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

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

Day 87: Die Sieben Letzen Worte

HaydnCD87Today’s music is the string quartet version of Haydn’s orchestra work The Seven Last Words of Christ (German: Die sieben letzten Worte).

Of course, what one thinks of the string quartet version may depend a great deal on what one thought of the orchestral version, which I wrote about on November 29, 2013.

I wasn’t blown away by the orchestra version. So this stripped down string quartet version isn’t necessarily an improvement.

That’s not to say it’s horrible, though. It’s not. It’s superb. It’s just not something I’d listen to on repeat all day while I write.

Here’s the story behind it from the article on Wikipedia:

At the request of his publisher, Artaria, the composer in 1787 produced a reduced version for string quartet: Haydn’s Opus 51. This is the form in which the music is most often heard today: a group of seven works (Hoboken-Verzeichnis III/50–56), with the Introduction abutting Sonata I and Sonata VII joined by the Earthquake. The first violin part includes the Latin text directly under the notes, which “speak” the words musically.

This version has come under suspicion of authenticity due to an occasionally careless manner of transcription, with crucial wind passages left out and only the accompanimental figures in the strings retained. As a result, some quartets make their own adaptation, working from the orchestral original.


551px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_What_Our_Lord_Saw_from_the_Cross_(Ce_que_voyait_Notre-Seigneur_sur_la_Croix)_-_James_TissotIncidentally, in case you were wondering what those “seven last words” were, this Wiki article explains:

The seven sayings form part of a Christian meditation that is often used during Lent, Holy Week and Good Friday. The traditional order of the sayings is

Luke 23:34: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.
Luke 23:43: Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
John 19:26–27: Woman, behold your son. Behold your mother.
Matthew 27:46: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
John 19:28: I thirst.
Luke 23:46: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
John 19:30: It is finished.

Traditionally, these seven sayings are called words of 1. Forgiveness, 2. Salvation, 3. Relationship, 4. Abandonment, 5. Distress, 6. Reunion and 7. Triumph.

As I have in previous posts, I can’t forget to introduce the members of the Buchberger Quartet (their site is in German):

Hubert Buchberger violin
Julia Greve violin
Joachim Etzel viola
Helmut Sohler cello

The other players in the quartet do not have their own web sites, apparently. So, no link to them. Sorry.

Here’s what I listened to today:

Day 86: Christmas Day, 2013

HaydnCD86Wonderful music!

According to the Wiki article about Haydn’s String Quartets, Op. 77 Nos 1 and 2 are nicknamed the “Lobkowitz” quartets, and they were composed/performed in 1799. Haydn was 67.

According to Wikipedia, Lobkowitz refers to the House of Lobkowitz:

The Lobkowicz family (Lobkovicové in modern Czech, sg. z Lobkovic; Lobkowitz in German) dates back to the 14th century and is one of the oldest Bohemian noble families. The first Lobkowiczs were mentioned as members of the gentry of north-eastern Bohemia.

I found Op. 77 No. 1 to be vigorous, meaty, and confident. It had a German sound, to me. Like it was crafted to represent a powerful Bohemian noble family, which – if Wiki is to be believed – it was.

Movement IV (“Finale: Presto”), is particularly triumphant.

Op. 77 No. 2 in F, on the other hand is more serene, less vigorous. Some of the movements in Op. 77 No. 2 are downright slow…

But they have a kick to them. At around the 3:43 mark of Movement II (“Menuet: Presto”), the tempo slows, the instruments kind of drift off to silence…and then – BAM! Everything kicks in at a brisk pace. It’s like Haydn wanted to Continue reading

Day 85: Christmas Surprise, Part II

HaydnCD85Yesterday, I discovered that the music on Haydn CDs 84 and 85 (which constitutes Op. 33 Nos 1-6) is called the “Russian” quartets and that these compositions likely made their debut on Christmas Day, 1781.

Serendipitously, I am listening to these quartets nearly 282 years later to the day.

I hadn’t planned it that way.

When I started listening to the complete works of Haydn on October 1, 2013, I had no clue that 85 days later I’d be listening to quartets Haydn premiered over two and a half centuries ago.

But, here it is, 9:09pm (Eastern Time) on Christmas Eve, 2013. It is already Christmas Day in Europe. I’m sipping a 2011 German Riesling and listening to Haydn’s quartets.

Haydn String Quartet Op. 33 No. 3 in C (nickname: “The Bird”)

According to the Wiki article on Haydn’s Op. 33,

The first movement opens with a melody in the first violin featuring repeated notes. Grace notes are inserted between the repeated notes which gives the melody a “birdlike quality” and hence gives the quartet its nickname.

Movement I (“Allegro moderato”) is a slow way to start tonight’s CD, especially after the build-up I gave it in my mind. A little slower than I usually like. Movement II (“Scherzo: Allegretto”) and Movement III (“Adagio, ma non troppo”) weren’t much peppier. But Movement IV (“Rondo: Presto”) saved Op. 33 No. 3. My wife, listening from the kitchen, said, Continue reading

Day 84: Christmas Surprise, Part I

HaydnCD084I liked today’s CD from the opening movement, a very enjoyable Vivace assai from String Quartet Op. 33 No. 5 in G (nickname: “How Do You Do”).

When I imagine Classical music in my head, it sounds just like that.


Movement 2 (“Largo e cantabile”) reminds me of the music played during a scary movie when the knife is coming down. “Reee! Reee! Reee! Reee!” Yeah. You know what I’m talking about.

Cool ending to the movement, too. Just a plucked string around the 4:05 mark.

Movement 3 (“Scherzo: Allegro”) is another delightfully lively composition.

Movement 4 (“Finale: Allegretto”) isn’t a typical slam-bang ending. It kind of retards the pace and fun of the previous three movements.

By the way, there’s a Wiki article about the Op. 33 quartets. Interesting stuff, too. Take a look:

The Op. 33 String Quartets were written by Joseph Haydn in the summer and Autumn of 1781 for the Viennese publisher Artaria. This set of quartets has several nicknames, the most common of which is the “Russian” quartets, because Haydn dedicated the quartets to the Grand Duke Paul of Russia and many (if not all) of the quartets were premiered on Christmas Day, 1781, at the Viennese apartment of the Duke’s wife, the Grand Duchess Maria Feodorovna.

christmastreeNow, is that an interesting coincidence, or what?

Here I am, two days before Christmas, 2013, listening to these quartets…and they debuted on Christmas, 1781 – which means that precisely 232 years ago today, Haydn was likely scurrying around putting the finishing touches on his compositions and readying them (and himself) for their performance in two days.

Tomorrow, when I listen to CD 85 (the final three Russian Quartets), it’ll be even more coincidental — listening to quartets on Christmas Eve, 2013, that debuted on Christmas Day, 1781.

I didn’t plan it that way, I swear. I had no idea. This is my Christmas surprise, courtesy of Continue reading

Day 83: More Strings

HaydnCD83Today’s CD contains three more compositions from Haydn, performed by the Buchberger Quartet. None of them stand out to me. They’re all equally good.

So I’ll just introduce the members of the Buchberger Quartet (their site is in German):

Hubert Buchberger violin
Julia Greve violin
Joachim Etzel viola
Helmut Sohler cello

The other players in the quartet do not have their own web sites, apparently. So, no link to them. Sorry.

The string quartets on this CD were composed in 1769, which means Haydn was 37 years old.

I listened to this CD 2-3 times through. It was Continue reading