HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 74, Nos. 1- 3 (Janos Matyas/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550396)
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Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
Apponyi Quartets Nos. 4 - 6 (Op. 74, Nos.
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, who was succeeded,on his death in 1762, by his brother Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 ofthe elderly and sometimes obstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydnsucceeded to his position, to remain in the same employment for the rest of hislife.
On the completion of the magnificentpalace at Esterhaza, 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 wasrelatively insignificant, at least in its nomenclature, the Divertimento intomusic of greater weight, substance and complexity, although Haydn, like anygreat master, knew well how to conceal the technical means by which he achievedhis ends. 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 so-called Apponyi Quartets
were written in 1793 and dedicated to a nobleman, Count Anton Georg Apponyi,who was a member of the circle dominated by Baron van Swieten, the Gesellschaftder Associirten, which fostered interest in the music of J. S. Bach and Handel.
It was Apponyi who in 1795 invited Beethoven to try his hand at a stringquartet, an attempt that had to wait a few years.
The string quartet was traditionally, inVienna, a private form of music, not designed for the concert hall, where suchbuildings existed, During Haydn's first visit to London, however, his Opus 64quartets had been performed at the concerts organised for him by Salomon. AsRobbins Landon has pointed out in his magisterial work on the composer, the ApponyiQuartets were Intended for public concert performance, and. are, therefore,markedly different in character from other quartets by Haydn, Mozart orBeethoven. They were performed at the concerts in the Hanover Square, it seems,during the 1794 London season by Salomon, with two members of the Dutch Dahmenfamily playing second violin and cello and the Italian Federigo Fiorilloplaying viola.
The fourth Apponyi Quartet, Opus 74No.1 in C major, is introduced by two chords, followed at once by thechromatic principal theme. which forms the basis of a monothematic movement.
The gentle lilt of the G major slow movement, leads to a Minuet and Trio thatrecall in thematic outline the first movement and then to a brilliant finalmovement with a subtle admixture of counterpoint and a clear debt to earlierthemes.
The Quartet in F major, Opus 74 No.2,has an emphatic and unanimous introduction from all four instruments, beforethe related principal theme is announced by the first violin. The viola leadsthe way to what nearly seems a contrasted second subject, but is in fact a counterpointto the principal melody, to be developed in a relatively extended centralsection. The slow movement is a set of variations in B flat, followed by ascherzo of a Minuet and a Trio in the unexpected key of D flat. The quartetends with a movement of considerable melodic invention and harmonic contrast inwhich the first violin is given full scope for virtuosity.
The last of the Apponyi Quartets, Opus74 No.3 in G minor, is popularly known as The Rider or TheHorseman, for reasons immediately apparent. The unanimous opening isfollowed by a pause, after which the instruments return in imitation, one byone, with the first subject proper, to which a lilting second subject lateroffers a contrast. The heart of the quartet is the E major slow movement, withits own central E minor section. The Minuet and Trio are followed by a finalmovement of dynamic contrast and variety, leading to a G major conclusion.
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 Devich, wereformerly in the Sebestyen 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.