HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 76, Nos. 1- 3 (Janos Matyas/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550314)
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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
String Quartet No.1 in G major Hob.III:75
String Quartet No.2 in D minor Hob.III:76
String Quartet No.3 in C major Hob.III:77
Joseph Haydn was as prolific as anyeighteenth century composer, his fecundity a matter, in good part, of thenature of his employment and the length of his life. Born in 1732 in thevillage of Rohrau, the son of a wheelwright, he was recruited to the choir ofSt. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna at the age of eight, later earning a livingas best he could as a musician in the capital and making useful acquaintancesthrough his association with Metastasio, the Court Poet, and the composerNicola Porpora.
In 1759, after some eight years ofteaching and free-lance performance, whether as violinist or keyboard-player,Haydn found greater security in a position in the household of a Bohemiannobleman, Count Morzin, as director of music, wintering in Vienna and spendingthe summer on the Count's estate in Bohemia, where an orchestra was available.
In 1760 Haydn married the eldest daughter of a wig-maker, a match that was tobring him neither children nor solace, and by the following year he had enteredthe service of Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy as deputy to the old KapellmeisterGregor Werner, who had much fault to find with his young colleague. In 1762Prince Paul Anton died and was succeeded by his brother Prince Nikolaus, whoconcerned himself with the building of the great palace of Esterhaza. Fouryears later Kapellmeister Werner died, and Haydn assumed the full duties of theposition, spending the larger part of the year at Esterhaza and part of thewinter at Eisenstadt, where his first years of service to the Esterhazy familyhad passed.
Haydn's responsibilities at Esterhazawere manifold. As Kapellmeister he was in full charge of the musicians employedby the Prince, writing music of all kinds, and directing performances bothinstrumental, operatic and liturgical. This busy if isolated career came to anend with the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790. From then onwards Haydn hadgreater freedom, while continuing to enjoy the title and emoluments of hisposition as Kapellmeister to the Prince's successors.
Haydn's release from his immediateresponsibilities allowed him, in 1791, to accept an invitation to visit London,where he provided music for the concerts organised by Johann Peter Salomon. Hisconsiderable success led to a second visit in 1794. The following year, at therequest of the new Prince Esterhazy, who had succeeded his elder brother in1794, he resumed some of his earlier duties as Kapellmeister, now in Eisenstadtand in Vienna, where he took up his own residence until his death in 1809.
Haydn was to write some 83 stringquartets over a period of forty years. The form itself is closely associatedwith that of the classical symphony as it developed from the middle of theeighteenth century in Mannheim and elsewhere in south Germany, Austria andBohemia, emerging from its origins in the Baroque sonata. Haydn's achievementis as remarkable in quality as in quantity, his own development following thoseof the century, reflecting in the 1780s the influence of his youngercontemporary Mozart, who expressed his own debt to Haydn in a set of quartetsdedicated to him. In old age he seemed unwilling to follow the uncouth exampleof the Great Moghul, his recalcitrant pupil Beethoven, whose Opus 18 Quartetswere published in 1801. Haydn's last quartet, started in 1803, remainedunfinished, his major achievement in the genre ending with the century.
The set of six quartets that Haydndedicated to Count Erdody was completed in 1797 and published two years later.
The Count, who had married in 1796 a woman who was to become a particularlyenthusiastic supporter of Beethoven, belonged to a group of noblemen thatincluded Count Apponyi, to whom Haydn dedicated the Opus 74 Quartets, andPrince Lobkowitz, to whom he dedicated the last two completed Quartets, Opus77. It was to the last that Beethoven dedicated the six Opus 18 Quartets inwhat must have seemed a deliberate challenge to the older composer.
The first quartet of Opus 76, in the keyof G major, allows the cello to declare the first theme, after three openingchords have summoned the listener's attention. The theme is imitated by eachinstrument in turn, with unexpected harmonies leading to the brief statement ofan innocent enough second theme. It is the first theme that dominates thecentral development, re-appearing in the recapitulation with a contrapuntalaccompaniment that seems to promise a fugue. The slow movement contrasts asolemn C major melody, accompanied chordally, with a figure that is introducedby the cello against a repeated accompaniment pattern from second violin andviola, to be answered in a rapider figure by the first violin. The livelyMinuet has a Trio in which the first violin shows considerable agility, and thefinal Allegro, which is at first in the key of G minor, establishes a promiseof further counterpoint in a movement of considerable harmonic interest inwhich the opening figure has a significant part to play.
The second quartet of the series, in thekey of D minor, earned its nickname of Quinten (Fifths) from the widely spaceddescending intervals announced by the first violin in the opening bars, a motifthat is to re-appear. The second movement opens in D major and includes amodulating central section and an embellished return of the first theme. Thisis followed by a movement sometimes known as the Hexenmenuett (Witches'Minuet), in which the two lower strings imitate the two upper, contrasted withthe ostinato of its D major Trio. The D minor principal theme of the lastmovement returns softly in the key of D major and leads forward to a more rapidconclusion in the same key.
The Quartet in C major has become knownas the Kaiserquartett (Emperor Quartet) because of the second movementtheme, Haydn's own Emperor's Hymn, written for the birthday of the EmperorFranz after the composer's return from his second visit to England, where GodSave the King had impressed him.
The beginning of the quartet has astrongly contrapuntal element, making much of the dotted rhythm of an ascendingscale first introduced by the second violin. This provides music of sufficientweight to sustain the famous theme of the following movement and its fourvariations. The first of these allows the melody to the second violin, withrapid embellishment above from the first violin. The second variation gives thetheme to the cello and the third to the viola, while the fourth, in which thefirst violin has the melody, provides new twists of harmony. The Minuet and itsA minor Trio provide a moment of relaxation before the C minor drama of thefinale, with its rapid triplet rhythm, leading to a final conclusive return toC major.
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.