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Category: in search of beauty

String quartets, Op.20 – Joseph Haydn


  Joseph Haydn playing string quartets 


                (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,

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


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


       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, 

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

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



               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 

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  

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) 

          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 

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, 

but I’ve digressed


R ! chard

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


      “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, 

and delivered a particular zing to  
the strings of my heart


R ! chard

String Quartet no 1 in G major, K80 – Mozart


        “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 

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 

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 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 

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

R ! chard

Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet in B♭ Major, Op. 34 – Carl Maria von Weber


              Carl Maria von Weber


though I’d considered heading into 
later string quartets, later clarinet
quintets actually, an intriguing, I 
thought, divergence, it seemed a 
better idea to return to the 
Classical and early Romantic 
Periods to find an anchor for our  
formative musical idiom, again
rhythm, tonality, and recurrence

Carl Maria von Weber does an 
intermediate Clarinet Quintet
between Mozart’s and Brahms’,
which is noteworthy for especially
its Classical roots than its 
Romantic pretensions, I think, 
Weber sounds nothing like 
Beethoven, but is a nearly spitting
image of Mozart, which isn’t a bad
position at all to be in

listen for his courtliness, the staid,
though lively, musical interactions

you’ll note that the clarinet, though 
to one side, takes preeminence in
this composition – it’s nearly even 
a clarinet concerto – Weber called 
it a Quintet for Clarinet and Strings,
a perhaps more apt appellation

appellations, incidentally, remain 
the means by which we sharpen 
our understanding, however 
presumptuous might the term 
sound, appellations, in other 
words, count

though I could’ve used, I suppose, 
nomenclature, or something 

R ! chard

Clarinet Quintet in B minor, Op. 115 – Johannes Brahms


    “The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog / 

            “Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (1818)   

          Caspar David Friedrich


                              for Collin, who’ll appreciate
                                        especially, I’m sure, the 

while I’m on the subject of clarinet quintets,
since there are so few significant ones, let 
me pull Brahms’ out of my hat and celebrate 
it, a worthy challenge to Mozart’s own utter

but over a century has gone by, it’s 1891, 
Beethoven, the French Revolution, the 
Romantic Era is reaching its end, ceding 
to Impressionism, after the disruptions of 
rampant industrialization, and its 
consequent effects on the social contract

Marx has proposed a theoretical master 
plan to equitably protect the rest of us 
from the 1%, however too politically 
fraught, eventually, such a system – see

furthermore, Darwin had suggested that 
we weren’t all descended from Adam and 
Eve, but from larvae, which is to say, 
millennially morphed, modified, through
time, genetically, leading to festering still 
ideological  objections

Elizabeth Barrett Browning had written 
her unadulterated love poems to her 
husband, RobertCaspar David 
Friedrich had shown us his wanderer’s 
back while facing the mountainous 
challenges of the upcoming world, 
godless now after NietzscheAnna 
Karenina had thrown herself in front 
of a train, Madame Bovary had taken 
poison, and Ibsen‘s Nora had left her 
husband for a fraught, if not even 
dangerous, life on her own, to escape 
his safe but insufferable dominance, 
while Jane Eyre was finding ghosts
in her cobwebbed, and insufferable, 
to my mind, though admittedly  
aristocratic, attic 

you’ll note the clarinet is not sitting
centre stage, but has nevertheless 
a place at the table, by this time, 
though not not honoured, familiar,
and is more integrated to the 
conversation, the idea of democracy 
has taken hold, with everyone having
an equal, and even a vociferous, say

Brahms modelled his Clarinet Quintet,
on Mozart’s, the Classical structure is 
still the same, movements, tonality, 
musical recurrence, all to wonderful 

that he would do that is not a given, 
but a tribute to the power of that form, 
take the waltz for instance, alive from 
even before Strauss, not to mention 
Chopin, to approximately the middle 
of the Twentieth Century

think about it, who waltzes anymore,
though they might’ve enchanted still, 
residually, the  50’s – see Patti Page
for instance – its lustre having 
dissipated, with the wind, as it were, 
the gust, before us, of the unending 

R ! chard

Clarinet Quintet in A major, K581 – Mozart


The Swing / Les Hasards heureux de L’Escarpolette (1767) 

       Jean-Honoré Fragonard


it wouldn’t be fair to overlook Mozart 
when it comes to string quartets, after
all, he wrote 23 of them, but they’re 
not what he’s famous for, you have to 
go to his piano concertos for that, 
sublime things, and, in my estimation, 
to one of his chamber pieces, his 
utterly enchanting Clarinet Quintet,
in A major, K581, which, since I prefer
chamber pieces, I turn to most often

but to go to a quintet so quickly in a
discussion about quartets could be 
disconcerting, after all, you’ve got
somebody else at the table, you’ll
need another chair, another place 
setting, more food, for four still of the
standard courses, some of those even
elaborate, all this makes a difference

plus the new guest is to be accommodated, 
should typically be given the place of honour, 
as well as a distinct voice, command, like a 
soloist in a concerto, though, of course, be
less peremptory, more, indeed, courtly,
courteous, where, incidentally, the word
“courtesy” comes from

the sound of the clarinet in this quintet
mimics the sound of birds, midst the 
strings’ foliage, the guest, as it were, at 
the party, the piece delivers a wonderfully 
pastoral setting, a mainstay of that period 
see even above – an allegorical return to  
Mother Nature as a guiding principle over
the irascibility and the imperviousness of 
the Christian God, not to mention the 
search for a, nearly obliterated, feminine 
principle, deity

the second movement, the larghetto, 
which means a slow largo, which 
means it’s really, really slow, is 
accordingly melting

also, where would that movement be 
without the clarinet, I ponder, the guest 
that evening of especial honour, I get  
momentary glimpse at genius then 
and marvel, Mozart had written this for 
a clarinetist frienda friend he must’ve 
really admired

all the other movements are equally
consummate, unforgettable, perfect

I promise

R ! chard

psst: here’s Mozart’s 17th String Quartet
          no 17 in B flat major, “The Hunt”,  
          nevertheless, a quartetone of his    
          several, however perfunctorily