String Quartet no 42 in C major, Opus 54, no 2 – Haydn

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       “The Attributes of Music (1770) 

              Anne Vallayer-Coster

                      ___________

meanwhile back at Haydn, some nearly 
70 years after Bach’s Partita no 2
Haydn’s been freed by his sponsor, 
Prince Esterházy to sell his 
compositions to the highest bidder
and with the help of the Hungarian 
second violinist at the Esterházy 
courtfinds buyers in Paris

the Opus 54 is therefore associated 
with Johann Tost, as well as its 
companion Opus 55, and indeed 
Haydn’s later Opus 64 for string
quartet is decidedly dedicated to 
him

Haydn has been released from not
only contractual obligations, it
seems apparent, in his new, more
experimental phase, but from the
constraints of, verily, courtly music,
this is not dinner music for a coterie
of aristocrats, but demands attention,
Haydn is pulling out his showstoppers, 
musical eccentricities, to dazzle the 
crowd, pauses in the first movement, 
for instance, right off the top, for 
drama, of course, and musical 
tension

and the second movement sounds 
a lot more like a minuet to me

later in the last movement, he 
delivers a second, incongruous, I think, 
adagio, unusual at this point, the 
piece’s traditional cheery farewell,
interrupted by a presto, of all things,
right in the very centre of all that 
solemnity, you tell me if that ultimately 
works, thought not, and it ends, on 
top with of that, with whimper

but it opens the way for tempi 
prolonging the emotional impact of
the composition, six rhythms instead 
of four throughout the work makes 
the musical journey longer, more 
probing, more episodic, more 
narrative, eventually

wait till you hear what Beethoven 
does with that

but meanwhile, Haydn doesn’t 
disappoint, though you’ll have 
heard better, I think, and will, 
from him 


R ! chard

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