HAYDN: String Quartets, Op. 9, Nos. 1, 3 and 4 (Ibolya Toth/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550786)
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Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
String Quartets, Op. 9, Nos. 4, 1 and 3
Joseph Haydn was born in the village of Rohrau in 1732, the son of awheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna,he spent some years earning a living as best he could from teaching and playingthe violin or keyboard, and was able to learn from the old musician Porpora,whose assistant he became. Haydn's first appointment was in 1759 asKapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin. This was followed in1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest men in theEmpire, Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy, succeeded on his death in 1762 by hisbrother Prince Nikolaus. On the death in 1766 of the elderly and somewhatobstructive Kapellmeister, Gregor Werner, Haydn succeeded to his position, toremain in the same employment, nominally at least, for the rest of his life.
On the completion under the new Prince of the magnificent palace atEsterhaza, built on the site of a former hunting-lodge set on the Hungarianplains, Haydn assumed 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, abowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.
On the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790, Haydn was able to accept aninvitation to visit London, where he provided music for the concert seasonorganized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A second successful visit toLondon in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to duty with the Esterhazyfamily, the new head of which had settled principally at the family property inEisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career. Much of the year, however, wasto be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years, dying in 1809, as theFrench armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.
Haydn lived during the period of the 18th century that saw the development ofinstrumental music from the age of Bach and Handel to the era of the classicalsonata, with its tripartite form, the basis of much instrumental composition.
The string quartet itself, which came to represent classical music in its purestform, grew from a genre that was relatively insignificant, at least in itsnomenclature, the Divertimento, into music of greater weight, substanceand complexity, although Haydn, like any great master, knew well how to concealthe technical means by which he achieved his ends. The exact number of stringquartets that Haydn wrote is not known, although he listed some 83. The earlierof these, often under the title Divertimento, proclaim their origin andpurpose. The last quartet, Opus 103, started in 1803, remained unfinished.
The first of Haydn's string quartets, variously titled as Divertimenti,Cassations or Notturni, were written in the 1750s and early 1760s,before he entered the service of the Esterhazys. After a gap of several years heturned his attention again to the form at the end of the decade and between 1768and 1770 wrote a set of six Divertimenti to which later French editionsgave the number Opus 9. Two further sets of six followed almost at once, in 1771and 1772. The quartets of Opus 9, planned, it seems, as a set, unlike theearlier quartets, are in contrasting keys. In all of them the Minuet is placedsecond rather than third, allowing a lightening of mood after the relativelyslow opening movements of five of the set and before the following slowmovements.
The fourth quartet of Opus 9, in D minor, was perhaps the first to becomposed and is musically the most challenging of the set and had considerableinfluence over other composers, who were developing a form that Haydn seems tohave first used in writing music for the instruments then available to him. Thefirst movement of the D minor Quartet is one of rhythmic and motivic complexity.
The D major Trio, framed by the repeated D minor Minuet, is not least remarkablefor its omission of viola and cello, the double-stopping of the first violinaccompanied by the second violin only. The B flat major Adagio makes demands onthe first violin, as elsewhere allowing space for a possible cadenza. The secondviolin opens the Finale with a thematic element at once imitated by the firstviolin, providing a subject for contrapuntal treatment as the movementprogresses.
The Quartet in C major, the first of Opus 9, opens with a movementmarked Moderato, the principal theme, announced by the first violin, providingelements for development in the central section before its return in its second,embellished form in the final recapitulation. The Minuet, with its G minor Trio,is followed by an F major Adagio, an embellished aria for the first violin. Thelively Finale again gives prominence to the first violin, the part designedhere, as elsewhere for Luigi Tomasini first violinist and later concertmaster ofthe Esterhazy orchestra.
The Quartet in G major, the third of the set, again opens with aModerato first movement in which the first violin, as in the first of the set,has similar passages of double stopping. The contrasting Minuet and Trio, in thesame key, are succeeded by a C major Largo in which melodic interest is to someextent shared between the instruments of the quartet, which all at some pointengage together in passages of semiquaver triplets. The work ends with a Finaleof occasionally marked dynamic contrast.
The members of the Kodaly Quartet were trained at the Budapest Ferenc LisztAcademy, and three of them, the second violinist Tamas Szabo, viola-playerGabor Fias and cellist Janos Devich, were formerly in the Sebestyen Quartet,which was awarded the jury's special diploma at the 1966 Geneva InternationalQuartet Competition and won first prize at the 1968 Leo Weiner QuartetCompetition in Budapest. Since 1970, with the violinist Attila Falvay, thequartet has been known as the Kodaly Quartet, a title adopted with the approvalof the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education. The Kodaly Quartet hasgiven concerts throughout Europe, in the then Soviet Union and in Japan, inaddition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concert hall and ontelevision and has made for Naxos highly acclaimed recordings of string quartetsby Ravel, Debussy, Haydn and Schubert.