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 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 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 88: We Have a Winner!

HaydnCD88I know if I like something from the first two minutes.

And I like this.

Haydn String Quartet Op. 71 No. 1 in B Flat is terrific from the get-go. I don’t know why.

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Same holds true for any kind of music. There’s not really an objectively good piece of music. Whether or not someone likes it depends on the person’s unique tastes, preferences. (Although I’m sure a few of Mozart’s compositions would be considered splendid by most people.)

Many of the things I’ve listened to in the last 88 days that I didn’t particularly care for, I’m sure were much loved by others.

Today’s first composition (Op. 71 No. 1) is just one of those things that I happen to like. Movement I (“Allegro”) is truly a lively, fascinating allegro. It’s the perfect way to begin Op. 71 No. 1.

Movement II (“Adagio”) slows things down a bit. But it’s still intricate and interesting enough to hold my attention.

Movement III (“Menuet: Allegretto”), oddly enough, isn’t a typical Haydn Menuet. It’s slower and less rondo-like than others I’ve heard. But it picks up around the 1:55 mark. That’s when the violins start their playful dance, weaving in and around the cello and viola. The latter part of this movement is better than the former.

Movement IV (“Finale: Vivace”) is as lively and wonderful as any finale could want to be. This is one of my Favorite Haydn String Quartets.

Now would be a good time to say that Continue reading