Day 101: The Best For Last

HaydnCD101After hearing string quartets that seemed to lack luster (or maybe my ears lacked luster and the string quartets were brilliant), Opus 76 seems to have been just the prescription this winter-weary doctor ordered. For himself.

From Movement I (“Allegro con spirito”) onward, Op. 76 No. 1 in G was terrific, even the much…m-u-c-h…slower Movement II (“Adagio sostenuto”) couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this string quartet. Why? Because there were a few interesting/clever solo violin passages that made me sit up and pay attention. (I literally did that; I sat up straighter and listened more intently.)

No. 2 in D Minor was no less captivating, nor was No. 3 in C. All featured lively passages as well as slow-but-compelling passages.

It’s hard to say what’s different about these string quartets compared to most of the previous ones. How does one describe a peach? One doesn’t. One merely bites into it and lets the juice run down his chin.

So I can’t hope to describe why Opus 76 resonated with me. I’m just very glad Brilliant Classics saved the best string quartets for last, for that is indeed what I’m listening to. These are Continue reading

Day 100: A Milestone Worthy Of a “Tost”

HaydnCD100It’s hard to believe that 100 days have passed since I began this exploration of Haydn’s music.

One-hundred days!

There are only 50 days left, less than two months.

Today’s CD offers Opus 55, which – like its predecessor Opus 54 – is known as the “Tost” quartets, named after Johann Tost, a violinist in the Esterhazy orchestra from 1783-89. These string quartets were composed in 1788. Haydn was 56.

I listened to Haydn CD 100 featuring Opus 55 twice through today. I wish I could say I remembered a note of what I heard. These string quartets are serviceable. They’re well crafted. But they don’t jump out at me.

Your mileage my vary.

Here’s what I listened to this morning: Continue reading

Day 99: Prussian Quartets

HaydnCD99Today’s CD contains Haydn’s String Quartets titled Opus 50, the “Prussian” quartets, which were composed in 1787. Haydn was 55.

Here’s some background on the Prussian quartets. This paragraph is from a web site called Audiophile Audition that sells high-res recording of these Haydn quartets. (The recordings to which I’m listening are from the Brilliant Classics Haydn Edition. I find these recordings to be splendid.)

The review from Audiophile Audition was written by Mike Birman.

Haydn had entered a new phase of public music making in which a Classical simplicity of utterance and melodic freshness made his music immediately appealing. He simultaneously discovered the stylistic unity in his themes that gives his later works their folk-like quality, in contrast to Mozart’s aristocratic loftiness and emotional ambiguity. The six Op. 50 “Prussian” Quartets were finally completed in September 1787. They were dedicated to Friedrich Wilhelm II, King of Prussia, the cello playing monarch to whom Mozart would dedicate his final three string quartets. The “Prussian” Quartets are wonderfully expressive works, yet they still exhibit that Classical restraint whose bounds would eventually be shattered by Beethoven. The three quartets on this SACD – the third in E-flat major, the fifth in F major “The Dream” and the sixth in D major “The Frog” – are all cheerful untroubled works of striking originality. Featuring many innovations in quartet writing, including an equality of musical discourse amongst the four instruments, their greatest quality is a calm, graceful beauty that immediately entrances the listener. The two named quartets are especially memorable for their expressive originality and bucolic charm.

These were all somewhat interesting. But hardly memorable. They seemed Continue reading

Day 97: Of Snowstorms and Bagels

HaydnCD97As I type this, Michigan is in the middle of a winter storm warning the likes of which we haven’t seen in years.

It’s a good day to be holed up at Panera, drinking Light Roast coffee and eating a bagel.

Or, it’s a good day to be holed up at home, not venturing out into the weather. But I’m a bit of an adventurist. Or a fool. Take your pick.

Either way, today’s CD features Haydn’s Op. 64 quartets (Nos. 1, 2, 3), composed in 1790. Haydn was 58.

For some reason, these are called the “Tost” quartets. I’ll find out why soon enough.

After a bit of Googling, I found this as a pdf for I don’t know what:

From 1783 to 1788 the Hungarian Johann Tost was principal second violin in the Esterházy orchestra of which Haydn was music director. When Tost left Esterházy in 1788 to freelance in Paris, Haydn entrusted 6 quartets to him with a view to finding a publisher. Tost was successful, and they were published in Paris in two sets of three as Op 54 and 55. A later set of six, Op 64, were written in 1790, the year that Haydn first visited London. Around this time Tost returned from Paris, married the housekeeper at Esterházy (of whom Haydn was also fond) and used her money to set up a successful cloth business in Vienna. There in 1791 he also found a publisher for this Op 64 set, which are gratefully dedicated to him. Tost continued to play the violin and commission chamber works, whose performances in aristocratic homes provided an entrée for his cloth business; incidentally he is possibly the dedicatee (“composto per un amatore ongarese”) of the last two of Mozart’s string quintets.

Oh, now I see where that pdf came from. This web site. It’s an organization Continue reading

Day 96: Opus 17 – As Meaty as a Burger King Whopper

HaydnCD96Movement III (“Largo”) of Op. 17 No. 6 in D is exquisite – and that despite the fact that its tempo is much slower than I usually like.

I think it’s because the solo violin passages in this movement are splendid. The entire movement is captivating, quite emotional.

I liked Movement I (“Presto”) and Movement II (“Menuet”) of No. 6, but it wasn’t until Movement III that I really sat up and took notice. A lone violin, played slowly and mournfully will do that to me. A solo piano does it, too. A lot of Chopin moves me like that.

Movement IV (“Finale: Allegro”) was an invigorating way to end a truly beautiful composition. It ends in a most fascinating way, too. At about the 4:05 mark, a single violin note – seemingly rendered by mistake – is the last thing heard after a rousing chorus of Continue reading

Day 94: A Great Start…a Slow Finish

HaydnCD94I liked this from the first 10 seconds.

Haydn String Quartet Op. 2 No. 2 in E Movement I (“Allegro molto”) is everything I dig in Classical music. It’s lively, bright, clever, and entertaining. Even the slower Movement II (“Menuet”) is engrossing. Where No. 2 bogs down for me is Movement III (“Adagio”). Movement III is a little too slow for my tastes.

Movement IV (“Menuet”) of No. 2 is a return to sprightly and fun. Movement V (“Finale: Presto”) seals the deal. It’s extremely lively, with lots of clever violin parts. Overall, thought, I’d have to name Op. 2 No. 2 a FAVORITE.

No. 4 in F is okay. But it doesn’t grab me from the opening notes. The movement I liked most from No. 4 is Movement V (“Finale: Allegro”).

No. 6 in B Flat starts slowly and doesn’t get much better after that, although movement III (“Scherzo: Presto”) is quite lively and fun. That caught my attention immediately. Even the penultimate movement (Movement V – “Presto”) was no match for Movement III.

As noted in a previous post, Continue reading

Day 92: Haydn’s First String Quartets

HaydnCD92What interests me most about today’s string quartets is that Haydn was just 30 to 32 years of age when he composed them.

They were the first string quartets he wrote.

Will I hear a freshman string quartet writer? Will I hear compositions that lack confidence, seem tentative?

Or will these be like everything else I’ve heard to date – masterful?

Time – precisely 69 minutes and 22 seconds – will tell.

As I note in the quotations below, these string quartets were composed with five movements each.

Haydn String Quartet Op. 1 No. 1 in B Flat (for some reason, nicknamed “La Chasse”)

Overall impressions: Movement I began slowly and stately. No real surprises. Movement II (“Minuet – Minuet secondo”) featured an unexpected pizzicato at about the 1:42 mark, right in the middle of the movement until about 2/3 of the way into it (around the 3:00 minute). Then it totally becomes the string quartet version of Haydn Symphony No. 73 in D “La Chasse” that I wrote about on October 22nd, right down to the aforementioned pizzicato portions.

This is interesting. I just realized that Haydn’s Symphony No. 73 in D was written in 1782. Haydn was 50. Yet, his String Quartet Op. 1 No. 1 was composed in 1762 when he was 30. So the string quartet preceded the symphony by two decades. I thought it was Continue reading

Day 91: More Op. 20 String Quartets

HaydnCD91…and more instant FAVORITES.

Today’s CD picks up where yesterday’s left off, and treats me to the remaining three Op. 20 string quartets – this time, they are:

Haydn String Quartet Op. 20 No. 3 in G Minor

Haydn String Quartet Op. 20 No. 4 in D

Haydn String Quartet Op. 20 No. 1 in E Flat

In the superb Wiki article about Haydn’s Op. 20 string quartets, I discovered,

“This cannot be overstated,” writes Ron Drummond. “The six string quartets of Opus 20 are as important in the history of music, and had as radically a transforming effect on the very field of musical possibility itself, as Beethoven’s Third Symphony would 33 years later.” And Sir Donald Tovey writes of the quartets, “Every page of the six quartets of op. 20 is of historic and aesthetic importance… there is perhaps no single or sextuple opus in the history of instrumental music which has achieved so much.”

Here are some of the innovations of the quartets:

Equality of voices: Prior to opus 20, the first violin, or, sometimes, the two violins, dominated the quartet. The melody was carried by the leader, with the lower voices (viola and cello) accompanying. In opus 20, Haydn gives each instrument, and particularly the cello, its own voice…

Structural innovations: With the opus 20 quartets, Haydn moved forward the development of the Sonata form. A movement written in sonata form has an exposition, where the themes and motifs of the movement are presented, a development section, where these themes are transformed, and a recapitulation, where the themes are restated. Traditionally, the restatement closely matched the original exposition. But Haydn, in opus 20, uses the restatement to further develop the material of the movement…

Depth of expression: Haydn experiments with expressive techniques in the quartets. An example of this is the G minor quartet, number 3, where Haydn defies the standard practice of ending each movement with a cadence played forte. Instead, Haydn ends each movement piano or pianissimo…

Length and symmetry of phrases: Haydn experiments with asymmetrical phrases and syncopations. The common practice of the time was to write melodies that divided neatly into four- and eight-measure chunks. But the opening phrase of the third quartet, in G minor, is seven measures long, and the minuet of the same quartet has a melody that is divided into two phrases of five measures each…

Use of counterpoint: The fugal finales of three of the six quartets are Haydn’s statement of rejection of the galante. Not only has Haydn rejected the freedom of the rococo style, he has emphasized that rejection by adhering to strict formality, and writing comments into the score explaining the fugal structure…

So, Haydn was only 40 years old when he composed these six quartets – which went on to change how string quartets were Continue reading

Day 90: Three Months…and Two Coincidences

HaydnCD90The title of yesterday’s blog entry was “Let the Sun Shine.”

Coincidentally, the nickname for today’s string quartets – all Op. 20 – is “the Sun quartets.”

Also, in yesterday’s blog entry, I discussed external influences on Haydn’s music. Was he affected by weather, for example? Births? Deaths? Illnesses? Different locales?

In the superb Wiki article about Haydn’s Op. 20 string quartets, I discovered,

The six string quartets opus 20 by Joseph Haydn are among the works that earned Haydn the sobriquet “the father of the string quartet.” The quartets are considered a milestone in the history of composition; in them, Haydn develops compositional techniques that were to define the medium for the next 200 years.

The quartets, written in 1772, were composed at a time of tensions in Haydn’s life, and also at a time when Haydn was influenced by new philosophical and political ideas that were sweeping Europe. Some analysts see the impact of these emotions and ideas in the quartets.

So, Haydn – now a 40-year-old man – was influenced by external circumstances when he composed these? Interesting. Some of Continue reading

Day 89: Let the Sun Shine

HaydnCD89After a weeks-long stretch of winter without sun, that unfamiliar golden orb has finally emerged.

It’s weird to see people blinking and shielding their eyes from something other than snow and sleet.

Also, it’s wonderful to see shadows again.

I wonder if weather ever played a part in Haydn’s musical output? Did he get the winter blahs like everyone else and, accordingly, write blah – or less peppy – music? Did his spirits soar when the sun came out and it warmed up a bit? Did his music reflect that?

I think it would make for an interesting study – perhaps a Ph.D. dissertation – regarding the effects of weather or seasons on Haydn’s music. It wouldn’t be hard to determine that. Just look at the times of year he composed music, chart the kind of music it was (opera? string quartet? piano concerto? folk music? symphony?), observe the keys in which they were written (major? minor?), perhaps the tempo (fast? slow?), etc. Then see if there’s a correlation.

Why do this? Because I think we often revere these great composers so much that we forget that they were human beings, just as we are. As such, they were likely affected by the same kinds of things we are – weather being just one of them. Births, deaths, illnesses, different locales are other factors to take into account.

By allowing people like Haydn to be human, we can then truly understand how great they really were.

That’s why I try to Continue reading