HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 76, Nos. 2 - 4 (Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550129)
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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Andante o piu tosto allegretto
Menuetto: Allegro ma non troppo
String Quartet in C Major, Opus 76 No.3 (Emperor)
Poco adagio: cantabile
String Quartet in B Flat Major, Opus 76 No.4 (Sunrise)
Allegro con spirito
Finale: Allegro ma non troppo
Joseph Haydn was as prolific as any eighteenth century composer, hisfecundity a matter, in good part, of the nature of his employment and thelength of his life. Born in 1732 in the village of Rohrau, the son of awheelwright, he was recruited to the choir of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Viennaat the age of eight, later earning a living as best he could as a musician inthe capital and making useful acquaintances through his association withMetastasio, the Court Poet, and the composer Nicola Porpora.
In 1759, after some eight years of teaching and free-lance performance,whether as violinist or keyboard-player, Haydn found greater security in aposition in the household of Count Morzin as director of music, wintering inVienna and spending the summer on the Court's estate in Bohemia, where anorchestra was available. In 1760 Haydn married the eldest daughter of awigmaker, a match that was to bring him no great solace, and by the followingyear he had entered the service of Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy as deputy to theold Kapellmeister Gregor Werner, who had much fault to find with his young colleague.
In 1762 Prince Paul Anton died and was succeeded by his brother PrinceNikolaus, who concerned himself with the building of the great palace ofEsterhaza. In 1766 Werner died, and Haydn assumed the full duties ofKapellmeister, spending the larger part of the year at Esterhaza and part ofthe winter at Eisenstadt, where his first years of service to the Esterhazyfamily had passed.
Haydn's responsibilities at Esterhaza were manifold. As Kapellmeisterhe was in full charge of the musicians employed by the Prince, writing music ofall kinds, and directing performances both instrumental and operatic. This busyif isolated career came to an end with the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790.
From then onwards Haydn had greater freedom, while continuing to enjoy thetitle and emoluments of his position as Kapellmeister to the Prince'ssuccessors.
Haydn's release from his immediate responsibilities allowed him, in1791, to accept an invitation to visit London, where he provided music for theconcerts organised by Johann Peter Salomon. His considerable success led to asecond visit in 1794. The following year, at the request of the new PrinceEsterhazy, who had succeeded his elder brother in 1794, he resumed some of hisearlier duties as Kapellmeister, now in Eisenstadt and in Vienna, where he tookup his own residence until his death in 1809.
Haydn was to write some 83 string quartets over a period of fortyyears. The form itself is closely associated with that of the classicalsymphony as it developed from the middle of the eighteenth century in Mannheimand elsewhere in south Germany, Austria and Bohemia, emerging from its originsin the Baroque sonata.
The set of six quartets that Haydn dedicated to Count Erdody wascompleted in 1797 and published two years later. The second, Opus 76 No.2, inthe key of D minor, earned its nickname of Quinten
or 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 or Witches'Minuet, in which the two lower strings imitate the two upper,contrasted with the ostinato of its D major Trio. The D minor principal themeof the last movement returns softly in the key of D major and leads forward toa more rapid conclusion in the same key.
The Quartet in C major,Opus 76, No.3, has become known as the Kaiserquartett
or Emperor Quartet because of thetheme, Haydn's own Emperor's Hymn,used as the subject of variations in the second movement. The beginning of thequartet has a strongly contrapuntal element and provides music of sufficientproportion to sustain the famous theme and its four variations, in which theinstruments take turns to play the melody itself. The Minuet and Trio provide a moment of relaxation before the C minor dramaof the finale, with its rapidtriplet rhythm, leading to a conclusion in C major.
The fourth quartet of Opus 76, the Quartetin B Flat major, is generally known as The Sunrise, for no better reason than the suggestion ofdawn as the first violin emerges from the sustained harmony of the otherinstruments in the first bars of the work, a process later to be inverted, asthe cello descends, from a harmony provided by the higher instruments of thequartet. The intensity of the slow movement, in which the first violin adds itsown element of drama, is followed by rapid Minuet
and a strongly felt Trio. Thefinal rondo, with its variedepisodes, and evidence of the imaginative humour that is so often a feature ofHaydn's music, ends in impressive unanimity.
The members of the Kodaly Quartet were trained at the Budapest Ferenc LisztAcademy, and three of them, the second violin Tamas Szabo, viola-player GaborFias and cellist Janos Devich, were formerly in the Sebestyen Quartet, whichwas awarded the jury's special diploma at the 1966 Geneva International QuartetCompetition and won first prize at the 1968 Leo Weiner Quartet Competition inBudapest. Since 1970, with the violinist Attila Falvay, the quartet has beenknown as the Kodaly Quartet, a title adopted with the approval of the HungarianMinistry of Culture and Education. The Kodaly Quartet has given concertsthroughout Europe, in the Soviet Union and in Japan, in addition to regularappearances in Hungary both in the concert hall and on television.