the same employment for the rest of his life.
On the completion of the magnificentpalace at Esterhazy, in the Hungarian plains, under Prince Nikolaus, Haydnassumed 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.
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 was relativelyinsignificant, at least in its nomenclature, the Divertimento, into music ofgreater weight, substance and complexity, although Haydn, like any greatmaster, knew well how to conceal the technical means by which he achieved hisends. 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 string quartets of Opus 54
open the first set of half a dozen quartets dedicated to the violinist JohannTost, a man who led the second violins in Haydn's orchestra at Esterhaza from1783 until his departure for Paris in 1788, although he is mentioned as MusicDirector for the Seipp theatre company in Pressburg (the modern Bratislava) inthe previous year. In Paris he sold for publication the six quartets of Opus 54and Opus 55 and two new Haydn symphonies, transactions that seem to have causedsome trouble. He had in any case, during his time at Esterhaza, suggested alucrative scheme for pirating compositions belonging to the Prince. He laterreturned to Vienna, and in 1790 married a housekeeper in the service of PrinceEsterhazy, becoming a prosperous cloth-merchant. Nine years later we hear ofhis approach to Spohr with the suggestion that he buy exclusive rights over hischamber music compositions for a period of three years, so that frequentperformances, particularly of chamber music, would allow him entry to the besthouses in Vienna, where Spohr's chamber music might be performed, andfacilitate business contacts, when he travelled. Spohr agreed to the proposaland the sliding scale of fees offered, rising according to the number ofinstruments written for. The immediate result was two string quartets and theNonet. Haydn dedicated to Tost a second set of six quartets, Opus 64, in 1790,and Mozart wrote for him his last two string quintets.
The three Opus 54 quartets werecompleted by the autumn of 1788, when Tost left for Paris. The first, in thekey of G major, opens with a cheerful movement based on its initial themeplayed by the first violin. The C major Allegretto serves as a slow movementexploring the higher range of the first violin and leading to a characteristicMinuet and Trio and a rapid and varied Finale.
The second of the set, Opus 54 No.2 inC major, opens boldly with a movement that once again takes the firstviolin to unexpected heights. The C minor slow movement provides decorativeembellishment for the first violin and leads directly, without a pause, to a Minuetthat was well enough liked at Esterhaza to be used for a musical clock made bythe Esterhaza librarian, Pater Primitivus Niemecz. The Trio is again in Cminor. The quartet ends with an original movement that opens and closes with anAdagio, but includes a rapid section, interrupted by sudden pauses, typical ofHaydn's liking for the unexpected.
Opus 54 No.3, in E major,has a dazzling first movement. The second movement Largo cantabile usesintricate and rapid ornamentation and is succeeded by a rhythmically markedMinuet and contrasting Trio. The final movement allows the second violin toannounce the principal theme in a sonata-rondo structure, its recapitulationmarked by Haydn's love of musical surprises.
The members of the Kodaly Quartet weretrained at the Budapest Ferenc Liszt Academy, and three of them, the secondviolin Tamas Szabo, viola-player Gabor Fias and cellist Janos Oevich, wereformerly in the Sebestyan Quartet, which was awarded the jury's special diplomaat the 1966 Geneva International Quartet Competition and won first prize at the1968 Leo Weiner Quartet Competition in Budapest. Since 1970, with the violinistAttila Falvay, the quartet has been known as the Kodaly Quartet, a titleadopted with the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education.
The Kodaly Quartet has given concerts throughout Europe, in the Soviet Unionand in Japan, in addition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concerthall and on television.