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Category: Haydn

String quartets, Op.20 – Joseph Haydn

HaydnPlaying

  Joseph Haydn playing string quartets 

          Anonymous 

                (Staatsmuseum, Vienna)

             _______

upon first hearing the first movement only 
even of the opus 20, no 5 of Haydn, I was 
immediately struck by the more determined, 
insistent, peremptory strokes of the strings,
something not especially appropriate in an 
aristocratic setting, where the music should
be polite, reserved, nearly unobtrusive, a 
music composed for performance here 
rather than as an after dinner mint

the second and third movements return to 
a more conventional, which is to say courtly,
tone, but the end of the fourth movement is
also, and more virulently, vociferous

what’s up 

you might view this as the very beginning 
of the Classical Period, the stately 
institutions of not only the aristocratic 
social experiment, but also of the very 
world order were being debated, personal
opinion was beginning to supersede 
convention, the very core of the upcoming
Romantic Era, which saw the rights of the 
individual installed rather than the voice
of an imperial, or an indeed spiritual,
authority

Haydn was expressing his musical, and
dare I say Delphic, anima, his inspired 
spirit, setting the stage for what was to 
come, however historically blindly, the
French Revolution was coming up


I have a beef with the third movement, 
the adagio, however lovely – it’s right 
out of Bach, without anywhere any 
apparent attribution, I object to that 

is this a tribute, or an appropriation,
or does it matter, you tell me, I think
it’s, again however lovely, and ever
so influential, not only not right, but 
neither as lovely as the sublime 
BWV1031, a complete and utter
serenity, a sin of the sons against 
the fathers, or is it, rather, our 
indifferent patrimony, like putting 
moustache on the Mona Lisa 


the opus 20, no 2, is, for reasons I
won’t get into, a later work, it is 
throughout vociferous, peremptory,
insistent, adamant, assertive, 
vehement, uncompromising, it’s 
nearly even Beethoven, it’s, in
other words, a scorcher, like 
Beethoven, it takes no prisoners 

check it out, it’s only 1772 and the 
earlier model of civilizational order 
isn’t any longer holding, opus 20,
no 2 is an augury, an omen of what
is to come, which is, of course, the 
very task of the poet 


R ! chard

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String Quartet no 22 in G major, opus 17, no 5 – Joseph Haydn

rhythm-1956(2).jpg!Large.jpg

       Rhythm (1956) 

            Bice Lazzari

               ________

before I return to string quartetsand 
Haydn, here’s a divertimento, Mozart’s
First, I couldn’t let it pass, it sparkles 
from the very first instant

Mozart himself confounded his musical
definitions, he called his early string 
quartets divertimenti, before they were 
compiled by his own bibliographer, 
Köchel

notably, however, divertimentos were 
meant to be joyful, light, fluffy, no, in 
other words, adagios

this might create the problem of 
confusing movements, however, that 
have similar tempos, blending one 
indistinguishably into the others, so
that no particular theme stands out,
you leave the show not singing

dance rhythms help that, it’s not too 
hard to tell a jive when it follows a 
tango, or a polka, it’s something in 
our blood

but the more abstract tempos – 
andante, allegro, adagio – as musical 
prompts are cerebral concepts, and 
their airs more suited to singing, not
dancing

from the Baroque suites – sets of
musical dances, gavottes, minuets,
and so on, which were the model
for the string quartets, and indeed
divertimentos of the later 18th
Century – chamber music was 
evolving towards a more abstract 
level of musical conversation

Haydn and Mozart were setting up
the grammar for that, the Classical 
structure, and letting others take 
care of the nomenclature

note that though the performance 
here is electric, the piece, one you’d 
even pay for, you’ll wonder if Mozart 
even changed the music, or was it 
only the rhythms he altered, his 
middle andante wasn’t slow enough 
to make a dent in the general flow, 
the tenor, the mode, the mood of  
the composition

here’s Haydn’s String Quartet no 22,
opus 17, no 5, in G major to compare

though not as crackling as Mozart’s 
Divertimento in this, at least, particular
productionjust listen to what a little 
adagio can do for you, to anchor the 
entire experience in your heart

note also that the second movement 
is still a minuet, a dance step

this will change


R ! chard

Divertimento in G major, Hob.II:1 – Joseph Haydn

giraffe.jpg!Large

        “Giraffe” 

               Michael Sowa

                        ________

after looking everywhere on the Internet 
for how many divertimenti Haydn had 
written – since I’d given up counting them 
individually from the only list I could find
there, confounding one – I asked Siri
the 21st Century’s Delphic Oracle, whom 
I’d never yet consulted, apart from once 
during a friendly demonstration of her 
prowess

her reply about “divinity minty”, however, 
didn’t lead me anywhere, though 
“divertimento” eventually got me, 
however unsatisfactory, somewhat more 
pertinent answers

regardless, here is Haydn’s very first  
divertimento

a divertimento is quite simply an 
entertainment, an after dinner mint for
the aristocratic set, a place to digest 
one’s fine culinary offerings in the 
same, usually stratified, company
 

nowadays we have supper clubs

when Haydn called his early string 
quartets “divertimenti a quatro”, he
wasn’t kidding, a divertimento could 
be comprised of indeed even a small 
orchestra, or, quite simply, one only
performer, the string quartet as a 
form hadn’t yet been established as 
such, Haydn pulled it, as it were, out 
from under his hat, and gave it status

here’s the short, terse, Divertimento 
in G major, for instance, for, originally, 
harpsichord only, which is to say, just 
one person, but this homemade piano
version will point out already Haydn’s 
musical brilliance – you’ll love the 
giraffe, I loved the coffee cup at the 
bottom of the keyboard

incidentally, Haydn could’ve called 
his Divertimento a piano sonata, 
like Hoboken did, his bibliographer, 
eventually, for the list he compiled 
of the works of Haydn, we know it 
now, therefore, as well, as Haydn’s
First Piano Sonata in G major, 
Hob. XVl:8, same number as for  
the corresponding Divertimento

new terms were popping up, and 
being tested, then just as now, 
like our app, interface, Siriand 
who says compact disc anymore, 
or record

tempus, as we say in Latin, fugit,
time ever is on the wing


R ! chard

String Quartet no 15 in E flat major, op. 9, no. 2 – Haydn

minuet-1756.jpg!Large

   Minuet (1756) 

          Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

                   _______________

by 1769, Haydn had settled into a form 
for his string quartet that would become
definitive, four contrasting movements
in a particular key, to give the work 
cohesion

his Opus 9, no 2 retains a movement 
devoted to dance, the second, the 
“Menuetto”, but the essential 
conditions of the Classical string 
quartet are met

earlier, Haydn had referred to his 
compositions as “divertimenti a 
quattro”, divertimenti for four, 
players, of course, now he 
acknowledged, indeed installed, 
the concept of the string quartet, 
its earliest incarnation, as such 

though the outer movements are 
competent – the first using its 
initial off-beat musical motif a 
bit too often for my taste, and 
its repeat portions too similar, 
like someone repeating the same 
information you’ve been given
and unnecessarily extending the 
conversation with too few 
intriguing elaborations, too few 
arresting developments, the 
second, polite, and, thankfully, 
distinctive – the third, the 
“adagio – cantabile”, will knock
however, your socks off, a line 
of music is explored in all its 
tortured beauty to utterly 
transcendental effect


there is a spot in music, often an 
adagio for me, where one thinks, 
I have been there, this is me, and 
one throughout space, time, 
responds to the language of 
another, one melts, and finds 
one’s connection with humanity

therefore music, therefore, indeed, 
all art, thanks to all those who 
chose to share with us their,
however ever eccentric, 
inspiration, thanks to their, our, 
ingrained, ineffable, desire, 
indeed capacity, to communicate,
even across the ages, to, indeed, 
transcend 


but I’ve digressed

listen


R ! chard

String Quartet no 8 in E Major, op 2, no 2 – Joseph Haydn

the-music-lesson.jpg!Large.jpg

      “The Music Lesson (c.1769) 

           Jean-Honoré Fragonard

                ________________

Haydn’s String Quartet no 8 in E Major, 
op 2, no 2 is not an iconic work, but 
representative of what the period had 
on offer, which wasn’t at all shabby, 
however more entertaining than in 
any way inspirational, seismic, that’ll 
come later, Haydn was nevertheless 
not only composing delightful pieces, 
but setting the stage for an era, the 
Classical Period, along, of course, 
with Mozart 

the form is not quite settled yet for
the string quartet, with again five 
movements here mirroring each 
other across again a central adagio,
twice the length, incidentally, of the 
other sections, againthough not at 
all unpleasantly, which ought to tell 
you something

the call and response aspect of the 
music, like a verse and refrain, are 
manifest, and grounding, everywhere,
you know where you stand, or sit, be
it the allegros, the minuets, or the 
adagios, the tunes return and 
reassure like clockwork 

dance forms, you’ll note, still remain
in the titles, a vestige of the earlier
period’s suites, this will alter, with
headings turning to tempo markings
exclusively, a move towards the 
transcendental rather than the 
frivolities of gavottes, or minuets


transposition, meanwhile, of the
Opus 2, no 2 has beguiled me, the 
first violin has been replaced here 
with a guitar, same string quartet, 
but with an exquisite alteration

the guitar can only pluck, not glide
across a note, something akin to the 
harpsichord before the fortepiano, 
it makes for a completely different, 
though profoundly remembered, 
original

and delivered a particular zing to  
the strings of my heart

listen


R ! chard

String Quartet no 1 in G major, K80 – Mozart

mozart-2015.jpg!Large

        “Mozart (2015) 

             Bernd Luz

                ______

Mozart’s First String Quartet, in G major, K80,
is not at all equal to Haydn’s First, then again
Mozart was only 14 in 1770 when he wrote
it, Haydn in his early thirties when he 
composed his, in the late 1750s

the difficulties are flagrant, first of all, starting 
with an adagio is something to avoid, like
falling into your agonies before even saying
hello, it can be entirely dispiriting for your,
however forgiving, audience

unless, of course, the lament is poignant,
unlike here, I thought

the later movements are emotionally 
nearly indistinguishable from each  
other, despite astute changes in 
tempo, that sufficiently differentiate 
the several parts, but one leaves the 
recital, nevertheless, remembering 
nothing, essentially, though not not  
entertaining, the quartet is not 
memorable

but listen to his first piano concerto, in
D major, K175, called his Piano Concerto
no. 5 for esoteric reasons I won’t get into, 
he was only 17, and already he entirely 
seduces you, leaves you enchanted

he needs the piano, I think, for the lovely 
musical runs up the octaves he invents,
like birds lifting gently, light as air, from 
their branches, soaring, coasting, 
dipping, dropping, finding a nearby 
branch or eave upon which to rest for a 
moment, and cede to the strains of the 
restless orchestral windsand then fly 
off again, irrepressibly, towards another 
part of its musical wonderland

a string instrument can’t do that for the 
sake of the bow, which doesn’t have the 
extension

Mozart never outdoes Haydn at string 
quartets, though he learnt a lot from 
him about them, Haydn never bested 
Mozart at piano concertos  


R ! chard

Quartet 1 in B major (“La chasse”), op. 1 no. 1 – Haydn

louis-xiv-and-moliere.jpg!Large

        “Louis XIV and Molière (1862) 

              Jean-Léon Gérôme

                     ________

the string quartet didn’t come out of nowhere,
as nothing does – I think – but probably, I 
suspect, from the earlier period’s suites, the
Baroque’s, Bach’sfor instance

suites are a series of dance pieces, stylized 
for the purpose of the musical poet, a popular 
appropriation, an even natural one for 
composers

the aristocracy, by the middle of the 18th
Century, demanded erudite entertainment,
something that Louis XlV, the Sun King,  
had instilled, a little earlier, during his 
Radiant Reign – see Racine, Corneille
Molière, see above, as well, incidentally –
1643 to 1715, up at Versaillesas 
prerequisite for excellence in being a
monarch, a sovereign, sponsorship of 
culture, painting, poetry, music

dukes and counts and barons and 
princesses got onto the bandwagon 
and the arts consequently flourished

witness Haydn and Mozart then, still, 
now, giants 

here’s Haydn’s first, his Quartet no 1
in B major, (“La chasse”), op. 1 no. 1,
the first significant string quartet in 
our Western culture

you’ll note five movements, following 
the suite model described above, with 
mirrored minuets sandwiched between 
opposing mirrored prestos, and an 
adagio in the very middle, as though  
their crowning moment 

an adagio, to my mind, always gives 
away a composer’s worth, listen to 
this one, it’s melting

and he’s got 67 more to go through, I    
marvel, a veritable, and utter,
however improbable, musical
cornucopia 


R ! chard

String Quartet no 1, Opus 18, no 1 – Beethoven

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      “Musician’s table (1914) 

            Juan Gris

                _____

Beethoven’s First String Quartet came 
out much around the same time as 
Haydn’s Opus 76, no 1among six of 
them in his set, Beethoven also had 
six in his, however junior still, first
collection, his Opus 18, Beethoven 
would’ve been going on thirty, Haydn
nearly seventy, though his spirit hadn’t
in any manner flagged, listen

but their differences are evident if you
lend a thoughtful ear 

the format is the same, four movements,
inarguably contrasting, with formal 
adherence to Classical norms, tonality,
tempo, and return, but the style is, in 
Beethoven, being overtaken by the 
substance, again inarguably

at dinner together, if I may continue my
earlier allegorical conceit, by the second
movement, Beethoven has already 
entered politics, essentially, religion, 
these four, the players, have a bone to 
pick, and their conversation gets heated, 
there’s a pause, a reconciliation, before 
the third movement, dessert, as it were, 
which is merrier initially, but later 
remains contentious, liqueurs later, in 
the final movement, are still not enough 
to allow for a comfortable exit, however 
might’ve been the serenity of the 
intoxicating sherries, cognacs

Haydn would never have done that, 
having grown up in the proprieties
of the Esterházys, his aristocratic
sponsors, courtesy would’ve been 
of their essence

Beethoven’s is a call to arms, a 
consequence of the French 
Revolution, the birth of the 
Romantic Period

you can hear it in the music


R ! chard

on string quartets – Opus 76, no 1 – Joseph Haydn

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                                   “Joseph Haydn (1791) 

                                          Thomas Hardy

                                                 ______

to not consider other musical forms of
Shostakovich would be unfair, his
symphonies are mostly propaganda,
however often, though somewhat 
culturally specific, riveting

my favourite works of his, works I 
consider iconic, are mostly chamber 
pieces, piano solos, string quartets

a string quartet, after a symphony, is
like sitting down to dinner with four,
at the very least, acquaintances, 
rather than being a guest at a party,  
the conversation is more intimate,
every person plays hir part, everyone
is heeded, if even only with courtesy,
a social, a Classical, an aristocratic,
prerequisite 

movements can be compared to 
courses, distinct and identifiable for
their particular culinary, musical, 
propriety

later variations on this reflect the 
variations in social mores, where 
restaurants, the modern way of
socializing, allow for disparate 
choices, often superimposed, 
throughout the meal for any,
every, occasion

dim sum, tapas, celebrate this, not
unhappily 


but string quartets can be tricky, I 
thought I’d start from the beginning,
with some Haydn, their recognized 
Father, you’ll understand when you
hear this, his Opus 76, no 1, an 
outstanding string quartet to live 
up to

Haydn set the standard for string 
quartets when the norms of Western 
music were being established, Bach
had given us the alphabet, the
well-tempered clavier, Mozart, the 
grammar, the structure of music,
tempo, tonality, repetition, Beethoven 
gave us the literature, the poetry, the 
philosophical, the transcendent

Haydn is somewhere between these 
last two, but decidedly, still, the king  
of the string quartet, though Beethoven  
does a good job of trying to best him,  
and so does Shostakovich, you’ll have 
to pick

but first, let’s start with Haydn, that’ll
be already, you’ll see, or hear, enough

later, I’ll get into it


R ! chard

on the origins of the waltz

waltz-1891.jpg!Large.jpg

       Waltz (1891) 

         Anders Zorn

        ____________

had the waltz been confided to any 
other but the Johann Strausses, 
father and inveterate son, we may
never have distinguished it from 
the polka 

at the start, this amorphous new 
dance was deemed shameless, 
even shocking, by a scandalized
apparently, aristocracy, used to 
the more discreet, less conjugal, 
minuet

some nobles, sowing wild
irresistible oats, however, at the
festivities of their more irreverent 
servants, brought the new dance 
back home to their more informal, 
less stuffy, entertainments, avidly, 
though surely under their hats

to BelvedereSchönbrunneven 
Schloss EsterházyHaydn‘s  
stately old stomping haunt

thus was the waltz born, whirling 
indiscriminately like a polka at first
with indefinite stillhowever, timing

which then was reduced to only ever 
3/4 time, by the Strausses, the metre 
in which this comment, coincidentally, 
is written

read it aloud, you’ll want to wrap 
your arms around the nearest  
partner, assure you, and whirl, 
twirl, deliriously surrender

had we not had the Strausses, neither 
had we had Fred AstaireGinger Rogers,
Shall We Dance” from the glorious 
“The King and I”, nor the irrepressible 
So You Think You Can Dance either

nor me, for that matter, writing in 3/4 
verse, essentially, dactylic poetic metre 
about these celebrated accomplishments, 
something I deem eminently worthy of
reporting 

such is the impact of veritable art, I
warrant, the waltz was not inevitable

listen to Strauss Jr’s’ “Wiener Blut”, 
Viennese Blood“, or … Spirit
in English, for instance, for 
corroborating confirmation, and
corresponding, however inadvertent,
even, inspiration   

ever 

R ! chard