HAYDN: String Quartets Opp. 103 and 51 (Janos Matyas/ Kodaly Quartet) (Naxos: 8.550346)
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Joseph Haydn (1732 - 1809)
The Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ/Diesieben letzten Worte Jesu Christi
(Musica instrumentale sopra le 7 ultimeparole del nostro Redentore in croce) Hob. III: 50-56, Op. 51
String Quartet in D Minor, Hob. III: 83,Op. 103
Joseph Haydn was born in the village ofRohrau in 1732, the son of a wheelwright. Trained at the choir-school of St.
Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, he spent some years living as best he could fromteaching and playing the violin or keyboard, and was able to learn from the oldmusician Porpora, whose assistant he became. Haydn's first appointment was in1759 as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin. This wasfollowed in 1761 by employment as Vice-Kapellmeister to one of the richest menin the Empire, Prince Esterhazy. On the death of the elderly Kapellmeister,Gregor Werner, in 1766 Haydn succeeded to his position, to remain in the sameemployment for the rest of his life.
On the completion of the magnificentpalace at Esterhaza, in the Hungarian plains under Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy,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,a bowed string instrument with sympathetic strings that could also be plucked.
On the death of Prince Nikolaus in 1790,Haydn was able to accept an invitation to visit London, where he provided musicfor the concert season organized by the violinist-impresario Salomon. A secondsuccessful visit to London in 1794 and 1795 was followed by a return to dutywith the Esterhazy family, the new head of which had settled principally at thefamily property in Eisenstadt, where Haydn had started his career. Much of theyear, however, was to be spent in Vienna, where Haydn passed his final years,dying in 1809, as the French armies of Napoleon approached the city yet again.
In 1786 Haydn had been invited by a canonof Cadiz to provide music for a Lenten devotion in a grotto church. During thecourse of this the bishop would announce each of the seven last words ofChrist, following each with a brief sermon. After each short discourse thebishop would descend from the pulpit and prostrate himself before the altar,while music was played. The original version of Haydn's remarkably varied slowmovements was scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, bassoons, trumpets and drums,with four horns and strings. The work had wide currency throughout Europe andwas instrumental in establishing Haydn's international reputation. In 1796 hedevised a choral version, having overheard a similar arrangement which he didnot find entirely satisfactory. Haydn made the version for string quartet threedays after completing the fuller orchestral version in February 1787.
The Seven Last Words opens with asolemn introduction, in impressive dotted rhythm. The first Sonata illustratesthe words "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" andis followed by a meditation on the words "Verily, I say unto you: this dayyou shall be with me in Paradise". The E major third Sonata follows thewords "Woman, behold thy son: son, behold thy mother". The desolatecry "Eli, Eli, lama asabthani?", set in F minor, leads to the A major"I thirst". A solemn G minor moves to G major for "It is accomplished",proceeding to the E flat "Father, into Thy hands I commend myspirit", played muted. Mutes are then quickly removed for the finalearthquake, as the veil of the Temple is rent asunder.
In 1803 Haydn directed a publicperformance in Vienna for the last time. The work he chose was the SevenLast Words. In the same year, now increasingly frail, he wrote the secondand third movements of what was to be the last of his 83 string quartets, awork he never completed. When the two movements were published in 1806, Haydnsuggested the addition of a sad postscript, a canon to the words: \Hin ist allemeine Kraft, alt und schwach bin ich" (Gone is all my strength, old and weak amI). The new century was, in any case, in the hands of a new generation,represented by the uncouth young Beethoven, once Haydn's pupil, and anungrateful one at that. The last quartet had been intended for PrinceLobkowitz, but it was to this nobleman that Beethoven had already dedicated hissix Opus 18 quartets in 1801. A new age had already begun.
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 title adoptedwith the approval of the Hungarian Ministry of Culture and Education. TheKodaly Quartet has given concerts throughout Europe, in the Soviet Union and inJapan, in addition to regular appearances in Hungary both in the concert halland on television.