HAYDN: String Quartets Op. 9, Nos. 2, 5 and 6 (Ibolya Toth/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550787)
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Joseph Haydn (1732- 1809)
String Quartets, Op. 9, Nos. 2, 5 and 6
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 second quartet of Opus 9, in the key of E flat major, opens again with afirst movement of some weight and length in which the melodic burden again fallsto the first violin in writing calling fore an element of virtuosity. The Minuetand Trio in the same key provide a release of tension, to be followed by anoperatic slow movement in which a recitative for the first violin is followed byan elaborately ornamented aria. The quartet ends with a rapid Finale that takesthe first violin to the heights and depths of the violin register.
The Quartet in B flat major, fifth of the set, is in the form of atheme and four variations. The first of these allows the theme to be varied bythe first violin, which takes a subsidiary part in the second variation with itstriplet rhythm. A further rhythmic diminution of note values gives the firstviolin a rapid third version of the theme while the fourth juxtaposes the themewith its own embellishment. There is a Minuet, with a Trio of dynamic contrasts,before the operatic E flat major Largo, in which the first violin indulges in avariety of embellishments, before launching the rapid Finale.
Opus 9 ends with an A major sixth quartet that differs from the rest of theset by star1ing with a quick movement in 6/8 time. The Minuet frames an A minorTrio, leading to an E major Adagio, dominated by its triplet rhythm and againallowing space for a possible first violin cadenza. The last movement has givenrise to considerable criticism, principally because of its brevity, a mere 53bars, compared with the 218 bars of the Finale of Opus 9 No.5. It may be arguedthat the rapidity of the first movement and its compound metre does not demandthe same weight as a counterbalance, as is found necessary in quartets withrelatively slow and complex first movements.
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.