HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 76, Nos. 4 - 6 (Janos Matyas/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550315)
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Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Erdody Quartets, Opus 76 Nos. 4 - 6
String Quartet No.4 in B flat majorHob.III:78
String Quartet No.5 in D major Hob.III:79
String Quartet No.6 in E flat majorHob.III:80
Joseph Haydn was as prolific as anyeighteenth century composer, his fecundity a matter, in good pan, of the natureof his employment and the length of his life. Born in 1732 in the village ofRohrau, the son of a wheelwright, he was recruited to the choir of St.
Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna at the age of eight, later earning a living asbest 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 pan 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 fourth of the Op. 76 quartets has wonin England the descriptive title "The Sunrise", an ingenuous commenton the opening of the first movement, in which the first violin opens with anascending phrase over the sustained chord of the other instruments, itscounterpart the descending phrase later proposed by the cello. The E flat slowmovement, like the first, has suggestions of a sadder world. It is followed bya Minuet in which the same semitone interval retains the motivic importance ithas had hitherto. The final sustained notes of viola and cello continue as anaccompaniment to the opening bars of the Trio, with its excursion into theominous key of F minor. The final Rondo has a first episode in the tonic minor,playful use of counterpoint and a final varied re-appearance of the principaltheme as the movement speeds towards its close.
The gentle first movement of the Quartetin D major, Opus 76 No.5, is in the form of a theme and variations, a Dminor version of the theme from the cello giving scope for contrapuntalimitation, a procedure continued in the rather faster conclusion of themovement: The F sharp major Largo, which lies at the heart of the work, opens withits principal theme announced by the first violin and goes on to exploreremoter keys before it is done. The characteristically inventive Minuet has acontrasting D minor Trio that starts with a running figure in the cello,followed briefly by the other instruments. The quartet ends with a movement,the beginning of which wittily anticipates its ending, the pairs of chords ofthe first figure serving purposes of modulation as the movement makes itslively progress.
The remarkable E flat Quartet, thelast of the Erdody set, has a first movement in the form of a theme andvariations, ending with an energetic fugue. This is followed by a Fantasia, anAdagio, apparently in B major or, to the ear, C flat major, but at firstwithout a key signature, and passing through various keys, adjustedenharmonically, although not simultaneously in all pans. The intensity of theslow movement relaxes in a scherzo-like Minuet, the contrasting Alternativo,its title a reference to much earlier practice, based on a cunning imitativeuse of the descending and ascending scale. The last movement opens with afigure of rhythmic ambiguity which dominates, in one form or another, whatfollows. Here, as throughout the Erdody Quartets, there is the subtlest use ofthe technical resources of counterpoint, learning that Haydn, unlike Beethoven,wore lightly. Haydn's masterly command of technique and fund of inventivenessamply justify his contemporary reputation as the greatest living composer ofthe day.
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 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 concernhall and on television.